Real Science and Health News: From a Truth Vigilante

“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.

Images credit: Dr. Roy Spencer (top) and American Meteorological Society (bottom).

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.

Image credit: Philadelphia Inquirer / Universal Press Syndicate.

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.

The fact that the Times was even asking this question should make you facepalm. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks hit it spot-on for me.

Throughout my time writing this blog, I’ve always done my best to present to you the best, most factually accurate information I can possibly find, and to present it through the lens of my experience as a theoretical astrophysicist to tell you — to the best of my abilities — what it most likely indicates. Sometimes this generates the good kind of controversy, such as when others disagree with my interpretation of the facts. When that happens, I welcome an interesting, if often inconclusive, dialogue. But when they make up their own facts to do so, that is not okay, and that opinion does not deserve equal voice, equal time, or any other sort of false balance. As Felix Frankfurther said (and I am fond of quoting),

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.

Image credit: Lamarck's Giraffe, retrieved from University of Miami.

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:

Science Health
Archaeology Exoplanets Plastic Abortion Eating Disorders Nutrition
Bears Fracking Robots Alcoholism Fitness Obesity
Bees Green Cars Saturn Alzheimer’s Disease Fluoride Organ Transplants
Biofuels Hubble Space Telescope Science Education Assisted Suicide Gluten Disorders Peanut Allergy
Butterflies Hurricanes Sharks Autism H.I.V./A.I.D.S. Plastic
Climate Change International Space Station Stars Body Image Health Care Reform Prenatal Care
Deep Sea Life Large Hadron Collider Stem Cells Breast Cancer Hearing Loss Skin Cancer
Dinosaurs Lions & Tigers Supernova Concussions Heart Disease Tobacco
Dolphins Mars The Sun Diabetes Influenza Vaccination
Earthquakes Meteor Showers & Comets Turtles Domestic Violence Medical Marijuana Yoga
Eclipses Neutrinos Volcanoes Dyslexia Migraines
Elephants Outer Space Whales
Evolution Penguins Wolves

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!

85 thoughts on “Real Science and Health News: From a Truth Vigilante

  1. I’m very interested in this trapit system.

    Have you tried tricking it into publishing a bad article? For instance, if the software is trained to see “starts with a bang” as a reliable source for, ..that sciency stuff.., then publish your own bad article, referencing bad links and sources. To see if a bad article by a usually reliable author still gets through. This would be great for watching publishers like the Times, who can be reliable often, but not always.

    Just a thought. Congrats on the new project.

  2. On the Home page you need to test and ask visitors to switch Javascript on if they have it blocked.

    Do you want reports in the comments here or should you set up a link for people to submit bug reports or suggestions?

  3. Harrison Schmitt is kind of a whackjob, probably not the best way to start your post, though the quote is good.

    He is a climate change denier.

  4. Great idea, but you should definitely include some core Neuroscience, or possibly subcategories like Vision, Somatosensation, Motor Control, etc.

  5. The fact that one of the featured traps illustrated above, with the headline “Supernova” and an astronomical caption, shows an apparent photo of a ground squirrel-tarantula hybrid worries me.

  6. Joseph @1, it’s an AI system, so unless I wrote a bad article using the same words I would use to write a good article, just with a different spin, the AI software would catch it. But yes, if I wrote an article about supernovae, the hubble space telescope and falsetto-singing leprechauns, trap!t would pick that up. Let’s hope I never do that!

    BillK @2, here is fine. Emailing the trapit science account is also fine. Either way, I will see it, and of course I will report feedback over to the engineering side. Bug reports are useful; particularly if you can say what browser you’re using and if it happens in other browsers, too.

    The Bobs @3, I met Harrison Schmitt back in 1998/1999, and while I don’t agree with a lot of what he says or believes, he’s still an Apollo 17 astronaut, one of the last two men (and the only civilian) ever to walk on the Moon, and that is an excellent quote.

    Alex @4, if I can get enough quality content to produce a trap based around some more neuroscience, I will make it happen. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Jane @5, sometimes we get image misfires, depending on how the article we are finding is laid out. That’s a known issue, but yes, one that we hope to fix while we’re still in Beta. Thanks for pointing it out!

