The previous post was about measuring the embarrassment of riches we have in skeptical podcasting content. I’m continuing my survey of what is out there in other skeptical content, such as blogs and videos. But perhaps now is a good time to talk about how skeptics can deal with this flood of great material. How exactly do you find the good, relevant content you need when you need it? How do you find that needle in the haystack?
The usual method – a search engine – can be quite problematic for skeptics. Searching on most skeptic-relevant keywords produces results that are littered with the very misinformation that we are trying to fight against. Adding words like “debunk” or “skeptic” to your search might help a little, but some misinformation merchants deliberately appropriate these terms to add to their own credibility.
What we need are lists and collections of the good skeptic content so we can find what we need within it more easily. I could have used an updated canonical list of skeptic podcasts for my last post, but I couldn’t find one – so I had to create it. But now some are stepping up to create these types of curated meta-resources. In fact, a brand new one is launching today (June 1)! Find out about it and others after the break.
I should clarify that in this article I want to talk about sites that collect or catalogue skeptic content in some way. If you are merely interested in real-time notifications of the top stories of skepticism, there are other options in the social media arena. For instance, you could follow follow the most influential skeptics on Twitter to get live notifications of what they find interesting right now. I am planning to write more about social media and skepticism in future posts, so I won’t say much more about it here.
No, in this post I want to talk about aggregators and portals/indices. These are sites that uses web programming techniques to automatically pull relevant content from other sources and present it together in one place. Sometimes the result is gives you something resembling a newspaper or magazine built out of the content of many different blogs. Sometimes the result is just an index of what is out there. In many cases you still have to visit the original site to read full articles. Naturally I’ll focus on the ones that were built for skeptics.
Prior to the emergence of social media giants Twitter and Facebook, one of the main ways that hot content was propagated on the web was via Digg and Reddit. Many skeptic blogs still feature buttons to add their posts to these services and vote them up so they will be noticed. The content featured on these services is chosen algorithmically based on voting done by the users. The blog posts, podcasts and so on that participating skeptics find interesting are automatically pushed to the top.
One of the advantages of Reddit is that it allows topic-specific versions of the service to be created. And so there is a skeptic version of Reddit, which automatically percolates the most popular skeptic news items to the top based on voting. (There is also a closely related custom Reddit called Debunk This! for things needing debunking). These are good places to find the top content that skeptics are discussing. On the long term, it is not clear whether this type of service will survive in the era of social media, but so far it still seems to be working.
An Atlanta-based skeptic named Christian Popa launched Reason Weekly in January 2009. It aggregates skeptic, science, atheist and other related content in a very attractive blog-like format. It is not completely automated, but relies on editors to choose the stories that appear. The site is still operating, but I’m not sure if it is being actively updated at this point, mainly because its Twitter feed hasn’t been updated in many months.
A relatively new service called paper.li allows users on Twitter or Facebook to automatically gather the articles and links posted by their friends into a convenient newspaper-like format. It is an interesting idea, essentially you allow the people you follow on these services to become the editors of your daily newspaper by virtue of the links they post.
Here’s an example of one skeptic-oriented paper called The Skeptic’s Daily News, created by Twitter user @Joreth. Here’s another one (not recently updated) created by TheMadSkeptic. And of course, the idea with paper.li is you can create your own for your own private use and customize it to meet your needs.
Fair warning: there has been some backlash against the service on Twitter, in my experience, because by default it auto-posts reminders that are visible not only to the user but also their friends. I recommend you disable this feature. Go to the settings and choose the “Promote” tab. Uncheck where it says “Promote on Twitter” to disable this feature).
Australian skeptic Jason Brown (also known as @drunkenmadman) has put together a completely automated aggregator called The Skepticator. It pulls all the skeptic content from blogs, Twitter and podcasts and presents a unified stream of what is going on in skepticism. Frankly, as I have been finding out in my surveys, the totality of it all is a bit daunting. Take a peek at the Skepticator twitter feed to see running stats on how much material is being generated.
The nice thing about Skepticator is it has a search function. So you can search over 110,000 skeptic articles from over 700 sources for the one you need. It is still a bit experimental, and the site can be slow at times, but it is definitely useful as a tool. I’ve been using it a bit to find things to include in my metrics surveys.
New Today: Skeptics on the .Net
Finally, we come to the new site I mentioned which is launching today: Skeptics on the .Net. Created by Eric Weiss (@txhoudini) and several other skeptics, it is a curated listing of the best skeptic blogs and podcasts, gathered in one place.
Where Skepticator gives you a drink directly from the firehose, it looks like SotN will be a way to take a 50,000 foot view of the mayhem and pick your targets. You can search on various parameters such as location or topic, and find skeptic sources that are relevant to that. They have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page to keep track of what’s new as well.
Give these tools a try, you may find some good skeptical content that you didn’t know was out there.