Back in March I blogged about Web of Trust and how it could be a powerful tool for skepticism. Web of Trust is a crowdsourced web site safety rating system, that can warn unsuspecting internet users (and now, everyone on Facebook) when they are about to visit a site that contains scams, malware or other potential danger. I suggested that by rating sites selling products based on superstition or pseudoscience, skeptics could turn WOT into a tool for skeptical outreach. Indeed, many skeptic targets such as PowerBalance already sport negative WOT ratings.
In June Canadian skeptic Erik Davis launched a site called The WOT Project. His focus is the opposite side of the equation: protecting the WOT ratings of skeptic sites. Each week the WOT Project posts a list of skeptic sites and encourages participating skeptics to give them a good rating in WOT. The sixth such set was published on Monday.
Since WOT has an API, the ratings can be measured over time. Since my two most recent blog posts were about measuring skeptic outreach on Wikipedia, I thought it would be appropriate to do this for WOT as well. So let’s see how well has WOT Project done in their efforts to protect skeptic web sites on WOT.
Back in March I wrote about how important Web of Trust could be for skeptical outreach. A few recent developments have made it even more useful, and in fact have even made it urgent that skeptics be involved in Web of Trust in a big way.
You can read about what Web of Trust actually does at the original post, but suffice it to say is it is a browser-based gadget that warns you when you are about to visit a dodgy or malicious web site. Since skeptics are fundamentally all about warning people about misinformation anyway, it is right up our alley.
These new developments are all about reach. We are always looking for better ways to reach more people, and in my post I pointed out that Web of Trust had millions of users. Well, it gets better. Read on to find out how much better.
It’s frustrating being a skeptic. We do our best to explain why homeopathy or Power Balance wristbands or MMS are (at best) a waste of money or (at worst) a dangerous fraud. And yet people still buy these products every day. You just want to slap them sometimes.
What we need is a tireless skeptical robot, that would catch people right as they were about to buy one of these products and give them a good solid “dope slap” to the back of the head. That would be awesome.
Of course, the robot idea has the same flaw as our outreach efforts: how do you get a robot to everyone who needs it? The marketers of these products are everywhere and have lots of money to spend. We don’t have a budget, and robots are kind of expensive.
But suppose these imaginary skeptical robots had other purposes too? Then folks might seek them out on their own, and we wouldn’t have to pay for their development.
Well, at least for when people buy products via a web site, the appropriate robot already exists. It is called Web of Trust, and (like The Mad Skeptic, who scooped me on this) I think skeptics should be promoting it and helping create its crowdsourced ratings.
In this post I’ll show you how we can use it and I’ll give you a look at what WOT’s ratings of skeptic and believer web sites look like already.