  7. I checked out an article from the “Outer Space” section which discusses something I know about. The article, from, contains the following howler:

    Specifically, Karimabadi has used about 30 million hours on the Department of Energy’s premier high-performance computing system….

    30 million hours is about 3500 years. I know that Dr. Karimabadi likes to use a lot of CPU cycles, but I find it hard to believe that he spent this much computer time on one simulation, even if you multiply the actual run time by the number of CPUs on the computer (which most people I know don’t do).

    So definitely a nice idea, but everybody needs an editor.

  8. As much as I love your blog Ethan, I do believe this is the first time I really had mixed feeling about your post.

    I dunno, I feel a little queasy about this trap!t concept. I think it’s just going to segregate the divide even further and just encourage denialists to stick to their side of the water and optimise the engine towards picking out their type of source. More so though being the sceptic I have to, at the very least, always doubt that I’m right. What if I’m wrong about something, have the trap!t optimised for the all the wrong stuff, and never even encounter the evidence or logic that debunks my false belief?
    To put it crudely, what if I am the denialist on some issue or other and I end up permanently stuck with something akin to WUWT as my only news source?

  9. Is there a way to read content without signing in/creating an account? If not, then I would highly recommend removing this feature. I imagine that a lot of people (myself included) would turn away at the very first visit because of this requirement. Just a suggestion…

  10. Harrison Schmitt – “Climate change assumptions rather than facts, and computer modeling rather than real-world observations, underpin the Government’s efforts to restrict American liberties and confiscate trillions of dollars of American income.”

    Ethan – I cannot respect someone who would write that. Disagreeing with climate change is one thing, but painting your opponent’s motivations as wanting to take away your money and freedom is ridiculous and childish. Then there is the blatantly false statement before that about no real world data supporting climate change.


  11. While I understand the point of view of something like Trap!t, have to say that I agree with Silverskull. This sounds very close to a certain type of censorship, not intended I agree, but still. If not that than bias towards any given number of publishers surely.

    You wrote: “… but all of which are controlled for quality and veracity, on a huge variety of science and health issues of the day.”

    The key word here being controlled.

    In all honesty, even not caring about possible bias etc., I would never use something like that for the simple reason of not thinking that searching google or reading wiki or blogs like this is teadious. I enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. And I always like to hear both sides of the story. There has been plenty of discussion on the issue of groupthink or confirmation bias and the pitfalls and dangers of that in modern science. Think that Trap!t is a step in wrong direction. Like the old saying goes: Who controls the controller?

  12. Wow. What strange paranoid flack you’re getting on this one — maybe I just missed the part where Ethan says this should be your only news outlet. If you folks are going to be paranoid, stick to the big boys like Google and Facebook. FWIW, people are still choosing their own music in the post-Pandora era.

    Carry on and best of luck, Ethan. Innovation is the American way.

  13. I think you have an issue in your Climate Change trap. I started reading an article on Bill Gates’ backing of geoengineering, and the article started talking about chemtrails as though they are fact. The article also contained a link to another article dedicated to chemtrails.

    I thought chemtrails were a hoax-turned-conspiracy theory. Or is it…

  14. Does one have to visit the page daily for updates? I don’t see an RSS feed, and because the page is built from javascript, the feed scrapers I’m familiar with don’t work. Am I missing something?

  15. Fantastic! I’m concerned with all the bull people believe and I don’t know why exactly it bothers me so much and I’m doing my best to provide them with an alternate side to the story with hopes they will at least flick through it and become a bit skeptical, but they are often stubbornly defending the story they were presented with at first. A site like this (with merit) could prove useful in this task of mine.

    May the force be with you!

  16. Eventhough I applaud the effort ( ) my first glimpse of the site is very disturbing. Apparently “”Career in Alternative Medicine,” and “Intersection between Asian Traditional Medicine and Western Biomedicine” come up.

    To me these are not supposed to be part of trustworthy science articles:

    Please review the use of non-scientific medical information on this site before advocating its reliability.


  17. Eric @7, physorg, like sciencedaily, is a site that publishes press releases from Universities, Colleges and other Research Institutes. Whatever’s in the press release makes it out into the wild, and I have decided to let that content in to the traps. I don’t know what sort of “computational hour” they’re talking about, but I imagine that if they have the equivalent of 100,000 computers networked together, 30 million hours is feasible.

