The world of the extreme conspiracy theorist must be an amazing place. Wars don’t kill innocent bystanders, terrorist organisations either don’t exist, or lack the ability to execute acts of terrorism, mentally disturbed individuals don’t ever go on murderous rampages, illnesses never happen when people are left in a natural state, and everyone gets on with each other perfectly….

If only it wasn’t for Them.

Them. The ones pulling the strings to undermine this perfect utopia of healthy cooperation which naturally exists.

The government. The Illuminati. Aliens. Who it is who controls the media, false flag operations and international ‘accidents’ is hard to say exactly, but they definitely exist, and they are preventing us all from living our perfect lives of contended happiness and compassion.

Welcome to Conspiracy Theorist Utopia (CTU)

Wars Can’t Harm Innocent Civilians!

They fabricate planes full of people exploding in the sky through elaborate plans carried out over several months with the participation of numerous nations in order to create the illusion that war kills innocent civilians of even wealthy countries! Because in our perfect utopia, planes can’t crash into the ocean, and pilots can’t be suicidal… or more importantly, some accidents can’t possibly go unexplained. No, in CTU, every event has a deliberate cause and must be explained, and it is all connected to acts by some incredibly powerful and controlling force (probably not God though – that is religion, and this isn’t religion).Planes can’t crash or go missing, and other unrelated planes definitely can’t be shot out of the sky by rogue militarised forces with weapons specifically designed to shoot planes out of skies.

What sort of a world would that be, where human beings would willingly shoot planes out of skies? A horrible one. And in CTU, everything is perfect and nice and friendly. Except for Them.

Terrorist Organisations Don’t Exist, or They Are Harmless

And the idea that a large organisation of people like Al Qaeda might exist, is completely unacceptable in CTU. People who have had their lives upturned by continual war and conflict between foreign nations, which have used them to fight each other, funding the warfare, providing weapons and training, then leaving them with nothing. The idea that these people could exist, and that they could hate our nations. Hate us. And then use that training, and that hate to organise an attack against us…. simply doesn’t make as much sense in CTU as our own government fabricating hatred of our people in order to justify the fabricated attacks that they made, with not-really-planes on the buildings which were actually demolished with thermite anyway…..

Yes. Convoluted inside jobs carried out by the thousands of people it would have taken to carry it out, all of whom have friends and families in the USA, many of which would know people killed in the attack and affected by the outcome of the attack is far  more likely than a foreign organisation driven by past hatred actually attacking the nation it sees as its enemy.

Disturbed Individuals Don’t Ever Go On Murderous Rampages

Another highlight of CTU is that disturbed people never go on murderous rampages. All events which involve mass shootings are fabricated events set up by them to create  a public backlash against gun rights, so that they can start taking guns back off the american population. Which they will start doing any day now!

So all of those mass shootings weren’t really done by civilian, mentally ill or troubled people. No they were done by trained operatives or government agents of whoever it is that works for them. And all of those people crying over their dead children and loved ones? Crisis actors. In CTU, people don’t actually die. They just pay people to pretend they have lost loved ones so that the general population falls for the trick of believing that people might die when they are shot with guns…

We Are All Perfectly Healthy…

Not only do people not die when they are shot with guns (or gun shootings simply never happen – however you want to look at it), but we’re all perfectly healthy…well, we would be, if it wasn’t for those evil pharmaceutical companies, evil lying doctors who should know better, fluoride in the water, chemicals in the air from chemtrails, poisons in vaccines, man-made diseases and the genetic manipulation of our food…. we would all be perfectly healthy and never suffer from any form of illness.

They are constantly raining sickness-causing agents upon us all to make sure we stay docile and controllable. Nature doesn’t have any flaws, and humans are of course designed to be perfect and immortal in their natural state. Cancer obviously couldn’t exist if we were left to our natural state – so it must be a manufactured illness through ‘toxic’ chemicals being pushed onto us so that the pharmaceutical companies can make money from our suffering. AIDS is a created disease. Vaccines only hurt us, and don’t even stop the illnesses they are meant to stop – they are stopped by simple hygiene and eating well!

The New World Order

The perpetrators of all of this misery are an incredibly well organised group of people who control everything from large corporations, to independent research institutes, virtually every scientist on the planet, nearly all of the politicians, public servants. They are the ultra-wealthy ultra-elite and despite their ability to control so many people in so many countries and industries and affect virtually everything – they want to destabilise the entire system and bring it down to its knees…so that they can have…more… extreme wealth and extreme power… than …

OK, this just makes zero fucking sense.

I get it. It is nice to think that random tragedies are somehow orchestrated and controlled… but they just aren’t. Not usually anyway. I can’t say that none of the tragedies of the past 100 or more years haven’t been manufactured or taken advantage of in some way, but for the most part, there is no need to manufacture a complicated conspiracy to explain shit which just happens all the time.

