Who Checks the Checkers?

When is it acceptable to lie?  If your name happens to be Mike Daisey, the answer is a resounding “whenever the hell I want.”  I am no stranger to the world of theatre.  I know that when in the pursuit of an audience, one sometimes takes factual liberty.  I would even go so far as to say that it is expected.  Theatre exemplifies the best and worst facets of life.  When was there ever a Tony award-winning show on the thrilling world of working at a fast-food restaurant?  Theatre is meant to be exciting, emotional, and thought-provoking; it is entertainment.  This is acceptable so long as the writer of the piece does not attempt to call their elaborately crafted story “fact” in a news setting.  Mike Daisey did just this.  He managed to fool thousands of watchers, listeners, and readers (myself included) with his monologue.  His show was full of exaggerations and falsehoods, yet he still claimed it all was true on national radio and television.  This ruse was eventually uncovered.  I had originally taken what I heard on blind faith because I was told the information had been checked and was legitimate.  However, more research should have been conducted.  Once I realized I had been deceived, I decided to investigate the n-hexane story to see how much of it was true due to how greatly it affected me.

In his monologue, Mr. Daisey says (speaking about n-hexane), “The problem is that hexane is a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably, some of them can’t even pick up a glass.”  Lacking a background in organic chemistry, I felt this could be true, especially because neurotoxins can have such profound effects on the human body.  Then, after Mr. Daisey came out saying that he never spoke to anyone exposed to n-hexane, I decided to research where he had come up with such a story.  On February 23, 2011,  BBC News published an article on 137 workers who suffered adverse health affects due to n-hexane exposure.  Wintek, a Taiwanese company working for Apple, used the chemical to clean iPhone screens instead of alcohol at their factory in Suzhou.  The report goes on to say that those exposed to the chemical experienced lethargy, sweaty extremities, numbness in hands, and foot pain.  Nowhere in the article does it mention that n-hexane caused uncontrollable shaking.  According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), n-hexane is a narcotic, irritant to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, and is a neurotoxin.  In classifying the chemical as a neurotoxin, Daisey was correct, but the symptoms he mentioned were fabricated.  In response to the incident, Apple said that it now requires Wintek to cease use of the chemical and to provide adequate ventilation.  Apple will monitor the company to ensure compliance.

I don’t blame This American Life for the mistake they made.  Daisey’s story is compelling and thought-provoking; when someone hears it, they want it to be true.  However, there is a problem these days with people taking information they hear on blind faith.  I’m guilty of it myself.  With this in mind, fact checking is paramount.  If a source has been fact-checked, fact check it yourself; like The Watchmen, someone has to check the checkers.  The most trustworthy source is the original source.  I suppose the saying really is true: trust none of what you hear and only half of what you see.  The half of what you see shouldn’t include performances by Mike Daisey.

091208- Mike Daisey @ TBA08 1c

091208- Mike Daisey @ TBA08 1c (Photo credit: djbrokenwindow)


One response to “Who Checks the Checkers?

  1. I am right there with you when it comes to having blind faith with hearing information. I thought your research with regards to the n-hexane was very intuitive and I would not have even thought of looking up the symptoms. I am not much of a science guy so therefore I believed that these symptoms were quite plausible. I greatly appreciate the Watchmen reference, and believe me, from now on I will be checking the checkers as well.

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