    Silverskull @8, if you just “discover” content, trap!t doesn’t automatically filter it (except for spam). You train it by telling it what you like and what you don’t. If you want to construct traps loaded with Weekly World News and Onion articles, or Astrology and UFO topics, you can go ahead. Those are among those things I am keeping out of the Science and Health featured traps; you are getting the best job I can do when you go to the Science and Health sections on trap!t. If you believe that I am the denialist and I am keeping quality content out, you can email me with the content you think deserves to go in there and I will re-examine what I have so far.

    Or, if you’re dissatisfied with the content in my featured traps, you’re welcome to make your own.

    aaron @9, you can read the featured trap contents without signing in. But if you want to access the full suite of what trap!t can do, you don’t have to sign in with your facebook, twitter, or even your real/primary email. Make a hotmail or yahoo account if you’re worried about privacy and use that. Otherwise, yes, you need an account to create your own traps. Sorry if that’s a dealbreaker for you.

    The Bobs @10, I am not defending Harrison Schmitt on the issue of climate change. I disagree with him completely, and believe that his own quote, atop this post, applies very sternly to him on this issue. But it is a good quote, and I’m not going to not use it just because I don’t like the source for other reasons. James Randi is a climate denier too, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done a host of extremely interesting and admirable things outside of that.

    Siniza @11, I don’t think it’s something that will appeal to everyone; nothing is. (I mean, 50% of the internet still browses with internet explorer!) But I do the quality control as respects the featured traps. If you don’t like the content in them (or think it should be different), you can let me know and I will reconsider. The AI is what keeps the spam and junk out; training the AI on the content is what does the rest.

    Doug @12, thank you for your kind and encouraging words!

    Daniel @13, you are referring to the “Musicians for Freedom” article, which is a site that I have banned from many different science traps in the past. It is ubiquitous and will likely show up a few more times before I’ve successfully whack-a-moled it into oblivion. Thank you for the catch, and I will do my best to keep it from coming up again. Please do your best to alert me to the junk that comes up when it comes up!

    Jimspice @14, if you sign up for trap!t, there is a daily digest that can get emailed to you with updates/highlight. There is also an activity feed down the left side of the page that can be turned on/off as you please. Your traps exist in perpetuity, and (I believe) can store up to 1,024 articles apiece. So if you go away for a week, or a month, and come back, all of that content will be waiting for you when you return.

  18. “I disagree with him completely, and believe that his own quote, atop this post, applies very sternly to him on this issue.”

    I agree with that. I think the quote was intended to respond to moon landing deniers, something he is in a very strong position to refute. My biggest problem with him is how he mischaracterizes his opponent’s motivations.

  19. Ales @15, it isn’t perfect, but I am doing my best! Thanks for the encouragement.

    Nescio @16 and @18, what trap did that come up in? I am cleaning out the Vaccination Trap and the Influenza Trap right now, as I seem to be doing often these days. An article from the website “Health Impact News” made it into the Vaccination Trap; that is one I have on my list of unreliable sites. There is a lot of misinformation out there that constantly streams in from a whole slew of agenda-driven sources.

    Where did you find “Careers in Alternative Medicine” and that Sovereign Independent article? I don’t see them in the Science or Health sections, but I would be very interested to know their origins!

  20. Hey Nescio,

    Did you, perchance, try to discover your own traps rather than use the featured traps I’ve created?

    You will certainly get a lot of unscientific information that way! The whole point of having me as an editor/curator at trap!t is so that you can have a place to go — the science and health feature traps — where those sources have been trained out via the AI and my personal work!

    If you try to discover them on your own, you will basically be at the same point I was when I first started three months ago. Don’t reinvent the wheel; there’s already an excellent trap on Vaccination that I made!

  21. The health section also includes stuff from the end of the bias spectrum opposite that of SBM. Notably, the breast cancer section features links to (a site most would see as inclined to polemism over quality) and to an article implying that if you wear a bra 24 hours a day you have a 75% chance of getting breast cancer. The latter is apparently based on a shoddy study published only in a 16-year-old book, with no further supporting evidence.

    The filter for relevancy is also not perfect, e.g., a few prostate cancer articles made it into the breast cancer section. Most problematic is that multiple articles on end-of-life care, advance directives, and hospice are included in the “assisted suicide” section. I personally have no moral objection to suicide, but those who do don’t need any further non-Palin encouragement to think that “not wanting to end up on a feeding tube” = “committing suicide.”