Planes crash! They do! You don’t have to make up convoluted stories to explain and justify it every time it happens.

Innocent people die in wars all the time. And not all wars are just, or justified. They are just a consequence of our flawed psychology.

People do go on shooting sprees. This is just a fact of life when you have a population of 300+ million in a country with just as many guns – it only takes 1 in 300 million to decide to shoot into a group of people for it to happen! It is actually surprising it doesn’t happen more often!

People get sick! As a matter of fact, people are getting less sick and living longer now than ever before in history – you just need to look at the actual stats to understand this instead of imaging some idyllic past where everyone lived in perfect health all the time! There is no evidence of that ever being the case, and even with endless piles of web pages telling you how you too can live sickness free by just avoiding XYZ and only eating ABC, we still don’t see any of the people following those regimes actually being illness free! Because they’re all bullshit.

How about we start dealing with the tragedies of this world as they are, rather than trying to solve non-existent riddles and causes which complicate them unnecessarily?

Things might actually start getting better….

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I’ve read so many rebuttals of journalists which say things like “<journalist> did not take the effort to speak with experts/check their facts/verify the evidence…. in the future they should…”

I’m pretty sure the guilty journalists in these cases *usually* know this, they just don’t care.

I can imagine a journalist being on top of a great story, a story full of controversy, of revelation and exposé…. and the last thing they want to happen is tofind some inconvenient bloody fact which undermines the whole damn story!

If that happened they would have to start all over again on a completely new story which will definitely be far less exciting and interesting. It is much easier, and far more rewarding to publish the (potentially inaccurate) scoop that they have and get crap loads of exciting traffic and create a buzz and a hive of activity and “conversation”, than it is to ‘go speak to the experts’.

This doesn’t seem like a good system for the consumers.

I haven’t thought of a solution to fixing it yet. Anyone got any ideas?

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 | Posted by | Categories: Philosophy, rbutr, Shane Greenup | Tagged: , , , , |

It only occurred to me recently just how difficult it is for most people to pursue entrepreneurial activities.

The stats of success for small businesses are notoriously bad. The stats for successful startups is significantly worse. Tiny fractions of a percent actually make it to being profitable, and the road to going from new novel idea to successful business is incredibly difficult. It is uncertain and a process which evolves as you make it happen. You start with nothing, and work for nothing to build something of value, never knowing if you will even make revenue let alone turn a profit until you reach that point…and sometimes that point is months or even years after you start working.

How many people can work for years without making money?

Pretty close to 0% I would guess. It is a very privileged minority who can work on a project for years without needing to make money while they do it. Just think about how much this amplifies the difficulty of making a startup you are working on successful. If a startup is already an incredibly challenging proposition – something which is necessarily an unknown proposition, which unfolds as you manually force it all to happen by virtue of your own relentless will, held back by endless setbacks, disappointments, distractions, mistakes and common human flaws – then multiple all of that difficulty by the factor of “Must also work part time to fund this endeavour”, then you now have a situation where you have an incredibly difficult thing to do and only some of your spare time to do it in.

It is amazing anyone ever succeeds.

Of course, the standard solution to this is to pitch early. Get seed funding. Then get series A funding. Get a few million dollars of someone else’s money behind the project, and finally you can just get to work. Money is no longer an issue; not survival money anyway, business money is always going to be an issue but at least you can focus on working for a while without worry about being able to feed yourself, pay rent or catch a bus.

But pitching to investors really isn’t a perfect solution. Pitching doesn’t just automatically lead to instant money. First of all, investors want to see that you have already demonstrated that your product is viable, or is going to work because it has some early traction. So you must have already put in crap loads of work (for free) making something which proves you’re worthy of their money. Then you will need stop working on your project and instead start working on pitching full time (also without pay) so that you can find the right investor(s) who understand your vision.

It is very rare to get investment from the first investor you talk to. I’ve heard numbers where people have to meet with 50-100 investors before they finally get funding, spending 3 to 6 months, or even longer, to secure funding. That is 6 months taken away from working on the project! And again, you’re somehow meant to survive through that whole process… Either you are already independently wealthy, or you’re only pitching part time while you work to survive…or you are lucky enough to have a family or partner successful/generous enough to support you while you work.

When you consider all of the factors against success, and then think about them being constantly reapplied over time; difficulties, rejections, changes in strategy happening every week, every month for many months… the psychological toll is significant. My suspicion is that most startup failures are actually a result of attrition. That is, they would keep pushing and trying if they had the resources to do so, but the constant set backs and rejections are all happening under the shadow of “How much longer can I keep this up for before I lose my house/can’t afford food/disappoint my family for the last time?”

My suspicion is that if this ever-present shadow of ultimate-failure was removed from the picture, there would be a lot more interesting and progressive startups out there…

The Luxury of Being Able to be an Entrepreneur

My life as an entrepreneur has been incredibly lucky. I stumbled into my first business straight out of University and made a fantastic low-effort easily monetised website which then paid me a small income for many years after that. That small income – never quite enough to thrive on, but always enough to get by - gave me the freedom to explore several business ideas over the last 5 years.

