rbutr has just made a new change to its methods. It now displays a picture of a random cute animal for 3 seconds before taking users to the rebuttal they have requested. There is even scientific reasoning behind this change!
Read the blog article announcement here: Read Rebuttals, Get Kittens
I just published a new article reviewing an academic paper on the rbutr blog:
Review of The Promise and Peril of Real-Time Corrections to Political Misperceptions by Garret and Weeks
by SHANE on APRIL 17, 2013
Research published in the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Journal shows that apps which highlight incorrect information and provide real time corrections may actually be less effective at changing the minds of people who have a pre-disposition to agree with the incorrect information, than time-delayed correction techniques are.
Here I will review the paper, and then reflect on its findings from the perspective of our efforts (rbutr) to create an alternative system of ‘error correction’ in the form of a semantic linkage between claim-rebuttal webpage pairs.
Read the rest on the rbutr blog.
Just a quick update from Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand. We’re 4 days in to our 2 weeks stay here, which is just a stop over on our way back to Australia where I can get back to work with Craig on rbutr. Really excited about getting back to work on that because it has been so long since we have been able to really get any work done on it, and we have had some really good statistics lately in spite of the lack of work and efforts to get publicity. Specifically, last week saw twice as many people as usual adding rebuttals, and we got an article in the Fox News website directly reference rbutr. Oh, and I am also quite excited about having made a contact with a professor who specifically researches computation and programs designed to refute erroneos information online. So there is lots happening there. Can’t wait to see where it all goes.
But for now, it is chill out time in Thailand. Cheap beautiful food, amazing activities, warmth, swimming, massages, rock climbing and kayaking. And probably a few big nights.
Not sure I really have a point for this post. Just thought I would write something while I had a chance. I should be uploading my photos to facebook instead I guess :p
Posted by Aegist
, Shane Greenup
The website HomeopathyPlus – the winner of the 2012 Australian Skeptic’s Bent Spoon award – has a page which lists a number of letters which it claims were written by mothers of children who were cured of their autism by Homeopathic practitioners. A request for a rebuttal has come through on rbutr, and being unable to find a direct rebuttal myself, I went to the Reddit group Debunk This to see if they could help out. They provided some valuable points, but no articles either, so I have decided to write my own Direct Rebuttal to this page, summarising the points made in the Reddit post.
- There is no evidence or way to verify that any of these people are real.
All of the letters only refer to the children by their first name, and provide no name or contact details for the mothers who wrote the letters. It is possible that these letters are complete fabrications for all we know. It is important to note this fact, because we are dealing with anecdotes here. There is no clinical trial, no records, no evidence of any measurable kind to assess. Simply anecdotes by unknown people who may or may not exist.
Side note: All of the pictures associated with the stories are stock photos.
- The Homeopathic Cure may be no different than the outcome of standard development and hard work
Autistic children learn how to cope with their autism, and natural development changes them. All of these stories don’t really reveal anything happening here which could not happen spontaneously without homeopathic interference. Without real information on the severity of the autism, and with no knowledge of who actually diagnosed the children, these stories provide very little insight.
- Homeopathy fails on all scientific front to be a feasible treatment
This is the ultimate point which should give everyone a reason to suspect that there is false attribution going on here (ie: The ‘remission’ of symptons happened spontaneously or through development or some other treatment rather than homeopathy). Homeopathy ultimately relies on the claim that water can ‘remember’ particles which have previously passed through it, and then use this information in some productive way. After significant amounts of time and money spent trying to demonstrate this or find evidence for it, it never has been. And there is endless amounts of scientific research and applied technology which contradicts it.
Homeopathy is unscientific. Clinical trials of it are no different to statistical variations on a placebo. To claim that homeopathy can cure autism, you need a lot more than 6 anecdotes from unidentified people.
If you found this rebuttal through rbutr, share it with everyone! And look
Posted by Aegist
So mid way through last week Ben Goldacre kindly tweeted about rbutr, and our traffic exploded. In response, we decided to quickly open up our beta testing and allow people to start registering and downloading the app freely. So now we’re basically live! People are registering often and new links are being added all the time.
In the meantime, some annoying wordpress exploit seems to have been hit by an automated system and our blog has been compromised. Nothing serious has happened to it, they have just altered our .htaccess file so that everything redirects to their website. Basically, they broke our blog and we haven’t figured out how to fix it yet. We’re looking in to moving to another server which will hopefully fix the exploit (my host hasn’t even replied to the four or so emails I have sent them. Very disappointed with that.)