  22. The Bobs @19, I think we are on the same page, here.

    Jane @22, thanks for the heads up there. Two of the sites in the Breast Cancer Trap — NaturalNews and Cathy’s Natural Remedies — are sites that I recognize as perfect candidates for being banned. I am working to clean this trap out now.

    Like weeding a garden, some work is never done. 🙂

  23. Hi Ethan, thank you for the quick reply.

    My main worry/question about Trapit AI and screening of junk is this.. As an example.. let’s say in a case like news about supposed FTL neutrinos. On one side is the 95% percent of scientific qommunity saying it’s bogus, on other side are fewe saying it’s possible. If both sides get picked and covered (as long as the articles are written in objective and scientific way), then I’m absolutely up for it. I agree that articles citing Shiva as the reason for FTL neutrinos shouldn’t be in the same bag with the rest, but if valid articles dealing i.e with some theoretical framework which supports FTL get dismissed by AI just because they are 5% against 95%, then that’s a problem in my opinion.

  24. It is frustrating that so many professionally edited news sources dont qualify as reliable, factual , or trusted. There is definitely a need for an alternative to the current news model. I applaud you for your efforts and hope it succeeds

  25. In Google Chrome (16.0.912.77) the “Activity Feed” on the left side of the screen covers a third of the space, and hides the first column of traps and trap categories (ie. I see ‘…tertainment Lifestyle Health etc.’) I am viewing it on a fairly small notebook though (15″).

  26. Obviously Dr. Roy Spencer is misleading, presenting counterfactual information and cherry-picking the data to support a preconceived or scientifically invalidated conclusion. Or it is the American Meteorological Society. Did I have somehow missed the evidence you have presented which one it is?

  27. I tried to set up my traps, and it only ever shows one set of traps, whether I click on ‘Science’, ‘Technology’ or ‘Trending’.

  28. I get as far as “Sit tight, this will only take a moment”
    Mac 10.7.3, Firefox 10.0
    NoScript is on, whitelisted
    None of the tricky advanced protections are on at the moment
    Any other website/link that needs to be permitted?;

    With Safari, I can get past that to the signup with password etc. page.

  29. And continuing in Safari I get as far as
    “Take a look at our Featured Traps and add any topics that interest you by clicking “Add To My Traps”.”

    I click “Science” — nothing happens except it hilights. I don’t find a clickable “Add To My Traps” anywhere.
    I click “My Traps” and have none.
    I try “Climate” and see a bunch of stuff and am invited tosave that search. The first one on the displayed page is Pielke Senior, the last is Richard Branson. Hm.

    I click one thumbs-down and am invited to choose from:

    “Why did you dislike this article?

    It is not interesting to me
    I do not like the source

    It’s interesting, but not in a correct way — and I’d guess “source” means the person quoted?

    I think what the source is saying is wrong, although the source is no doubt a charming and gentlemanly fellow.

    Wups, the window disappeared while I was trying to think about it. Well, pfui.

    Gimme a PAUSE button please.

  30. Found the Pause button there between thumb-up and thumb-down.
    But do I have to click it before I click to actually see an item? Haven’t done that but I find when I click on an item and read it and then click “back” in Safari, I don’t get back to the window and can’t find the item to rate it after reading it. Hm.

    Worst thing so far is — this is almost entirely opinion/PR stuff.

    Do you have a Google Scholar filter?

  31. @31 Me too. Reloading with Add-ons disabled gets through OK, so one of them is hanging the site. Disabling NoScript doesn’t let me through, so it must be one of the other Add-ons.

  32. “such as when others disagree with my interpretation of the facts”

    I’d just like to say that although there are many similarities with what the link in that sentence Ethan gave were very similar to my points (if better informed), I in no way read that or any similar blog on the subject, it was what I remember from by university days and the bits of books and so forth I’ve read to keep up with the current knowledge since then. Even though Sascha Vongehr and myself still think it more likely a procedural or experimental error is the source, I wasn’t channelling him.


    I think.

  33. “and just encourage denialists to stick to their side of the water”

    Since they’re urinating in the water no matter what we do, we can at least make them do it in the privacy of their own mess hall, surely.