At the beginning of 2012 I started working on rbutr, and it became my whole focus. I had actually already stopped paying adequate attention to my first business, and 3 or so years after starting to neglect it, it’s income has now dwindled down to a trickle. With that now the case, I am made doubly aware of just how much support I have from my awesome family. My parents and my partner both are incredibly supportive and explicitly provide the security in my life which ensures that I have the freedom to continue working on a project which has no promise of making money any time soon.

What a luxury I have…

rbutr is one of those projects which is going to change the world. But if I didn’t have the freedom to pursue it relentlessly on account of a bit of early luck, and an awesome understanding and supportive family (who are by no means wealthy, btw, just very generous and understanding), then rbutr could easily become just another footnote in the history of failed efforts to make a difference.

I know that no one else sees the importance of rbutr as much as I do. I know that no one else will make this happen if I don’t. I also know that when it happens, everyone will look back and point out how obvious it was, and how they ‘had the same idea’ and “I could have made that!” But no one else will, because it is bloody hard to do.

I have had great luck. I have incredible support. I got so lucky when I found my partner, Craig, who is an incredible developer that just made the MVP happen within a month. I am lucky that we have been able to build a small group of true fans that keep pushing this project forward. I am lucky we have had other friends start helping out, volunteering their time to work on this project… We have had so much go right for us. And we’re still a million light years away from ‘success’. We could disappear tomorrow and a tiny fraction of a percent of the world population would even remember that we tried.

This shit is hard!

But I have the vision so strongly planted in my mind now that I cannot unsee it. I know where this is going, and it is amazing. I am just lucky that I don’t have to walk away. Not just yet anyway. I am running out of time…I have that shadow hanging over me (in my case, it is a baby due soon combined with the end of savings and a guilt of being so dependent on family)… but that is my issue which I need to solve before I hit that wall.

The point I am trying to make here, is that even with incredible luck in the form of an early success, an incredibly supportive family and girlfriend, and a startup idea that is truly revolutionary, which has some strong traction and powerful allies, I’m still in a position where there is a chance that I can fail just out of attrition. If we don’t get funding within the next few months, or start bringing in a revenue, then I will be forced to get a job. And that kinda sucks….

The Value of a Successful Startup

This leads me to the second part of this post: successful startups are a big deal.

When someone makes a Google or a Facebook, they take an idea, and they turn that little bit of nothingness into a great big money making machine. And I don’t just mean for themselves, I mean a machine which makes money for thousands of employees, for all of the businesses that they do business with, and most importantly, tax revenue which ultimately is intended to benefit everyone in society.

When you look at the fact that the large tech companies of the USA (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc), those companies have the same amount of revenue as Australia’s largest companies (mining, banks and grocery giants). That is, tech companies which (largely) sell non tangible substances (software, copyright, advertising) to a global audience bring in as much revenue (and much more profit) as companies which have to either extract limited resources from the ground, or sell real goods to consumers, or take a cut of transaction costs of Australians. Clearly non-tangible products sold to a global market is of a far greater value to the Australian population than companies who take a cut out of our own resources?

Getting a Google equivalent company in Australia would have such a huge impact on our economic position that it would be worth investing a lot of money into it, right? When you can take an idea from nothing, to 60+ billion dollars in revenue (again, from people all over the world) each year… that must produce a phenomenal return to the Australian economy in the form of jobs and tax revenue.

Surely this outcome is something worth fighting for?

Giving Entrepreneurs a Fighting Chance

What can we do to help improve our chances of finding Australia’s Google or Microsoft? How about removing that ‘shadow’ that hangs over all entrepreneurs? How about making it so that people feel free to work on projects which don’t make money, and aren’t even certain what the final product will look like, without fear of starving or losing their lives and family?

There are a couple of ways to do this. One option is to make a startup focused system, similar to what the Startup Chile program did, but focus it on Australian startups (instead of global), evaluate a pool of applicants and provide generous grants to a certain number of companies each year, giving them all the oxygen they need to keep pushing their idea uphill. This is one narrow method of solving this problem – though it still suffers some of the same limitations experienced by normal pitching (you need to prove your business worthy and spend time perfecting your pitch before you are likely to get the money).

A better solution is to embrace the concept of a Universal Basic Income.

If everyone had access to a guaranteed income which would be sufficient to ensure food and rent, then you would empower innumerable people to take the risks necessary to chase their startup dreams, and push forward on them relentlessly until they succeeded, or at least exhausted their own confidence. You would empower the exploration of ideas which may seem crazy, but also might just change the world.

