“If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them. For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.” –Harrison Schmitt
Last year, I asked a simple question with no easy answer: Whom Do You Trust For Your Science, Health, and Education? Because unless you yourself are the expert in a given field, it’s often very, very difficult to tell what’s trustworthy from what’s not.
This is especially true when you’re presented with biased facts or premises as your starting point. In an ideal world, every source you went to for your news would agree on the same fundamental facts, and you’d have a wide variety of logical, reasonable interpretations of those facts. No one would be misleading; no one would present counterfactual information; no one would cherry-pick the data to support a preconceived or scientifically invalidated conclusion. Every news source you heard from would be qualified to give an opinion, and that opinion would be an informed one, biased only by their experience, and not by any political or economic agenda.
This is, no doubt, a dream world, as you are probably much more familiar with what actually goes on.
You might hope that your favorite mainstream news sources wouldn’t fall for this type of false equivalence. Surely they — under the guise of presenting fair, balanced, objective news — wouldn’t fail to fact-check even the most basic of claims, to ensure they’re printing the truth? The most reputable ones — the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, the New York Times — surely this is what they do; surely that’s what journalism is, right?
Hopefully you caught it, last month, when the public editor of the New York Times asked whether news sources should serve as truth vigilantes and correct untrue facts in their reporting. The overwhelming response was, thankfully,
yes, you moron, The Times should check facts and print the truth.
It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.
And, particularly in science, one can distinguish whether an idea is valid, plausible-but-unproven, or unequivocally wrong. For instance, before natural selection came along, there were other ideas for the mechanism of evolution, such as Lamarckism, where organisms can pick up traits during their lifetime and pass them on to their offspring.
Given a modern understanding of genetics and DNA, of course, this is not true, and Lamarckism is not an equal idea to natural selection. When you get your news about evolution, an invalid idea such as this should not pollute your news.
So with all of this in mind, where should you go to get your science and health news? Up until now, the options were either:
- Go to an aggregator (like google news), and trust yourself to decide what’s trustworthy and what isn’t,
- Go to a “trusted news source” like the Times, the Journal, etc., and trust their editors and reporters to report the truth, or
- Create your own bookmarks/RSS feed of sources that you trust, and go out and manually gather that information yourself.
None of which are very satisfying. The aggregator option is great for a diversity of sources and opinions, but is noisy, filled with unreliable sources, and very often contains information that is directly or subversively counterfactual. The “trusted news source” option is, sadly, not only untrustworthy, but very often only superficial in its coverage of the events and findings you’re interested in. They may be fine for learning about some surface aspects of the news, but you’ll never get the in-depth coverage you’d truly hope for. And that last one — your own hand-collected assortment of blogs and feeds — while likely to be the most accurate (assuming you’ve gathered sources that really are good), is likely very limited in terms of the scope of the news it can cover.
But all of that is about to change. I told you back in November that I had taken a new job, where my goal was to create this news source — for quality science and health news — that didn’t yet exist. Where you or anybody could come to get a wide interpretation of perspectives, some of which are cursory, others which are more in-depth, but all of which are controlled for quality and veracity, on a huge variety of science and health issues of the day. Where political or ideological biases are minimized and sources of spam have been filtered out. Where demagoguery is not allowed. And where advertising dollars or artificially inflated SEO don’t dictate what you see. Today, I am pleased to unveil to you what I’ve been working to create:
Say hello to Trap!t, an artificial-intelligence engine designed with the express purpose of discovering quality-checked content on any topic of interest you provide it with. In particular, I’m the head editor and curator of the Science and Health sections, doing my absolute best to bring diverse, high-quality content that doesn’t compromise on medical or scientific facts.
What that’s means is I’ve been training the software to learn what it means to be a topical article, quality site, and a reliable source for a whole variety of topics, from Autism to Climate Change, from Outer Space to Dinosaurs, from Fluoride to Vaccination. Each of these boxes, shown above, is a “trap” of relevant articles from around the web, with the most recent news items displayed first. Trap!t is a real-time, artificial-intelligence-powered news aggregator that continuously pulls content from all the reputable, original sources around the web it can find, filtering through them to bring you only the articles you’ve trained it to bring you. You can make your own user-created traps on any topic you like, training it by liking and disliking the first round of search results, or you can go into the featured traps sections, where I (and the rest of the curation team) have been working to optimize the content you’ll see on a wide variety of relevant, newsworthy topics. (My work can be seen in every one of the featured traps for Science and Health, but any user can create and train their own user traps, which you’re welcome to do if you like.)
And, of course, I’m committed to being a truth vigilante about each and every one of the Science and Health traps, and I’ve even written an in-depth piece on the trap!t blog explaining what that means. (Seriously, you should go read it.)
At this point, I’ve created and trained more than 30 traps each for science and health. The ones that are currently active and visible from the featured traps page are as follows:
But I’m not satisfied with the content I’ve created so far, no matter how useful (and unique) it is at the moment. I’m committed to creating a high-quality science and health news outlet here, and I need your help to do it. Here’s what you can do.
Go to the featured traps — either Science, Health, or both — and poke around inside. If you’re an expert on one of these topics, that’s particularly useful. Because here are the things I need to know:
- Are there articles you’re seeing that aren’t relevant to the topic at hand?
- Are there sources that you know are too disreputable or highly politicized when it comes to the issue at hand to be considered reliable?
- Are there glaring omissions, of stories, blogs, or online articles that should have been included in this trap, but somehow weren’t?
At this stage, Trap!t is still in beta, but we need all the useful feedback we can get. Find a bug? Tell me. Are we desperately in need of a feature we don’t have? Suggest it. Is there something that particularly either works or doesn’t work for you? Let me hear it. And finally, are there topics, stories, or entire categories that absolutely need to be included that are presently omitted? Let me know. Feedback from informed, intelligent, quality readers like you will help make this the news service that the world so badly needs.
In fact, I want you to let me know what you think, what’s working, what’s misfiring, and what you’d like to see so bad, that either by commenting here or by emailing me at “trapit DOT science AT gmail DOT com”, I’ll be giving away free stuff for your feedback! Everyone who comments or emails gets entered in a raffle to get a free trap!t T-shirt (winners TBA), and the most useful/constructive comments will get a free trap!t sweatshirt, which will instantly* transform you into a bad ass.
(* — transformation may not actually happen.)
So, this is what I’m working on. Science news, health news, and the truth. The world needs it, and — along with the rest of the company here at trap!t — I’m working to make it happen. Help me out, let me know what you think, both about the idea and the implementation, and let’s make this great for ourselves and for the world!
Update: If you would like to report a bug either in general or a problem/suggestion with one of the featured traps, please tell me what the bug is, what trap this came from/happened in, and, if it’s from a particular article within a trap, share the url with me like so:
That will give me the best information you can provide to help with addressing the issue and making it better. Thanks for all your feedback so far!