    “More so though being the sceptic I have to, at the very least, always doubt that I’m right.”

    No that would be a dogmatist. As a sceptic, you must at the very least always consider that you could be wrong.

    “what if I am the denialist on some issue or other and I end up permanently stuck with something akin to WUWT as my only news source? ”

    By definition, the denialist will only be reading elsewhere to either

    1) inform others to troll this “dishonest source”
    2) post links to WUWT and parrot the “information” thereon
    3) pretend to be interested in another view, but get upset when it’s presented

    so therefore, in effect, the only source a denialist will use will be WUWT-like, even if it’s not the only source.

  34. “Disagreeing with climate change is one thing, but painting your opponent’s motivations as wanting to take away your money and freedom is ridiculous and childish”

    You forgot accurate and true.

    “Then there is the blatantly false statement before that about no real world data supporting climate change.”

    Then, of course, there’s the “where is that” statement.

    Are you a spambot? You just quoted the source and pretended it was on here.

  35. Ethan,

    You might want to consider contacting some of the science / skeptic podcasts with news of your site – they are always looking for developments such as these to provide reliable news feeds – Skeptics Guide to the Universe or Skepticality come to mind. They may even be interested in a discussion.

    You would certainly gain a large test user population out of these.


  36. I think the permissions asked for by the Connect With Facebook feature are a little bit… ominous. Remove some of the things it’s asking for and I’ll be more willing to allow FB access. For now, it’s good old-fashioned email signup.

  37. What a great idea! The only problem I can see is that to trust the sources you trust means people have to trust you in the first place. 😉

  38. Oh! And I know this is not something soon to happen, if ever, but wouldn’t it be awesome if other languages were included at some point?

  39. Here’s a simple fact-check to prove that LaMarckian evolutionary theory should never have gotten off the ground. In fact, I can’t figure out why no one has ever brought this up before.

    If it were true, then 20,000 generations ago men would have had penises two feet long. By the time a male is 15 his ‘inner need’ and his practice at that ‘inner need’ would have made it so.

  40. It wouldn’t have gotten more than about 70% of an arms’ length long, Scott.

    PS Women would have a vag worn back to the ribcage too. They have inner needs too.

    Though, for some reason, it’s rare to find a joke involving a woman having a good old grunt…

  41. Since I totally agree with you, I need to point out that the emerging field of epigenomics might actually give Lamarck a lot more credit then what we recently believed. You know, in the spirit of checking facts and correcting errors when science causes another shift in knowledge.

  42. Wow, What is it about scientists and not having the slights clue when it comes to naming things? For once I’d say dark would have been a better choice. Trap is the interwebz pop culture term for a she male, also referred to as an it. This will never be changed. It is in the Urban Dictionary as… .. . A man who dresses like a woman and is somewhat feminine in appearance. Could almost be mistaken for a woman until you are in the bedroom with one. Naming a site trap!t, trapit or and calling things traps is going to get a lot of people to rotfl hard. 10 for the concept, but minus 10¹⁰ for the name. The slogan “Trapit. Rule the web. Sit Tight. This will only take a moment.” could use some modding too. Really do science minded individuals in school really need more reason to be bullied? Science shooting it’s self in the foot.

  43. @ Kurt
    Epigenetics is similar to Lamarckianism only in the most superficial sense of saying “acquired characteristics can be passed off to offspring”. It’s a somewhat ironic “Who’da thunk it?” moment but as soon as you go beyond that, the similarities vanish — the relationship between what occurs in the organism’s life and the effect this has on the offspring is varied, and only occasionally seems to fit the mold of ‘the same characteristic is passed on’ — and the common notion that Lamarckianism is wrong, wrong, wrong holds true.

    It’d be like giving the Alchemists credit for the theory of transmutation which turned out to be possible via nuclear reactions. At least what they were trying to do — turn lead into gold — turned out specifically to be possible (if economically pointless). Let me know when a study shows epigenitics are the driving fore behind giraffe neck evolution and then maybe they’ll be some credit to give to Lamarck!

    Beyond what he deserves for other things, of course.