The finding of another Google, Facebook, Microsoft or Apple would offset the cost of funding these dreamers many times over. It may not cover the costs of providing a Basic Income to everyone, but that is a wider question already well covered elsewhere. I just wanted to point out that it is generally acknowledged that funding many startups is the best approach to finding ‘the one’ which makes so much money that all of the other ‘losers’ are so insignificant in their costs as to not even be noticeable (<- this is a big link because you really should read this to understand how significant this point is!).

Giving everyone a Basic Income won’t make them all Elon Musks, but it does give them the security to try to be, and thereby the opportunity to prove themselves, or not. The ones who fail get to try again, or return to normal employment, or whatever else they wish without ever facing the specter of ultimate failure (abject poverty). While those who succeed – even if it is just 1 or 2 or 3 of them in total – will earn their way off the basic income into the lands of the ultra-wealthy. Where their business will more than pay for itself and all of its fallen brothers, and where the entrepreneur who made it will also hopefully be happy to pay the high taxes appropriate to their absurdly large income, at peace with the fact that they are only in that position because of the tax-sacrifices of those who came before them, not naively holding on to the easily-disproved notion that they made it ‘all on their own’.

No human has ever made it all on their own. We are a social species, and we depend on each other for everything. Let’s accept that fact and empower as many people as possible, and make the world a better place for everyone.

 

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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

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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.

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 | Posted by | Categories: Philosophy, rbutr, Shane Greenup |

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

 

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 | Posted by | Categories: rbutr, Shane Greenup |

It was back around 2005 I think. I was reading a book called The Field, by Lynne McTaggart, which was explaining how science is starting to show that there is a ‘field’ in the universe which connects everything in a conscious and health-related way. It was dabbling in quantum mechanics and refering to studies related to the memory of water, the ability for people to perform remote healing (with thoughts and/or prayer), and even went in to the potential for tapping this field to draw free energy from it.

It was an intriguing book, and I found myself, quite proudly I will admit, thinking of how all of ‘those skeptics’ out there wouldn’t read a book like this.

“They would probably dismiss it out of hand. Arrogant jerks. Not me. I’m open minded, and willing to give anything a go. Afterall, who is to say that we can’t draw power from quantum fluctuations? Seems reasonable enough to me! You know, that is what is wrong with those skeptics – they dismiss ideas too quickly without really giving them a chance. How do you know you won’t miss an amazing breakthrough because you dismissed it before you gave it a chance??!? Better to be open minded and give everything a chance…” I found myself thinking…

It is funny what a few more years of open minded thinking and genuine investigation will do to you. I have no become one of those arrogant jerks. At least, that is how I am perceived by people who haven’t yet completed the journey I have.

You see, at the time I was reading the book, I was studying Molecular Biology at university. Since completing my one year full time research in a lab, I have also gone on to teach first second and third year university student lab techniques and basic science. So I was able to really engage with one part of the book directly – the section which discussed the amazing research done by Jacques Benveniste, which claimed that water had a memory, and that when serially diluted to infintesimal amounts, the activity of the ingredients would increase. The book claimed that his research had demonstrated it. I could actually go and access his published papers. I could actually test the claims. More importantly, I understood exactly what was being claimed, and was able to consider it in an informed, detailed manner.

And unfortunately, it was pretty clear that the whole thing was a load of shit.

Basically, the claim was that one of the most basic, constantly run of the mill aspects of scientific daily life – that if decreasing activity with dilutions, suddenly reversed itself at some mystical magical dilution point. To help visualise this, here is a line graph of the basic principle:

As you dilute an active reagent, it has less activity!

As you dilute an active reagent, it has less activity!

So basically, if you have some molecule which reacts in some measurable way, then when you dilute the original sample to half concentration, you get half as much activity out of the same volume. der right? If you use half as much detergent on your dishes, it has half as much cleaning activity! Try using 1/10 the amount of detergent next time you wash up. Then try doing taking 10ml out of the sink, and using that to provide the detergent for the follow load of dishes. Obviously, the activity of the detergent is going to become useless. There simply isn’t enough to do anything.

So anyway, the claim was that if you keep doing this, suddenly, water would remember its active agent, and would act as if it had it in it. It would ‘remember’ the active agent, and be active itself. Basically, the claim was that it would do this:

memory of water

dilute something far enough, and it gets more active again!

This was the claim. Dilute an active agent far enough, and the water itself suddenly starts being active again, despite the fact that there is actually zero particles of the active agent in it.

The book very clearly made it sound like this research had been done, had been demonstrated, and was an amazing break through. not only did water have a memory, but apparently it could be activated over the phone. Hooray. Praise science!

Unfortunately, no one else has ever been able to replicate the findings. And this principle is so easy to test, that really, anyone can do it. It just doesn’t work. It is false. it is wrong, and it is a lie to act like there is something here. There isn’t. This is the fact. But when I read the book, I had no idea that this was the supposed principle behind Homeopathy. I had no preconceived notions. I wasn’t dismissing anything out of hand. I had no idea how homeopathy was claimed to work, and I read the entire thing in good faith. It sounded fantastic, and I wanted to believe it. It just failed to live up to its claims in the end.

