Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website touted by Mike Adams
I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog here. As you can tell from the top menu bar and my social media feeds, I have a number of different projects and sometimes it’s hard to balance them all. Plus I have some cool new super-secret projects in the works that are taking up my time. And I do have a day job too! But fear not, I have several posts that I’m working on for this blog and activity will pick up soon, especially as we ramp up into DragonCon at the end of this month.
But for today I just wanted to offer some kudos to another blog where an investigation appeared last week that would not have been out of place right here on Skeptools. Nick Price, posting at the newly-launched blog This Week in Pseudoscience looked into a controversial post by Mike Adams (the so-called “Health Ranger” who many skeptics call the “Health Danger”).
Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada by P199 released into the public domain.
Continuing my effort to give a boost to the long tail of skepticism, it is time once again for Wishlist Wednesday. The idea with these posts is to kick around an idea for a skeptical project that someone could launch, that fills a niche in skepticism. I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects like this that have not yet been built. I hope to encourage skeptics to build them. Last week I proposed a podcast, this week it’s a website.
This week the idea is something I’ve personally wanted for a while. My previous job was teaching computer security training classes, and so I was travelling around the country regularly. Whenever I travel to a new place on business, I try to figure out if there are interesting sights to see or other things to visit while in the area. It can be a fun way to kill some down-time while on a business trip, and can often be quite educational.
Every once in a while I was able to visit a place that was related to skepticism while doing this. But some of these places are fairly obscure, and not easily found. And some you wouldn’t know to look for unless you were already from the area.
But what if skeptics made an effort to collect these locations and document them? Not only would casual travelers benefit, but skeptics wanting to learn or investigate something could use it to find convenient places to do so. Let’s think a bit of how we would build this.
One of the early posts on this blog was about the long tail of skepticism. In that post I talked about how skeptics should be looking for an interesting niche within skepticism, and create projects like blogs and podcasts that cater to that niche. There are several good reasons for this strategy you can read at that post.
I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects that have not yet been built. In the past on this blog I have successfully exhorted skeptics to get involved online in one way or another. Most notably Susan Gerbic has created an entire blog and Wikipedia project based around the ideas I originally championed here. There are others too.
With that in mind, I’m going to start a series of shorter posts in which I toss out an idea, partially flesh out why it might be useful to skeptics, and encourage skeptics to build it. I’m going to do one per week. It’s called Wishlist Wednesday, and my first idea is the “Skeptic Podcast Sampler”.
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.
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.