  44. Siniza @24, if the AI kept out a (factually) reasonable story on something like FTL neutrinos simply for giving a non-mainstream perspective, I would be shocked. Please let me know if you find an overlooked story and I will do my best to re-train things to include it. My intentions are pure, even if the artificial intelligence is imperfect. I will keep working to make sure that the quality standards are as high as possible.

    Kevin @25, thanks for the praise! I agree that this is sorely needed, particularly given the dastardly state of mainstream news today. Let’s hope that we can bring about some type of news revolution, where those who fail to report the facts are marginalized into obscurity. Even if that means the former titans and pioneers of news.

    Brian @26, this is a resolution issue. On displays 1024 pixels or less in width, you will not see a box with an “X” inside of it that allows you to close the activity feed. Try zooming out (which you can do even on a small notebook; I believe the command is “control +/-“) and then clicking the X to shut off/on the activity feed as you like. This is a known design issue that we are working to improve when the next build is released.

    Dave @27, I am a fan of the quackometer, but unfortunately it is not quite good enough to do the job. For instance, it thinks that Joseph Mercola is completely free-and-clear, and that type of content would simply wreck a good number of my traps. It is a fun tool, though; thanks for linking to it!

    Brian @28, an iPad app is I believe a higher-priority item to complete development of in the pipeline, but the iPhone is certainly on the agenda and will come out sometime later this year. It seems like trap!t was custom-designed for devices like those!

    Tony @29, my point is, if all you saw were those two graphs, you’d have no way of knowing whom to trust. You’d need to know a bit more. The Roy Spencer graph is completely misleading and unclear as to what data it’s even presenting (note the unlabeled axes), but the AMS graph plots temperature in bars and CO2 concentration with the black line, and is factually accurate. You will (hopefully) not find any articles either by Roy Spencer or based on Roy Spencer’s work in the Climate Change trap!

    Avi @30, that is an interesting issue that I have not heard of before! Can you take some screen captures and send them over to the trapit DOT science AT gmail DOT com account for me to look at?

    Hank @31, so long as you’re allowing cookies, that shouldn’t happen. I can’t reproduce that issue, but if you can do it today, after something like clearing your cache and a restart, I definitely want to know. That’s something that we should not allow to happen for users like you.

    Hank @32-3, you don’t have to thumbs-up or thumbs-down an item to see it; just click on it. Instead of navigating with the back button, you may just want to click the “X” in the upper right hand corner of the wrapper when you’re done with the article; that will plunk you back in the trap at the same place you left without having to do a reload. If the content isn’t on the topic you want, click the first dislike option. If the content is on topic, but is abhorrent to you (like, anti-science or somesuch), click the second option. (It won’t train the AI, but will block articles for that trap from that source.) If it’s from a Nigerian prince, that’s option #3.

    BillK @34, thanks for the possible fix.

    Wow @35-37, I am of course going to do the best I can with what I know/is known, and every once in a (hopefully, rare) while, some new information is going to come along that will contradict what I thought was going on. That is the best thing ever for science, because that’s when we all advance. If the neutrino FTL result gets confirmed by MINOS or T2K (I think it’s T2K; the one in Japan is what I mean), that will be huge, and I will certainly start changing my hunch as to what’s going on. But maybe it’s the native New Yorker in me; I am slow to buy into controversial new results.

    Morgan @38, that is a good plan; if they are interested, I think this is one of the best communities to promote this venture in. Mostly because no one would let me get away with any sort of junk or garbage, and because I want that critical eye. And I think that everyone in those communities wants this to exist!

    transcendentape @39, first off, that’s a great handle. Second, when I first heard about Trap!t, Pandora for web content was immediately what I thought of! You’re absolutely welcome, and any issues or suggestions you may have are welcomed.

    mick @40, just make sure you log in the same way each time, otherwise it will create a brand new account for you.

    Ciaran @41, I will report that as an issue because you dislike it, but that one, to be honest, I will likely be told is a “feature”, not a bug. Which is to say, the buttons are intentional and designed to be as unobtrusive as possible; I am sorry that you are finding that they are still in the way, and I will report it.

    BDNf @42-43, if someone thinks I’m suppressing valid information, they are more than welcome to voice that claim publicly — here or elsewhere — and/or send me the information. But if it is valid, I’ll immediately try to train it into the traps. Guess you either have to trust me or build your own traps and trust your own judgment!

