Do Not Link has added new features

DoNotLink Nonsense IconDoNotLink.com is an excellent tool for all skeptics to have in their toolkit. I’ve written about it before. I noticed recently that it has added some new features over the last few months. I thought it would be worth calling them to your attention.

The problem this tool solves is sort of an online skeptic variation of the Streisand Effect. When you critique a bad idea that has been posted on the web, you often start by linking to it. The link allows your readers to understand what you are debunking. In addition to allowing your readers to see the source, the link itself will become input to various algorithms such as Google PageRank, Facebook’s news feed algorithm and Twitter trends. But these algorithms share a crucial limitation – they all treat any reference to content as positive. (It is illustrative that there is a “Like” button on Facebook, but no “Dislike” button.) To these algorithms, there’s nowhere to go but up.

And so skeptical links literally send mixed signals out on the web. While you are telling all the humans, “This content is bad!” your hyperlink is telling all the robots “This content is good!”

DoNotLink.com solves that problem for social media, by providing a way to link to something while disabling the algorithms’ ability to measure it.  The link still works, the site still can get visitors and can still count a hit and show visitors some ads and so on. The site is in no way damaged by this way of linking! But the algorithms can no longer add that hyperlink to the site’s popularity score.

That makes it very valuable to skeptics.  So lets look at the new features, which make it even better.

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Facebook “like inflation” exaggerates the scope of Internet hoaxes

Don't Trust This NumberOver 70 thousand people shared a story about a totally fake Sarah Palin quote! Over 5 million people shared a hoax story that Macaulay Culkin had died!  It gets depressing hearing how many people get fooled by these hoaxes, doesn’t it?

The problem is, the numbers in those reports are wrong! Often, wildly wrong. They’re exaggerations caused by the confusing way that Facebook reports engagement.

Now, the underlying problem is real – social media hoaxes and rumors are bigger than ever. As a result debunking these things has become a popular pastime, well beyond the circle of organized skepticism.

Even the Washington Post runs a regular feature on Friday called What was fake on the internet this week. The science fiction site IO9 regularly debunks fake images that are making the rounds. And of course there are the old standards such as Snopes and Museum of Hoaxes, still in the business of debunking this stuff.

Read on to see how many of these well-meaning debunkers are being misled by Facebook into over-reporting the problem.

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My latest post on INSIGHT looks into Open Minds

Recently I drew your attention to a new skeptical group blog edited by Daniel Loxton over on skeptic.com called INSIGHT. It’s got a great group of skeptical voices writing for it including Blake Smith, Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, Jim Lippard and many others, including me!

Insight LogoToday my second post went up, and it’s all about the source of a well-known skeptical quotation or aphorism. “Keep an open mind – but not so open your brains fall out” is one of those sayings that skeptics love to repeat and post online. If you keep any eye out for it, you’ll see it attributed to a wide variety of people from Carl Sagan to Richard Feynman to Bertrand Russell. And of course now in the era of Internet memes it regularly shows up on social media with a picture of someone next to it.

So who was really the original source of this quote? I’ve long wondered that and have been digging into it periodically since at least 2011 – and so have several others. And just in time for Carl Sagan Day this week, I’ve finally posted what I could find out about it and brought together the results that three other researchers uncovered. It turns out this week might actually be the 75th anniversary of this saying – but the anniversary has nothing to do with Carl Sagan’s birthday at all! So head on over to my latest post at INSIGHT and find out the truth.

My first post ran early in October, and concerned the news of UK medium “Psychic Sally” Morgan getting into a dispute with skeptical campaigners. It’s quite unusual that I ever get to write about a breaking news story, and that one was a doozy. Morgan’s husband and son-in-law were caught on video making physical threats and homophobic slurs toward a skeptic who was quietly distributing leaflets on the sidewalk outside an event venue.

There have been many other great posts on INSIGHT. Jim Lippard wrote a terrific obituary for skeptic Gerald LaRue. Blake Smith looked into the question Who Invented Pasteurization? – a topic he had first explored at Ignite Skepticism at DragonCon.  There have been many more.

So make sure you check the INSIGHT main page periodically or use the blog RSS feed to subscribe to the blog. Or you can hit my author page at INSIGHT and see just my posts.

Please check out the new INSIGHT skeptic blog!