I had an open mind. I approached it genuinely. And in the end, with investigation, and a reasonable approach, it was 100% clear that the whole concept was made up. Someone lied. Simple. So now, whenever someone talks to me about the memory of water, I feel very confident in my appraisal: it is nonsense. Complete rubbish, based on wishful thinking with zero science to back it up. And by extension, homeopathy falls apart without this most surreal claim. So that, combined with numerous other events and readings and discussions I have had over the past 6 or so years leave me in a position where I feel justified at concluding: homeopathy is nonsense.

So now I am a closed minded jerk skeptic.

And that was just the memory of water part of the book. Around the same time I spent an hour next to my uncle’s wife in a car talking to her about her psychic powers. She is a real psychic. She gets paid to do psychic readings, she has a slot on the radio – she even TEACHES people how to be psychic. She is the real deal. I wanted to believe. I wanted her to give me something, something real, something to show me that she really could …read minds? see the future? whatever it is that psychics are meant to be able to do. I really wanted it!

Instead I found out that she just lets her mind wander, and lets images come to them and tells people what she sees. It was all underwhelming at the time, and I left feeling pretty meh about the whole thing. Again, in the years since then I have come a long way in my education and understanding of the world. I have learned about psychology and the human mind, and all of its terrible terrible failings. The studies which have shown how susceptible people are to believing things, and assenting to perceived authority figures. About people filling in gaps, and detecting patterns where there are none. I have watched Derren Brown and other mentalists demonstrate the techniques which psychics use (whether they realise they use them or not), and do so far better than any psychics can. I have seen too many of the most famous psychics be shown up as frauds by investigators like James Randi. I have seen too much. I have learned too much. I didn’t start out closed minded. I didn’t decide psychics were bullshit. I started out hoping to be shown something real. I wanted to believe. The evidence, the facts, and the information just got in the way.

So now I am an arrogant jerk skeptic again. So closed minded….

And the person who lent this book to me way back then was actually reading it because of the implications about power generation. See he was an entrepreneur and home inventor. He had invented a power generation system in his garage and was attempting to make generators from it. You may have seen similar generators online – they use magnets and coils and generate more power than you put in them to get them started. I watched this thing working in his garage, and he showed me dials showing how the voltage coming out of it was higher than the input…. and I knew that you could change the voltage without there being more power, but fact is that I am not an electrical engineer, and I am quite ignorant about electricity in general, so I couldn’t really question it. He was sure they were generating power, so I trusted him. He wasn’t an electrical engineer either. Or a physicist. But those egg heads didn’t understand it. They were all too invested in their paradigm, and couldn’t see the truth when it was put in front of them.

I believed him. I wanted it to be true. I mean, seriously – a free energy generator. And I know the usual complaint is that you can’t get energy for free! Well yeah, but solar panels can harvest energy from UV radiation, so who is to say that this generator isn’t harvesting energy from ‘the Field’ like the book implied? Seriously – it is a valid point. Maybe one day we will invent a power generation system which takes power from the micro fluctuations in quantum particles. Well at least so my completely ignorant mind still wants to believe. Anyway, how awesome would it be to know the person who invented cheap free energy for the world? You know, like Nikola Tesla did before he was sabotaged….

But for the seven years that I was involved in this persons life – the whole time of which he was working on this project – one thing continually bothered me. If it really generated power – why wasn’t he using it to power things? I believe there were reasons, related to the dirty outputs or something (fluctuating waves or something – again, more shit I didn’t understand!) but seriously, we’re looking at going on to almost 10 years now, and I have still heard nothing about any progress on this project. I don’t believe they have any power units being produced, nor have they expanded in to large scale power stations.

I am disappointed. I still want to believe in it. I still want it to be true. But there is a point at which you have to stop living in the fairytale world where wishing things would be true makes a difference, and accept that the likeliest thing here, is that they simply don’t understand the facts of the situation. That they keep finding excuses to justify failure, when the experts simply understood the entire situation from the beginning.

This is really one of the biggest things I have learned over the years as I worked my way towards miserable old arrogant jerk skeptic, is that at the end of the day, someone who is genuinely knowledgable about a subject, can dismiss ideas out of hand sometimes. Or if not dismiss ideas, can at least call Bullshit on someone attempting to spin jargon, and getting it all outright wrong.

Being somewhat well trained in biology and philosophy and the history of science, I have studied evolution more than most people out there. I understand the biology of it, I understand the philosophy behind it, and its history. I have literally studied all of those elements, as well as engaged with every other aspect of it in a more casual discussion format. So I get evolution. Really well.

