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Trying to even out the false middle
August 6, 2009 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Can a firefox extension extend rationality? Wherein intel labs attempt to add rationality to the web. Good freaking luck.

One of the things that has always driven me crazy in media, is when they call a dispute covered by putting on two people who disagree without considering the truth of either claim. Sometimes referred to as False Dilemma or The Fallacy of the Excluded Middle.

That's why I was interested to hear an interview (from the excellent On The Media) with a researcher from Intel who's trying to solve that problem. Dispute Finder scans what you are reading and tries to point out alternative information from a source you are likely to trust. It's raising considerable interest.

On the other hand, it could just make the problem worse.
posted by lumpenprole (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
So we don't need MetaFilter any more, right?
posted by lukemeister at 1:21 PM on August 6, 2009


Dunno, but FlashBlock definitely extended my sanity.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just now installed it, highlighted the words 'sleep' and 'Viking,' and the damn thing broke my computer.
posted by Kinbote at 1:26 PM on August 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think I'm going like this.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:28 PM on August 6, 2009


So... everything disputed is to be distrusted. I suppose that's better than a planet of blind followers, but pretty much everything could be turfed into "disputable" here.

To foster distrust of something, make sure it's shown as "disputed" somewhere on the internet. That way nobody will take the point seriously, even if it's, say, global warming, or evolution. Because no matter how true something is, there's always that "equally valid opposing viewpoint" to trot out, right?

Are we sure this is from Intel, and not Fox News Labs?
posted by rokusan at 1:29 PM on August 6, 2009


Dispute Finder scans what you are reading and tries to point out alternative information from a source you are likely to trust.

Um, not so much that last part. At least for the samples I tried, it was linking to some pretty dodgy sources.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:34 PM on August 6, 2009


rokusan: To foster distrust of something, make sure it's shown as "disputed" somewhere on the internet. That way nobody will take the point seriously, even if it's, say, global warming, or evolution.

That's easy to solve. Only install it on computers belonging to people who are wrong.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:34 PM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's a good idea.

^ test here
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


At least for the samples I tried, it was linking to some pretty dodgy sources

Yeah, but you're supposed to tell it that. Then it won't trust those sources in the future.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:37 PM on August 6, 2009


Trust, eh? Well, you know you can trust PepsiCo sponsored sites.
(Paid for by the PepsiCo Trust)
posted by LD Feral at 1:40 PM on August 6, 2009


Yeah, but you're supposed to tell it that. Then it won't trust those sources in the future.

I finally found that part of the FA: "For instance, at the moment all disputes are treated equally regardless of the perceived authority of the sources quoted. But in future, users will have the chance to selectively display only the disputes based on evidence from widely respected sources."

One thing my students have trouble with is evaluating the reliability of sources, so anything that helps sift out some of the axgrindytinfoilhatwannabuyabunny noise is welcome.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:46 PM on August 6, 2009


To foster distrust of something, make sure it's shown as "disputed" somewhere on the internet. That way nobody will take the point seriously, even if it's, say, global warming, or evolution.

So what? People should be more skeptical of things, even things which are true. Because if they're not skeptical of things that are true, they can't be skeptical of things that are false. Skepticism is fuel for the engine of truth.

(Or more precisely: skepticism can be one of the fuels for the engine of the discovery of truth)

Now obviously it's possible to go to far, but on the balance more skepticism is better then less. If this tool makes people reconsider what they read, then that's better. Those who want people to be less skeptical just think they have a bigger microphone the lairs and hope they'll seem more authoritative, but there's no guarantee they'll be in that position. Just look at the last eight years.
posted by delmoi at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This tool is moderated by MeFi, right?
posted by glaucon at 1:55 PM on August 6, 2009


Firefox extension will end disputes. Some people disagree.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2009


It could be useful if people weren't such idiots. The ease of use as it is presented it would (will?) automate the task of creating endless recursive loops of "I know you are, but what am I?".
posted by vapidave at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2009


delmoi: "People should be more skeptical of things, even things which are true. Because if they're not skeptical of things that are true, they can't be skeptical of things that are false."

