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An unbiased, informative site for heated issues
May 10, 2008 6:04 PM   Subscribe

ProCon.org is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit public charity that has no government affiliations of any kind. On it, you can find unbiased information on the Pros and Cons of issues ranging from the the use of medical marijuana to whether milk really does do a body good. They use a system of theoretical credibility to give weight to cited arguments and opinions, and offer 1-minute overviews, top 10 Pro/Cons, Summaries, Little-known facts, and even extensive glossaries for each subject. They are also following the 2008 election.

Re: Euthanasia-

Did you know? The original text of the ancient Greek Hippocratic Oath, that is still taken (in some form) by many medical school graduates, contained prohibitions against surgery, abortion, and euthanasia.
posted by pedmands (27 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is a pretty awesome site.

Then again, they sent me a three free mousepads for reviewing their site favorably on StumbleUpon so I am a bit biased.
posted by champthom at 6:16 PM on May 10, 2008


Err, rather they sent me three free mousepads.

In any case, it's quite lovely.
posted by champthom at 6:17 PM on May 10, 2008


ProCon.org claims to be an unbiased source for facts about issue. But after looking through a lot of the site, it suffers from exactly the same problem as I pointed out in the recent thread about journalism; namely, presenting one person from either side of an issue or fact without endeavoring to determine which party is correct is not helpful and, frankly, isn't even all that unbiased.

Consider: is teaching the "debate" about evolution by presenting "both sides" in schools unbiased? Of course not, it is biased towards the factually incorrect side.

This site does the same thing; it presents every issue as though both sides have an equal claim to being correct. Which simply isn't true for a lot of issues. Yes, it's both difficult and controversial to try and determine the truth. But not doing so isn't unbiased. It's a disservice.
posted by Justinian at 6:20 PM on May 10, 2008 [20 favorites]


The Hippocratic Oath was not widely accepted in ancient Greece, though. Its ethics were Pythagorean rather than mainstream. It's only comparatively recently that it's caught on as a statement of a doctor's duties. ("First, do no harm" is pretty catchy.)
(things you learn from reading Roe v. Wade)
posted by grobstein at 6:24 PM on May 10, 2008


Creating a self portrait with critical thinking involves those famous three stages of thinking. This site helps to nurture stage two- the 'Everything goes' stage. It is up to the reader to take the information presented on the site to the next critical thinking level. The site is a source, not an authority.
posted by pedmands at 6:26 PM on May 10, 2008


But really the plethora of election data and information is worth it alone.
posted by pedmands at 6:27 PM on May 10, 2008


Yeah I gotta agree. I don't think that attempting perfect lack of bias is ideal. It is better to openly proclaim bias, openly say who is funding you, etc. You cannot be unbiased.

I understand that the way bias is presented daily to us is really dishonest. We're present with messages in which we can clearly see the author's bias, and our cynicism has become so complete that we're not at all surprised to see the BP or GE logos at the end of a driveling montage about the bright future of energy independence. But there isn't anything wrong with an honest argument, honestly stated, and with honest admission of who your opponents are, even if you are wrong. If you want both sides of the story presented, and presented well, listen to a debate, not somebody who is claiming neutrality. Almost inevitably, bias will slip in to any well thought out discussion of a controversial issue. If it doesn't all that seems to prove to me is that the writers do not care enough about the material to present a decent argument for any side. It produces a mediocrity in learning that robs meaningful issues of all potency, and delivers us all into the grimy clawed hands of marketing professionals.

Or it isn't that big a deal. I dunno. I suppose presenting facts and statistics is nice....but there's lies, damned lies, and statistics. I haven't yet seen even a statistic written totally without bias. (Do you call them felons, convicted criminals, violent offenders, good people who have just made a mistake, or dangerous predators on your bar graph?)
posted by SomeOneElse at 6:35 PM on May 10, 2008


I liked it. The "theoretical credibility" makes it easier to get an overview of both sides of an issue with a better feel for the quality of the resource.
posted by onalark at 6:59 PM on May 10, 2008


At the point that I discovered that James Dobson ranks a "theoretical credibility" of three stars based on being considered an "Expert" with respect to the subject of whether God should feature in the pledge of allegiance my faith in this website started to erode.