So when someone comes up and says that Humans were placed here by Aliens, I can VERY confidently dismiss that idea completely out of hand. Because I know how much evidence we have for the fact that humans evolved from apes. The idea that we were placed on this planet with so many nearly identically related species, with intermediate fossils scattering the area clearly found to be our local origin point, our historic migratory pattern our of africa, always found with epoch appropriate technology, all discovered with numerous lines of completely independant verification – when you actually understand this stuff, and know that there is well founded evidence behind it all, then dismissing some guys idea is the only reasonable thing to do. It is not reasonable to pay their ignorance of the evidence the same credibility as the weight of knowledge of evidence on the side of the expert. This is not arrogance, this is reality.

It is like taking your car to a mechanic because it broke down after you put sugar in the fuel tank and arguing that sugar is a carbon based material, like petrol, therefore it works, so therefore it must be something else which caused it to break down – and then getting indignant when the mechanic out of hand dismisses your claims. How dare that mechanic be so arrogant as to ignore your arguments? He should at least check to make sure other things aren’t broken! He clearly hasn’t seen the same information as you. Maybe you should take him to your sugar-as-fuel youtube videos, and he will see the light!

No. The professional understands more than you do. His knowledge isn’t brain washing. It is experience. It is accumulated knowledge of a reliable and trustworthy nature.

Yes it is true that sometimes people can be self-assured and be wrong – but as a whole, as we move forwards in scientific research, these areas are getting smaller and smaller and more and more detail orientated. Scientific paradigm shifts of the sort seen back in Galileo’s day and with Darwin happened in the past because the scientific bodies were establishing themselves then. Science, as a human endeavour, was being born. There were birthing pains as the old ways of dogma (typically religious) were being over thrown. Yes dogma still exists, and yes some people are still arrogant. but as a whole, NO, evolution is not just as realistic as creationism and not just as likely to be overthrown by some new theory. NO, atomic theory is not just as likely to be over thrown by a new theory as the theory of phlogiston was. Or as Isaac Assimov very clearly argued in this great paper, our understanding of the shape of the earth is not just as likely to be wrong as a belief in the earth being flat was.

We are not swapping one arbitrary belief for another – we are gradually ratcheting our understanding of the universe closer and closer to the truth with accumulating evidence.

Skepticism is, in my opinion, just a label for people who, like me, have been through a journey where we all end up realising this same simple fact. That evidence doesn’t change. And when you actually consider all of the evidence together, the scientific leaders of each niche field actually do know what they are talking about. Far better than anyone else. No one of them is right. But the peer-system of research, review and revision works really well over the long run. And things which have been around for a while, and independently verified and tested – they are pretty much here to stay, tried and tested, facts.

And when someone comes out of one field, and claims to know more about another field than the people in that field – if the people in that field dismiss their claims out of hand, it is usually because they are dismissable. They are nonsense. Being a doctor does not equip you with knowledge about quantum mechanics, no matter how smart you are. If you want to disrupt another science, then you still need to go through the process of studying it and genuinely understanding the history and research, and reptition which has got it to the situation it is in. Not just make wild statements and expect people to accept them because you have some authority in another field.

Sadly though, the general public have no idea of this, so when people like Deepak Chopra do exactly this, declare “I am a doctor! I must therefore be very smart” and then proceed to talk about things related to quantum mechanics despite having been told numerous times by professional physicists that what he says doesn’t make sense, and simply doesn’t work that way, the public have no way of understanding this conflict, and so trust him (he IS a doctor afterall!), and thus buy his books, attend his talks, and make him shit loads of money, while he flat out lies to them.

So here we are again, i am that arrogant jerk of a skeptic who outright dismisses someone who lots of people love and adore and surely isn’t doing any harm etc. But fuck Deepak. He is an arsehole who peddles bullshit for profit at the hands of ignorance and he knows it.

I have believe in, and slowly been educated out of so many false beliefs I feel like I should feel ashamed. I feel like a fraud skeptic whenever I go to conventions. It seems like everyone else has always been so smart and not fallen for this shit. But I kept trying things.  My current girlfriend has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This is a disease that is so poorly understood, that there is no concensus even where to do the research on it! What do you do when trying to treat a disease which has no known cause, and no known treatment? You try everything. To this day, while I am steeped in my skeptical position, I still encourage her to try things which I am 99% sure won’t do shit, but fuck it right – maybe the placebo affect will help at least? So we have been trying variations of vitamin and dietary supplements. We even tried buying an oxygen machine to try pumping a higher concentration of oxygen in to her lungs. We went to a clinic where she was taught the Emotional Freedom Technique – which basically comes down to tapping on parts of your body whenever you feel stressed, in order to reduce your stress.

It sounds like complete BS from the outset. But you know what – I still give it the benefit of the doubt. I still wonder whether the simple act of distraction can play a significant role and reducing stress and anxiety – two experiences which are very much of the mind, and as such could be distracted from. And maybe if we could distract anxious and stressed minds from their anxieties and stress, maybe that would calm them, and in doing so, stop any cascade affects which come from the stressed state and cause harmful states in the body? Maybe this treatment will help?

