Saturday, August 09, 2008


A new peer-produced skeptical website, De-fact-o, has popped up to provide skeptical, fact-based evaluation of claims of history, politics, science, health, environment, religion, pop culture, conspiracy theories, questionable quotes, fake photos, and more. There's a page per claim, and the claim is rated true, false, mostly false, probably false, or unknown. The site is reminiscent of (and not yet as comprehensive as), but I hope to see it grow substantially with member-produced content.

The articles I've checked out appear to be well-done. Those who register on the site can comment on articles, vote on their accuracy, and write new ones, but unlike Wikipedia, approval from the site owners is required before new articles get posted. All articles on the site are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). I would have preferred a Creative Commons license, myself, due to some oddities of the GFDL (see the Wikipedia article on the GFDL, which is where the term is linked to from this paragraph).


Reed said...

Their article on the artificial sweetener Aspartame (sold commercially as Nutrasweet) causing cancer is interesting as it exhibits a blazing green "TRUE".

Whoa, this is at odds with the articles I've read before which suggest "NO EVIDENCE YET".

Putting aside the merits of any particular conclusion regarding the science, I have a larger question. To what extent can De-fact-o be trusted to be impartial on this or any other issue?

The editors are unnamed. The article content is controlled exclusively by those editors. Changes to the articles aren't tracked, at least publicly.

Contrast with the Wikipedia page on the Apartame Controversy which can be patrolled and corrected by parties on all sides of the issue and which has a visible 'talk page' to argue the merits of the content to be added to the article.

ETA: fix poor wording

Jim Lippard said...

It looks like they have taken some content from Wikipedia.

As for aspartame and cancer, I'm willing to believe that "true" is not correct, but I don't think "no evidence yet" could possibly be correct, since the issue has been studied. There may not be sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion, but that's not the same as "no evidence." The "unknown" category would be a better choice in such a case.

I've sent an email to the contact address on the site asking who they are, whether they are formally incorporated anywhere, and whether they have a DMCA Agent. I raised the trust issue with them.

In my opinion, they should set up a system that allows registered users to make changes that go live without approval, and to allow users to rate each other for reliability as well as rating pages.

De-Fact-o said...

Thank you for your input on Many of your suggestions were very well received and changes have been made to the site based on most of them. Aspartame has been shown to cause cancer in animals, which was why it received the TRUE label, but the title could be seen as misleading, so we've revised it to pertain to humans.

Also, very few articles will be turned away. We primarily go through an approval process so that we do not get inappropriate content on the site.

Thank you~

Reed said...


Glad to see that you're taking our criticism as it was intended -- to be constructive.

To get the most out of any newly-launched web effort, you might want to read Clay Shirky's recent book. He speaks at length about user's motivations to participate, where the trust in the content comes from, etc.