“It’s 1983. You want to know the population of Pittsburgh, so instead of waiting six years for the web to be invented, you head to the library,” Weinberger begins.
What follows next is the elaboration of the deeply material processes through which even seemingly simple facts are assembled — from the decision made by you, the curious researcher, to look the answer up in an almanac in a public library, all the way back to the public agencies, research funding mechanisms, and publishing-industry processes that allowed the population of the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area to be certified as 2,219,000 souls. This story provides us a key insight into the nature of facts: they are constructed, yes, but they are not simply constructed out of thin air, and they are certainly not constructed out of words or digital links. Money and materials, documents and discourse, all go into making facts “facts.” In the words of Michael Fortun, an associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, facts are made, but they are not made up.