But here is the real problem isn’t it? This is one of those areas where BS peddlers get in: We are talking about a subject which exists in an area of genuine ignorance. Not only do I really really not understand how the brain works, and how physical activities and chosen behavioural patterns affects the brain, let alone how the brain and activities in it can cascade down in to real physical chemical changes in the body – but sadly, neither does anyone much else. Doctors know a lot more than I do, but this brain-body-psychology cross over is still just too damn complicated. This is why disease like CFS and depression and many others are such a large problem. If we don’t understand the system in its natural state, how the fuck do we fix it when it is broken?

So I will keep hoping these people who claim to have a cure are right – but the reality is that they are just making shit up, and selling it without any real evidence. And they get away with it because hope is a powerful thing, and because the placebo affect exists, and people can’t differentiate correlation from causation. Oh, and they attribute causation to whatever they want to, rather than attempting to identify the actual cause. So when someone does come out of a bad CFS period, they attribute it to whatever new treatment they had started, despite the fact that it may well have been a spontaneous remission, or a result of a lot of contributing factors.

This is why science matters. Rigorous, independent investigation which identifies the real causes of things make a difference. They progress understanding, and create repeatable technolgies. Cures. Fuels which work. Microwaves which cook. Data transmission around the world.

Bonus points if you can identify the science in question

From XKCD

While people who sell lies for profit undermine the evidence based system which works. By tricking the public in to thinking that their ignorance is just as good as the knowledge of experts, it makes a public question the value of science, resulting in political weakness. Science gets less funding. Education gets less focus. Society stagnates and we all suffer. I wish we had a machine which could do one of those ‘Ghost of Chistmases yet to come’ deals and show what the world would be like if we really did just throw our hands up in the air and say that the Deepak chopras of the world had the same claim to knowledge and information as all of the actual experts.

So yeah, now I have become one of those people which I once fancied myself better than. In my ignorance I was sure I was better than the people who had ‘made up their minds’ and were ‘arrogant’ and missing opportunities. Now, in my state of less ignorance, I am much more clearly aware of the flaws of so many more claims that I can cut through the crap much faster. With less ignorance, I see that most skeptics are not close minded – they are just more informed. Because sometimes information really can exclude possibilities!

 

 

 

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 | Posted by | Categories: All, Philosophy, Shane Greenup, Skepticism |

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 :)

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 | Posted by | Categories: Entrepreneurial, rbutr, Shane Greenup |

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.

Problems (obviously)

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.

 

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Update:

http://rbutr.com is now a reality. This was the post which made it happen. Go to rbutr.com now and register to see the vision in action!

The Minimal Viable Product

A browser extension which allows people to link “Rebuttals” to specific web pages so that when other users view that specific webpage, the extension indicates that a “rebuttal” webpage exists, and by clicking on the extension icon you will taken to it.

Real world exmple:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2003824/Earth-facing-mini-Ice-Age-years-rare-drop-sunspot-activity.html
The Daily Mail posts a story that “Scientist’s Say Mini Ice Age is coming”.

In response, Potholer54 makes a video: http://www.youtube.com/user/potholer54#p/u/19/adAvYK1O-ic which provides a strong rebuttal to the article (and the numerous spin off articles which copied the fabrication verbatim).

But anyone who gets directed to the original article has no idea that the headline of the article is a complete fabrication, and tend to accept it as true (since it comes from a ‘respectable’ source – not just some blog, for example). So for all of the great work that has been done debunking the ridiculous article by Potholer54 and the hundreds of other bloggers and scientists and youtubers out there, people who see the original article have no indication of any of that. So much great work, effectively wasted because they cannot (easily) reach the target audience!

Hence the need for a tool like this. With this browser extension, if you have the tool installed, when you get directed to this article by some misguided friend on facebook, as soon as you land your browser will clearly indicate that rebuttal(s) have been submitted to this article. When you finish reading the article, you are then free to click through and read the rebuttal to it, and likewise, click through again if there are in turn, more rebuttals to those rebuttals.

Why Make It?

The purpose of this tool is to facilitate ‘forward’ moving discussion. Whenever someone posts a rebuttal style article online, they always link to, or at least indicate the article that they are replying to. It is necessary. You have to let people know what it is you are replying to in order to reply to it! So whenever you come across one of these sorts of posts online, it is easy to look ‘backwards’ through the discussion, but wherever you enter this debate, it always seems like it is ‘the last word’ on the subject. But it rarely is.

This tool will show where the discussion has gone, rather than just where it has been. It will allow people to follow discussions forward through time, rather than just backwards. It will help reduce ignorance by providing internet users with a way to look beyond the information they find themselves presented with.

The internet is a huge mess of information – organising that information into a USEFUL format is one of the biggest challenges of the internet.