Seriously, that theoretical ranking system is really badly flawed, since it basically just broadly classifies sources as "types" and considers some types more credible than others - the actual credibility of specific sources are not genuinely evaluated at all. Slapping these rankings on a batch of highly biased opinions by individuals and agencies with agendas and presenting them side by side is very misleading.
posted by nanojath at 6:59 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Slapping these rankings on a batch of highly biased opinions by individuals and agencies with agendas and presenting them side by side is very misleading.

bingo.
posted by Justinian at 7:01 PM on May 10, 2008


Thanks. For high school students writing about contemporary issues, this is way more helpful than their usual random Google-noodling. I'll pass it on to my colleagues and students.
posted by kozad at 7:04 PM on May 10, 2008


I don't think the stars are a very good indication of the quality of the resource. I took the "Born Gay?" part as a sample and Googled some of the sources. Having a PhD in itself does not make someone more credible, especially when theorizing outside one's training area or radically departing from consensus in one's own field. Someone who did a Harvard postdoc 30 years ago and is now touring LDS and right-wing churches putting on presentations featuring "cured" homosexual is just not equivalent to many of the people posted with equal numbers of stars and opposing point of view. Look at the CVs. Also, one of the sources that brought four stars was not a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The idea may be somewhat laudable, but the star ranking system is far too simplistic, and I agree with Justinian that treating all viewpoints, regardless of breadth of consensus within fields of expertise, as equal in merit is utter folly.
posted by Miko at 7:06 PM on May 10, 2008


They recognize many of the flaws you're pointing out themselves.

Doctors Get 4-Stars on Medical Marijuana Site Even if They Know Nothing About Medical Marijuana - On our medical marijuana site physicians receive a 4-star rating based only on their M.D. degree, with no consideration of their having had any experience with, or knowledge of, medical marijuana. A Ph.D. research scientist with extensive medical marijuana experience receives a 3-star rating.

Determining What Is Unbiased Is Subjective - We classify "national and international mainstream publications" as 2-star sources that generally present "unbiased reporting." Many newspapers reach a national or international audience by publishing their articles on the internet. We've done our best to determine what is "mainstream" and generally "unbiased," however such distinctions are in themselves subjective.

No Background Verifications - We do not verify the professional or educational background of our sources. For instance, if someone reports that they hold a Ph.D., M.D., or J.D. degree, then we presume that they hold that degree. We recognize that people may lie on their resumes, but we don't check resumes for accuracy.


Considering that they're open about these things, it seems that they do not claim to be a definitive source or as thorough as fact-checkers. I certainly wouldn't suggest writing your thesis based solely on the information gleaned of the site. The site just makes for an interesting collection of information floating about out there regarding various issues.
posted by pedmands at 7:34 PM on May 10, 2008


It's nice to see sources being ranked, even if it's an imperfect system.

Maybe should go something like this:

5-star: Professional organizations: National Academy of Scientists
4-star: Peer study groups: IPCC
3-star: Peer Reviewed documents: Journal Science, Nature
2-star: Individual experts: PhD
1-star: Interested layperson: everyone else

This is a really simple rule of thumb, lots of ways to approach it. Trick is to factor in 2 metrics: 1) Level of potential bias and 2) level of expertise - so the individual PhD has a very high expert level, but also a very high potential for bias, so they are far down the list. The professional organizations such as NAS has a low level of bias and high level of expertise so they are at the top of the list.
posted by stbalbach at 7:37 PM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


The site just makes for an interesting collection of information floating about out there regarding various issues.

The entire Internet is an interesting collection of information floating about out there regarding various issues. The question is not one of interest, but of veracity. Presenting this as an unbiased source of potential reference information seems disingenuous.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:47 PM on May 10, 2008


I had to laugh when I saw their theoretical credibility system put government reports at the top of the pile. The US government is quite far from credible on many issues, especially medical marijuana.
posted by ssg at 8:49 PM on May 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Any site which presents a point-of-view with which is disagree is OBVIOUSLY biased.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:01 PM on May 10, 2008


I'm disturbed by the placing of all debates into a pro/con format.

Choices have pros and cons -- but scientific (or historic, or economic, etc) questions just don't. They have evidence, and lack of evidence, and unclear evidence and we just don't know yet. But they don't have pros and cons because they aren't choices. The answers are the truth, but we don't know the answer yet and may never fully know the answer.