I think that's oversimplifying. If we've learned anything from the creationism/evolution debates, or the vaccines/autism debates, it's that skepticism for its own sake is exactly as useless as conformity.

"Skepticism" doesn't exist in a vacuum. There should be a reason for it, and that reason should precede the skepticism, not follow it.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:58 PM on August 6, 2009


I tried "Metafilter is awesome" and got nothing back.

This claim remains undisputed.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2009


I think that's oversimplifying. If we've learned anything from the creationism/evolution debates, or the vaccines/autism debates, it's that skepticism for its own sake is exactly as useless as conformity.

I'd say there's lots of cases where claimed skepticism is mainly just credulity trying (poorly) to disguise itself. But I say that from my glass house at 1 Semantic Frippery Road, so there you go.

Also, "vaccines cause autism," "vaccines don't cause autism" and variants produce no results, which means both claims are undisputed. From this I conclude that particular debate exists in a wave superposition state that no one ever observes.
posted by Drastic at 2:19 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that's oversimplifying. If we've learned anything from the creationism/evolution debates, or the vaccines/autism debates, it's that skepticism for its own sake is exactly as useless as conformity.

I don't think delmoi meant skepticism as in "taking a view in opposition to the consensus"; I think he meant the other definition--evaluating the trustworthiness of sources, looking for confirmation from multiple angles, not being in a hurry to reach conclusions, doing your best to avoid critical-thinking errors like confirmation bias. So for the creationists or whatever, phrases like "questioning the accepted beliefs", "being open to alternate theories", etc. are just code words like "states' rights"; a real skeptic would actually question both creationism and evolution, and realize pretty quickly that evolution is far more plausible.
posted by equalpants at 2:27 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rule of thumb: if a FoxNooz host supports an idea, it's very very wrong. If a columnist for NYT or WaPo supports it, it is somewhat wrong. If Oprah supports it, it's got 10 to 1 odds against it. If it's on the Amazon Best Seller list or Twitter's Trending Topics, 5 to 1 against. If Jon Stewart hasn't made fun of it yet, 50/50 (but give it another week). If Fox, Oprah, NYT or TechCrunch says it's the end of civilization as we know it, there's a good chance it's a good thing; more than one of the previous, it's awesome.
posted by wendell at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


So what? People should be more skeptical of things, even things which are true.

Skepticism is good. My point (badly stated) was supposed to be that anything and everything can and will be so-labeled, which would quickly make the entire exercise pointless, a wash.

It'll be "fair and balanced" (false equivalence) applied to everything. That won't help.
posted by rokusan at 2:50 PM on August 6, 2009


Dispute Finder... tries to point out alternative information from a source you are likely to trust.

VirtualBubble™ ?
SimEchoChamber® ?
posted by rokusan at 2:51 PM on August 6, 2009


delmoi: (Or more precisely: skepticism can be one of the fuels for the engine of the discovery of truth)

Amongst our weaponry are such diverse fuels as...I'll come in again.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:09 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It'll be "fair and balanced" (false equivalence) applied to everything. That won't help.

So so soooo sick of this, even from "liberal" NPR. They had Bush's dickbag lackey Bolton on the other day to discuss the "opposition" viewpoint on Clinton rescuing the journalists.

HE WENT AND SAVED TWO AMERICAN CITIZENS FROM HARD LABOR IN NORTH KOREA JUST BY TALKING. There is no "other side" to this that rational people need to discuss.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:36 PM on August 6, 2009 [8 favorites]


So so soooo sick of this, even from "liberal" NPR. They had Bush's dickbag lackey Bolton on the other day to discuss the "opposition" viewpoint on Clinton rescuing the journalists.

To be fair, the listenership totally took them to task on this, calling them on their choice of "anti-pundit" in this instance and basically asking why they even bothered asking this man who had never been approved by Congress for his job for a counter-point about the issue.

The listener mail segment from tonight's program sounded nearly contrite as they relayed the poor choice over the air. I was much pleased.