There’s a new skeptic group blog I’d like to call to your attention. It’s called INSIGHT at skeptic.com, and is supported by the Skeptics Society and Skeptic Magazine. It just launched in September with a fantastic slate of skeptic writers on board. I’ll be writing there too – my first post (on ‘Psychic’ Sally Morgan) just appeared on Friday.

Insight LogoI’ve always tried to maintain the theme of this blog as technology and skepticism, and resisted the temptation to post on other topics. Sometimes that has meant that some posts here are kind of shoehorned into the format, like the ones about my fascination with skeptic history.  But it also means  that sometimes I’ve had things I wanted to write about that I simply didn’t, because the post wouldn’t fit in here.

INSIGHT solves that for me – now I have a place to post general skeptic commentary that does not explicitly relate to technology or the Internet.  Fear not, I will still be posting here on explicitly technical topics. In fact, I may do crossover posts where I explain the high level skeptical part over on INSIGHT and link back to a nitty-gritty technical post here.  Stay tuned!

I’m also very excited to now be writing alongside some great skeptics. The blog is edited by my good friend Daniel Loxton, who I’ve always felt a kinship with because of his dedication to pure scientific skepticism as well as skeptic history.  Other bloggers include my VirtualSkeptics co-hosts Eve Siebert and Barbara Drescher and the founder of Skepticality podcast Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy. Plus many other great folks including Jim Lippard, Blake Smith, Mike McRae, Laurie Tarr and many more!

I recommend you go read Daniel’s introductory post to the blog as well as the wonderful Eugenie Scott’s guest post which kicked the blog off.  Please subscribe, link to it on social media and recommend it to your friends!

The value of answering your own questions at Stack Exchange

Stack Skeptic logoThere’s much to learn when you are interested in skepticism. There’s the human psychology, the history of various scams and hoaxes, the science (and pseudoscience) of alternative medicine, and much more. As a result there’s plenty of material to read – books, magazines, newsletters, blogs and so on.

In my reading, I inevitably come across lots of interesting little tidbits here and there. Finding stuff like this was the basis in part for both What’s the Harm and my Skeptic History daily fact.

But sometimes you find a neat fact that you’d love to call to everyone’s attention, but you don’t have the appropriate place to put it. Social media is often too ephemeral, and blogging is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Let’s assume you don’t have a popular website of your own (most people don’t) and don’t want to start one. Some topics just aren’t appropriate for their own Wikipedia (or even RationalWiki) article. Either there just isn’t enough meat there, or other editors might question the “notability”.

Wouldn’t be nice if there was another place to publicly bookmark little items like this, set up so the general public could easily find them? There is such a place and let me explain why it’s ideal for this.

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“Right to be Forgotten” may affect skeptic outreach

"Forget-me-not and Blue sky" by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

“Forget-me-not and Blue sky” by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

Because skeptics constantly criticize the claims of others, we often provoke angry reactions. Ideally this provokes some educational debate, but sometimes it goes sour. That can take the form of trolling, harassment or even escalate to legal action. In the United States the legal option tends not to be too successful, thanks to our First Amendment rights. But that doesn’t apply outside the US.

Some opponents of skeptics seek out more creative ways to shut down our commentary. A few years ago a German named Claus Fritsche was paid by homeopathy manufacturers to create spam websites that would poison the search engine results for Edzard Ernst’s name, in an effort to discredit his critiques of alternative medicine. Numerous skeptics have been targets of spurious DMCA claims on YouTube over the years.

Recently the European courts have created a brand new way for the people we criticize to tamper with (at least in Europe) our ability to reach an audience. It is called the “right to be forgotten” and skeptic webmasters need to stay on top of their tools in order not to get blindsided by this.

Read on and I’ll explain.

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Simple WHOIS check unravels Mike Adams’ latest threats

Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website

Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website touted by Mike Adams

I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog here. As you can tell from the top menu bar and my social media feeds, I have a number of different projects and sometimes it’s hard to balance them all. Plus I have some cool new super-secret projects in the works that are taking up my time. And I do have a day job too!  But fear not, I have several posts that I’m working on for this blog and activity will pick up soon, especially as we ramp up into DragonCon at the end of this month.

But for today I just wanted to offer some kudos to another blog where an investigation appeared last week that would not have been out of place right here on Skeptools. Nick Price, posting at the newly-launched blog This Week in Pseudoscience looked into a controversial post by Mike Adams (the so-called “Health Ranger” who many skeptics call the “Health Danger”).

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