You may have noticed a new badge appeared recently on the right side of this blog that says Keep Libel Laws out of Science. It has to do with an ongoing legal case in England where a major chiropractic association is suing science writer Simon Singh for libel over an article in which he referred to certain chiropractic procedures as “bogus.” I encourage you to click the badge and sign the petition.
Today there was a fascinating development in this case that relates directly to skeptical software tools. Because the case hinges on whether or not chiros promote procedures they know to be “bogus”, skeptics have been scouring chiropractic websites in the UK looking for evidence of this. In response, another chiropractic association has advised its members to take down their websites entirely! This is stunning.
As skeptics one of the key things we do is hold woo-woos feet to the fire when they make ridiculous claims. Perhaps the most public place of all to make a claim is on a website, because it is instantaneously visible to everyone on earth who chooses to look. Tracking claims made on websites is thus an important skeptical technique.
But this move by the chiropractors reminds us that the web is mutable thing. Any content anywhere on the web can be changed at any time. Paranormalists and pseudoscientists can edit their web sites constantly to present a moving target or to remove evidence of their missteps. In order to do our jobs as skeptics, we need to be constantly aware of this and use tools to compensate. Fortunately such archival tools exist. One is the well-known Internet Wayback Machine, but several others (including commercial products) exist.
After the jump, I’ll talk more about some of the uses of these tools and show you how to use them as a skeptic.