Putting things into "pro" and "con" suggests that all of the points in a debate are equally valid. But they are not. If someone told me that the English Civil War (aka the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) was started because someone bit off Cromwell's ear, they would be wrong. It's not a valid point on the origins of the English Civil War.
posted by jb at 9:14 PM on May 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm always suspicious of sites like this, having been taken in by some in the past, so I always go snoop around now. I usually expect them to be some kind of Republican front with a hidden agenda slicked over, ultimately trying to sell something slimy. That doesn't appear to be the case here. Could even be the opposite. Who knows, but I just like to know who's paying and what their motivations are if I'm going to read a word of whatever they're saying. I'd like to think I'm too savvy to be duped, but I can be duped or at least confused by tricksy arguments and slick PR same as most people. So ignore the pretty flower and look first at the roots, I say.

ProCon is funded by the A-Mark Foundation (990 PDF), whose main principal is Steven C. Markoff, who is also the main principal of A-Mark Financial (parent of A-Mark Precious Metals), a buyer/seller/distributor of precious metals, and of A-Mark Entertainment, a film production company. The former is one of the largest privately held companies in the US and has operations worldwide, including over $1 billion worth of business with the US government. In the latter he's a partner with ex-con Bruce McNall, former owner of the LA Kings who went to jail for defrauding banks of $236 million.

According to the FEC (or this easier-to-read interface), he contributed to Republicans such as Specter and McCain in the late 90s but has given exclusively and generously to Dems since then at the national level. State and local campaign contributions are a little more mixed but still lean more Democratic.

Markoff is on the board of the ACLU and appears to be pro drug legalization (he sent copies of the documentary Sex Drugs And Democracy to every member of Congress in 1998), which seems to go together thematically with the Dem campaign contributions.

With all of that said, they are pretty up front about who is behind the site and that they aren't ideological eunuchs. Like here at an older site , they openly discuss the fact that various of the people behind one of their earlier efforts did have definite positions on the issue they were pro/conning. That's at least a good faith effort at transparency.

So it looks like a site funded by a liberal, but in a pretty earnest attempt at avoiding bias, perhaps even to the detriment of liberal arguments in some cases as people upthread have noted (e.g. by giving equal weight to creationism).

So there's some context.
posted by Askr at 9:45 PM on May 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


FormlessOne: "The site just makes for an interesting collection of information floating about out there regarding various issues.

The entire Internet is an interesting collection of information floating about out there regarding various issues. The question is not one of interest, but of veracity. Presenting this as an unbiased source of potential reference information seems disingenuous.
"

Perhaps, but I have no agenda. By posting the site here, I was simply sharing a hub, not a POV. You could easily see the site as a starting point, a place to being to understand arguments, and then research the rest of the (intimidatingly vast) internet for further pieces of information. See the site as a aggregate, the internet as the mass it constitutes.

I do really appreciate the raking the FPP is getting, though. In all seriousness, it sheds some very critical light.
posted by pedmands at 10:50 PM on May 10, 2008


One thing to keep in mind, pedmands, is that there is a difference between raking the FPP and raking the ProCon site. I don't think people are criticizing your FPP at all. I thought it was an interesting link.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 PM on May 10, 2008


Justinian: "One thing to keep in mind, pedmands, is that there is a difference between raking the FPP and raking the ProCon site. I don't think people are criticizing your FPP at all. I thought it was an interesting link."

That's mostly what I meant, yes. Thanks. It's nice to post a link and get some in-depth discussion on it. MeFi for the win.
posted by pedmands at 11:02 PM on May 10, 2008


It'd be nice if it not only presented "pro" and "con" but also "fact" and "fiction."

'cause a whole lot of fiction is being presented as fact these days, and doing so is making people too dumb to continue surviving into the future. We've got problems that are not going to be solved by wishful thinking, personal belief, or great spirits. Presenting those as "pro" arguments does absolutely nothing to actually help us deal.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 AM on May 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Apparently facts are biased and interfere with a true exchange of ideas. Who knew?
posted by Tehanu at 7:13 AM on May 12, 2008


GEOLOGISTS CLAIM EARTH IS SPHERICAL AND ROTATES AROUND THE SUN. FIVE LINGUISTS WITH PHDS DISAGREE. Visit out site to learn about both sides of this controversial issue without the bias of evidence!
posted by Tehanu at 7:17 AM on May 12, 2008


our, dammit.
posted by Tehanu at 7:17 AM on May 12, 2008


is there any valid reason a person who chooses the time, place, and manner of their own peaceful and painless death should worry about possible legal consequences for their loved ones if they choose to be with them at the time of their death?

for a biased discussion of Euthanasia, as originally defined by the Greeks, and a forum in which to post your own comments see EuthanasiaClinic.org.

it's not about death, it's about personal freedom.
posted by altman at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2008


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