Category Archives: Best Practice

These articles highlight what I consider to be best practices for skeptics who are active on the Internet. These are proven techniques that achieve results, and should be emulated whenever possible.

How To Report A Suspicious Email

© Copyright Patrick Mackie and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Royal Mail … Junk Mail (Patrick Mackie) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Skeptics sometimes must deal with threats and harassment in emails. This week, our old friend “David Mabus” has started using email again, which means I’ve been sent all manner of reports. While I appreciate these reports, most of them are merely forwarded emails. It turns out that forwarded emails are are all but useless to a forensic investigator.

When you forward an email, key details of where it originated and how it was delivered are left behind. These details are exactly what an investigator needs to do their work. So forwarding doesn’t help.

Thus it is very important when you report a suspicious or threatening email that you use the right method, that captures all the forensic information. This method is not always obvious in modern email clients.

I will show you the method for common email clients in this post, and provide some links to other resources. Read on.

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How to Monitor the Reputation of Your Website

Because we criticize the claims of others, skeptics are often attacked. In the world of Internet skepticism, these attacks often come in digital form.

I’ve often written about using Web of Trust (and tools like it) to warn unsuspecting users about dangerous misinformation websites. It is inevitable that the owners of these sites will become aware of the negative ratings we’ve given them.  But what if they decide to retaliate against skeptics?

It’s not really a question of if.  Judging from a few instances I’ll document here, some are not only fighting to repair the reputations of their own sites in Web of Trust, but some are voting against skeptic sites in Web of Trust and other online site rating services as well. (Yes, there are other services that rate websites for end users beyond WoT).

So what’s a skeptic webmaster to do?  What’s the best way to become aware of malicious activity like this as quickly as possible?  Unfortunately there’s no one silver bullet, but I can recommend a few tips and one site that will let you monitor your site’s reputation in 30+ services in one fell swoop.

Read on for more details…

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How to build link strength for your skeptic web site

Recently a skeptic webmaster who runs more than one site asked me for some advice on driving more traffic to their newer sites. They knew I talk about SEO on this blog and figured I could give them some tips. I’m always happy to help out another skeptic.

One of the first thing I did was look at the number of inbound links to the new website. A key element of any SEO strategy is always inbound links – other sites linking to yours. The more links to your site, the more weight your pages will be given in search engines. And search engine hits are often a third or more of your traffic.

In this post I’ll show how you can measure this, and give some skeptic-specific tips for generating some good back-links to your site.

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A Lesson from Neil Denny: Outside Funding for Skeptic Projects

British Airways jet landing at LCY by Senseiich, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

My “Wishlist Wednesday” posts are all about finding interesting new ideas on which to base a skeptic project. But sometimes it isn’t the idea you need, it’s the means to execute on it. Many impediments can arise including access to people or places, lack of materials or equipment, or simply lack of time.

Starting today Neil Denny (host of the excellent Little Atoms skeptic podcast) is beginning a month-long road trip across America. His goal is to discover (as he explains in his excellent Guardian article introducting the project) how rational is America?  My question is: how can he afford to take a month off and do this?

The answer to that is something other skeptics can learn from, a great example of cleverly figuring out a way to execute on an ambitious skeptic idea.

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Get free publicity, organization tools for your skeptic event via Lanyrd

Skeptics love to throw events. Today the Reason Rally in Washington, DC is kicking off a big year of events in the US, and there are two other big events next month. We love our events for good reason – they help build the community and foster interaction and discussion between skeptics. Indeed, it was attending TAM 5 in 2007 that led directly to my creation of What’s the Harm and this blog.

As any event organizer knows, you must relentlessly promote your event for it to be successful. If you listen to a selection of skeptic podcasts like I do, over the last few months you probably heard an ad or plug for QEDcon which was held in Manchester earlier this month. The Merseyside Skeptics who organized it did a terrific job of getting the word out.

I noticed one of the things they did was list their event in a London-based online service called Lanyrd. This web-based service, launched in 2010, is a social conference directory. That means it uses your social media connections to identify the speakers, attendees and staff at conferences. They are primarily oriented toward Twitter, which is appealing since there are several thousand skeptics who actively use that service. This month Lanyrd got some good coverage at South by Southwest (SXSW) where they provided some fantastic tools to attendees.

I think Lanyrd could be a great new tool for skeptics. Some more details on how to use Lanyrd to your advantage in the rest of this post.

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Follow up on NOFOLLOW – still a good idea for skeptics

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Louis Brandeis (Other People’s Money: and How the Bankers Use It, 1914)

Linking directly to Internet misinformation and explaining why it is wrong is skepticism’s answer to Brandeis’ sunlight. But because Google and the other search engines use hyperlinks to determine the importance of web pages, many skeptics are fearful of linking to pseudoscience and paranormal sites. They fear that doing so will help (in some small way) boost the visibility of misinformation on the Internet.

They are right. Every time we link to the sites of our cultural competitors, we give them a tiny boost up in the search engines. It’s as if we’ve contributed ten cents to a fund for them to eventually buy a billboard. Those coins eventually add up.

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An inexpensive skeptical tool everyone should have

Much of what we talk about here is relatively new stuff like REST APIs, geotargeting and so on. But some skeptical tools have been around for quite some time. This is just a quick post to sell you on a tool that dates from 1976. It is now priced so low that there is no excuse for you not to have it in your toolbox.

There’s much excitement in skepticism these days, in part because Internet technologies have enabled an influx of new people who are enthusiastic and want to be involved. But as Barbara Drescher lamented over the weekend, many enthusiastic folks who have jumped into skepticism have not yet had time to fully familiarize themselves with the years of work that has gone on since the creation of CSICOP in the mid-1970s. As a new skeptic, how do you catch up with 40+ years of work?

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