Now, when can we get every bastard who claimed that the Iraqis would welcome us with flower-strewn streets off the air forever as pundits? That would be a media win worth celebrating.
posted by hippybear at 3:48 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


HE WENT AND SAVED TWO AMERICAN CITIZENS FROM HARD LABOR IN NORTH KOREA JUST BY TALKING. There is no "other side" to this that rational people need to discuss.

Butbutbutbutfamous men shouldn't undermine their wives by saving people!
posted by rodgerd at 4:27 PM on August 6, 2009


There is no "other side" to this that rational people need to discuss.

obama is kenyan your argument is invalid
posted by DU at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2009


I would love a tool that could quickly present sources to "the other side's" best arguments on various issues.

You read about some interesting research in genetics and can instantly see what e.g. evolution deniers promoted as their best counter-claims? I'm thinking this could be useful and time-saving.

Weak arguments, unreliable sources, and myths can get shot down quicker than ever. Not that it will stop some people from believing in unscientific tripe like intelligent design, but getting to the core of their claims and have a community help provide reliable sources with solid arguments can never hurt.
posted by Glee at 6:43 PM on August 6, 2009


To me the main hassle with "arguments" is they never seem settled. Yeah, skepticism is a healthy thing and should be applied liberally, but, some people hold onto it in relation to certain issues beyond skepticism into delusional. And they are treated as if they have a valid viewpoint. There is a point where when the evidence is so ponderous one just has to say "shut the fuck up"

Evolution is real
The world is round
Vaccines do not cause Autism
Obama was born in America
posted by edgeways at 10:13 PM on August 6, 2009


I'm just not sure about this skepticism business.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:37 AM on August 7, 2009


It can't distinguish between scepticism and cynicism... yet. There's a big difference between "I don't think that statistic is reliable because BLAH BLAH BLAH" and "It must be a lie - it comes from [a religious authority/the mass media/a conservative pundit/a feminist/a scientist]".

The real problem is the subordination of individual human reasoning to the mass media. We've offloaded thinking about stuff to pundits who look, smell, and think better than we do. We select pundits that believe what we do, and when they inevitably burn us, the fallback position is "nothing is true, I believe what I believe".

I guess there's never been a time when it was rational to trust the media, but now it's become increasingly clear that it's not possible to trust any media, at any time. Radical scepticism (which is basically solipsism in practice) has gone from an odd philosophical experiment to a way of life. I'm kind of terrified of a world where reality consists of "things you have to touch" and "whatever you want to believe", but I think it's inevitable.

With that in mind, I'm off to build a webpage to promote myself as the new Dalai Lama. Sure, you can dispute it, but I was born at the right time, everything's disputed and I need paypal donations. Bless you all.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2009


wendell: "If Fox, Oprah, NYT or TechCrunch says it's the end of civilization as we know it, there's a good chance it's a good thing"

This will wen-- oh wait, it already has.
posted by JHarris at 1:03 PM on August 7, 2009


Glee: "I would love a tool that could quickly present sources to "the other side's" best arguments on various issues."

The other day when talking with a friend, who is politically pretty hide-bound, there came up the subject of Galileo. He said, basically, that Galileo had it coming from the Catholic Church, that he was basically a jerk to them. It was expressed in very much those terms, with a negative judgement on Galileo's behavior. I was so flabergasted (lit. "gasted my flabber") that I was unable to do more than stammer out a lame response.

I mention this because there's always a crazier argument out there, somewhere. This is because millions of people generate them spontaneously to defend wrongheaded views. They're the quantum foam of the internet.
posted by JHarris at 1:10 PM on August 7, 2009


I mention this because there's always a crazier argument out there, somewhere. This is because millions of people generate them spontaneously to defend wrongheaded views. They're the quantum foam of the internet.

Yeah. I think I heard the comic Jimmy Dore say "You can't make someone reason out of something they didn't reason in to," on his podcast, which rang true.

I've installed Dispute Finder but will probably use it 3 times and forget all about it..
posted by Glee at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2009


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