Also, the first rbutr members email is about to be sent out. Just to let everyone know what is happening, and who has been doing good rbutr work
Posted by Aegist
We’re just making the final adjustments now, and running some quick tests to make sure things work before we send out the emails to all of our Beta tester registrants. If you have not entered your email address for the beta testing, then you will not be able to participate in this first round, but we will be accepting more registrations in preparation for a larger second wave of testers.
http://rbutr.com is where you can register for participation! You should
Reposted from the rbutr blog:
I have been contacting people about rbutr over the past few weeks in an attempt to guage community interest in the app and to see if anyone will actually use it (probably just about the most important thing when building a new application…) and this concern has already been brought to my attention at least once, and I saw it again in the comments to a New Scientist article on one of our predecessors – Dispute Finder (Think Link): http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17339-dispute-finder-web-tool-gives-two-sides-of-a-story.html
Reader ‘Jon’ commented:
This is potentially a dangerous tool. All the climate change deniers will flag all the scientific pages, and point to their blogs. Then an unknowing citizen searches climate change and thinks there is a real debate. That’s just frightening.
So it is worth addressing these concerns before I hear them much more. Anyone who is so uncertain about their own position on a subject that they are afraid of people hearing an alternative perspective, really ought to be looking in to their own beliefs a lot more. Or to put it another way, let me quote one of my favourite quotes of all time:
“John Stuart Mill… argued that silencing an opinion is ‘a peculiar evill.’ If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the ‘opportunity of exchanging error for truth’; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in ‘it’s collision with error.’ If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly even know that; it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.”
-Carl Sagan, Demon Haunted World
I believe this quote captures a philosophical sentiment which is so important, that the fear of ‘abuse’ at the hands of “the enemy” is made completely irrelevent. Particularly when that fear is raised in relation to an app like Dispute Finder, or rbutr. Remember, rbutr is not Fox News – it won’t pretend to be Fair and Balanced while constantly spinning each story a particular way. rbutr is just a tool – it has no bias, only it’s users do. And if you see someone exhibiting a bias, you have just as much power to counteract it as they have to enact it.
Websites with bias already exist. Social media and search engines already allow people to share and search for these biased websites. What rbutr is going to change about this equation, is that your ‘filter bubble‘ will have a permanent hole in it – a nice little rbutr sized hole, where you can choose to step out in to the big wide world of ‘someone else’s opinion’ any time you want.
And that is pretty cool.
Repost from the rbutr blog, titled: The Ultimate Objective of rbutr
The ultimate objective of rbutr, is to help bring online discussions to the best possible conclusion available with the known information.
The method used to achieve this could be called “Forced Principle of Charity” whereby the Principle of Charity is manufactured by finding and presenting the best possible rebuttal to a claim rather than needing to ‘assume it’ or ‘fill in the blanks’ on behalf of the claim.
Through iteration of this action, the discussion is necessarily forced towards some sort of a conclusion.
I see it working this way: There are thousands of different entry points to an argument, but most of the time when having one of these discussions, you inevitably wind your way through all of these random peripheral claims and positions and inevitably find yourself at one of the (or several of the) core principles/claims/beliefs which underlie the main difference of opinion. Ideally, how rbutr will work, is that through a combination of direct rebuttals, and general rebuttals, all of these peripheral arguments will eventually be step-wise redirected towards ‘the best rebuttal possible for the core tenants of disagreement’. Once this mythical article is written and voted up by the community to take its place as the hub point of all of the online discussions on this particular subject, then the real discussion can continue.
With ‘the best possible rebuttal to the core points of disagreement’ in place then there should be an active ongoing competition between people who disagree with that rebuttal to write ‘the best possible rebuttal’ to it. The community will vote, filter and select their way through the rebuttals until they find it, and then we have rebuttal number 2 of the conversation. And so on, down a path of direct rebuttals until the most reasonable conclusion is reached.
I need to find an animator to work with on this, because I think we could make an incredibly effective visual representation of this process.
So yeah, obviously the description above is set in an ideal world, with sufficient users all motivated by the search for the truth – which is rarely representative of the human population. Although, that being said, we don’t need to worry about ‘the human population’ too much. We just need to worry about the culture of our users, and do our best to make sure all of our users are motivated by the quest for the truth. That will go a long way towards ensuring our results are as close as possible to this ideal world view.