  1. Search engines were the first major breakthrough on that front, and they are still great – within their bounds.
    Find what you are looking for, roughly.
  2. Social Tools were the second major breakthrough, with clever systems of recommendation based on subject. StumbleUpon, Reddit, Facebook etc.
    Discover stuff you didn’t know you were looking for/Discover stuff similar to what you already like
  3. This tool – this concept – could be the third major breakthrough by providing a ‘threading’ system to internet subject matter. Discussion based direction to the web.
    Discover the next piece of information you need.

The long vision (below) will go in to more details on the following stages of development and on how this simple idea could be rolled out to acheive far more of this information-organising function.

Reaching the Market

This is the biggest difficulty with this idea. There is no organic-growth model. There is no content creation, so no SEO based traffic. There is nothing inherently viral, or recommendable about the technology. It isn’t particularly cool, so people won’t share it on Reddit or Facebook or Stumble Upon. And unlike StumbleUpon’s toolbar (a very similar technological concept in many ways), this lacks any on-page presence. ie: People add “Thumbs Up on StumbleUpon” badges on their websites as a way of attracting more Stumble traffic to their site. This tool has no such ability.

The only people who might want to promote this tool are the authors of rebuttal style articles, but ironically, they need to promote it to the readers of the ‘opponents’ – because their own subscribers don’t need to the tool!

Variations on the Basic Idea

The idea of creating a system of organising topical discussion threads throughout the internet seems to be one of value to me. Instead of toolbar, it could be taken to google or internet regulatory bodies as a tag which indicates relationship. Just as Rel=”No Follow” was created as a way to combat spam, so too perhaps could a tag be invented which allows websites to indicate that they are rebutting/replying/agreeing with websites they link to. For example, something like this might be written:

Yesterday, the website which I disagree with wrote this article: <a href=”url” rel=”rebut”>Article Title</a> – but it is so wrong, because it said X, but Y is demonstrated by this reason.

or equally:

Last night, the website of a friend published this article: <a href=”url” rel=”agree”>Article Title</a> – and I just want to restate how important this view is, because it said X, and Y is a real problem that X deals with.

So, as an example, this sort of markup could be created and introduced to the internet, perhaps with the values of “Rebut”, “Agree”, “Review” and/or “Reply” (with strict definitions of each) and then the search engines, the browsers themselves, or other robots could use this markup to construct meaningful maps of online discussions. Hopefully even offering ideal pathways through the discussion…

The Long Vision

The tool described above is the MVP, and is very simplistic. There are a lot of improvements which could be made, and I currently expect they should be rolled out, roughly along the plan described below:

Stage Two

If any sort of market penetration is reached then the first people to really use the tool will be the internet marketers who will abuse it as a way of linking from popular articles to their own website. First improvement will be the ability for users to upvote, downvote and spam-vote the articles presented to them through the tool.

Repeat offending domains (repeatedly marked as spam) could be permanently blocked. And other obvious steps to reduce abuse would be implemented.

Stage Three

Implement a more detailed system which allows more types of replies to be entered. The MVP above doesn’t actually allow for agreements, reviews or other replies to be indicated (though it was mentioned in the variations section). So this sort of specification could be implemented, if it seemed desirable. Thus “n replies” would be indicated, and onclick a popupwindow would break down : “X Rebuttals, Y Agreements and Z Reviews” – at which point you choose what you are interested in.

Stage Four

The first major upgrade to the system: The creation of a way for users to delve in to the arguments themselves and provide analysis of the original article in relation to the reply through a side-by-side view with page-overlay highlighting. In other words, build a way for users who are particularly interested/involved in specific discussion the ability to bring up both articles connected by a ‘reply’ link side by side so that they can highlight sections, and visually connect those sections to highlighted sections in the reply, and comment about that connection etc. In effect, this component would not be too different to web annotation tools which already exist (http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/web-annotation-tools-research-annotate-collaborate/), but just used in a specific context and with a precise objective of facilitating discourse. ie: the comments should be made to highlight how the reply has actually dealt with the claims, rebutted points, and/or failed to address key points.

Stage Five

The super long vision:

Develop a sophisticated algorithms/intelligent software which learns to identify repeated claims and the standard replies to them. Automatically starts to provide ‘standard rebuttal’ options for false claims, bad arguments, logical fallacies etc on the fly while browsing. Turns the redundancy of millions of internet pages and posts on the same topic on its head, and focusses the results of all of the repeated arguments in to the one most productive outcome. Could sort of work like word’s grammar tool, but with bad claims/arguments. It would underline or highlight lines which are found to be repeatedly used even though they have been rebutted hundreds of times elsewhere, and onclick or onhover, provide the rebuttal and a list of resources for that false claim.

Feedback

Please leave feedback and comments to this. I would like to build it, but I am struggling with how to reach any sort of market penetration with it at all – and of course, with all of these sorts fo ideas: is it even worth making it? I think it is a cool idea, but there is never any way to know without trying, or at least without talking to people – which is the point of this post. Feedback!

So please, let me know what you think.

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