Tag Archives: misinformation

Is 2012 the year of skeptical software tools?

I’m very excited. Since the beginning of this blog in 2008 I’ve been encouraging skeptics to get involved online and most of all to build tools for others to use. The programmability of Web 2.0 means that we no longer need to treat websites as static islands of data to be consumed as-is. With the right tools, you can mash up data from multiple sites, filter that data and do many other exciting things.

Ever since my TAM6 presentation on this topic (which was the kickoff point for this blog) I’ve been building and expecting to see others build tools that take advantage of these techniques for applied skepticism. There have been a few, but not as many as I would like to see.  (Why that is, is something I may address in another post).

But there seems to be a change coming on this front, and to a degree it is coming not from skeptics but from journalists. Read on for more details.

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RBUTR is the newest tool in the skeptic arsenal

Back in October I wrote about Hypothes.is, a project to allow sentence-level peer review of virtually anything on the Internet. It is an exciting tool still under development.  The Hypothes.is team recently held a workshop on reputation systems, and posted a number of videos from that session.  The software itself should appear later this year.

Skeptics impatiently awaiting the arrival of Hypothes.is got a welcome surprise recently. That was the appearance of another tool with a similar aim which is closer to reality – i.e. it is already in beta test. This tool was developed in Australia and it is called RBUTR.  (In the style of sites like Flickr and Tumblr, the name is intended to suggest the word “rebutter”).

It has several similarities to the other, as yet unfinished project. It allows you to see skeptical material right in context while viewing the original web site.  It does this through software that plugs in to your web browser. It allows new material to be submitted by third parties and voted on for merit. And it should be a valuable tool for skeptics.

But there are some significant differences. I’ll get into those and more after the jump.

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Hypothes.is could become a crucial tool for skeptics

I’ve been thinking a long time about the idea of tools that could help people be more skeptical about information they encounter. It is one of the core goals of this blog.

I’ve always thought that the endpoint of this quest would be some sort of tool you could point at any piece of information and have it tell you whether it was true or false. It would be a computerized “skeptic-in-a-box” so to speak. I’ve done a bit of research on what it would take to build it. I’ve always thought that crowdsourcing and a reputation system to weight contributions by value would both figure prominently in any successful design.

Today I’m simultaneously very excited and just a little bit angry. Excited because I just got word that a project has been launched to build something very similar to my skeptic-in-a-box. (I’m angry only because it’s not my personal project.) But if this thing comes anywhere close to achieving its ambitious goals, I can definitely get over the angry part. It aims to go way beyond what I had in mind.

When Hypothes.is launches next year, it could be the most important piece of software ever created for applied skepticism. More details after the jump.

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