I’ve written a number of times about finding ways to measure skepticism and skeptic activity. How can we know whether skepticism is having an effect if we don’t measure what we do?
But polls and surveys can be tedious and expensive! So grass-roots skeptics often need to look for more ad-hoc ways to measure things. Fortunately many such opportunities present themselves online, some of which I wrote about at the JREF blog back in 2011.
Simply knowing how many skeptics there are is one useful metric, but there is no single skeptic membership organization that could conduct such a count. We’re spread across hundreds of local groups and affiliated with many different national organizations.
I could attempt a survey of local groups, but that would be a time consuming process – even more so than my ongoing census of skeptic podcasts. But what if there were a place online that kept track of local skeptic groups? That started me thinking about Meetup.com…
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.
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
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.