    Kurt @46, there’s actually an interesting article in the “Evolution” trap right now that’s just 3 days old about Lamarckism and a possible vindication of the theory under certain applications. I wouldn’t suppress it for the world. 🙂

  45. Ethan- I really like what I’m seeing so far. I’m working on an agronomy oriented trap, and have found that I’d really like to be able to add or edit the original search term that I used to start the trap. The only option I seem to have now is to start a new trap, which would mean I’d lose all the effort weeding out crap that I’ve done so far. Also, I’d like to be able to add “trusted” domains directly to a trap rather than hoping the search algorithm will stumble upon them on its own.

  46. To everyone that want evidence based results about how to fix our Health system, please look for the following book. THE HUMAN MOLD, prevention from origin. or write to me: My book just came out in January, 2012. It is still not in stores yet. People need to educate themselves about their physic, and find out for themselves about the origin of their physical discomfort or pain, and not go to a doctor and ask the doctor, doctor, it hurts here and there…what do you think? Learn about your body, people.

  47. Ethan: “But maybe it’s the native New Yorker in me; I am slow to buy into controversial new results.”

    Then take a different tack: enjoy the possibility and let THEM prove it. I think Einstein would have been happier if, rather than going “God doesn’t play dice” and pointing out problems in QM, he’d just gone “That’s interesting, but what about…” and pointing out problems in QM.

    He was, after all, right to point out those criticisms.

    Or reaffirm the observations and experiments that refute the claims. If it’s really real, then there’ll be something odd missed before (see the change in the electron charge over time with Milikan’s experiment).

    If BOTH are right, then that will be found and then limits discovered on where FTL exists. Which is something those looking to prove FTL won’t find. ‘cos they’re not looking for it.

    But that effort is for those who have time and energy and inclination to do so. It’s not worth everyone dropping what they’re doing to either confirm or deny FTL neutrinos.

    We will find something out.

    Even if it’s a new way to get things wrong.

    The thing about making mistakes is you get to learn from them.

  48. Ethan, I can’t believe that Cenk Uygur has the audacity of associating himself with the name The Young Turks as that was the Turkish nationalist group that perpetrated the Armenian Genocide. I don’t have to tell you what that would be like if a German or Austrian chose to associate a group with pro-nazi terminology. I know you were probably unaware, but this is a sensitive issue among Armenians, and justifiably so. If a nationalist group was implicated on the genocide of your own people, somehow, regardless of what other definitions it may hold, you don’t take kindly to that association. Just respectfully letting you know so you’re aware of this.

  49. And it’s not that nobody cares about it.

    There’s just no point in doing something about it.

    In other places “A young turk” is an up-and-coming new kid who is Going Places ™.

    Nobody wants dead people.

    But getting all het up over your point is like when the American Audience (who probably constituted 0.001% of the Americans) whined about The Lord Of The Rings second movie: The Two Towers, insisting that this was insensitive and obviously derivative of The Twin Towers and also obviously an attack on America since these Twin Towers were towers of Evil and Iniquity.

  50. “Wow”, as I said, I understand the current definition of Young Turk (meaning up and comer and all that), but the connotation of that word is an extremely sensitive subject among Armenians, no less sensitive than Nazi is to Jews. It’s easy to stand by the OED meaning but the fact that Cenk Uygur himself is obviously Turkish is even more damning. I’m just informing and educating Ethan on something he may not be aware of. Don’t sit here lecturing to me until your own people go through a genocide that’s largely ignored with a government that is still actively repressing their own history to suit their revisionist ends (I’m speaking of Turkey, which although is a modern republic must still come to terms with its own brutal past….the fact that modern day turkey is built on the blood of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians is not something easily forgotten).

  51. “but the connotation of that word is an extremely sensitive subject among Armenians”

    And we’re sorry for the grieving Armenians. But that’s all you can get. Emotional blackmail is still emotional blackmail.

  52. You wouldn’t be as bold in your assertion if you were responding to Jews and the holocaust Wow. My intention isn’t to prevent people from mentioning the Young Turks, but to at least educate them into knowing what that implies. You may call it emotional blackmail but you know that’s an extreme response to an issue that I raised respectfully. Besides, it wouldn’t bother me as much if it wasn’t a Turk who either through ignorance or malice should have known better.

  53. “You wouldn’t be as bold in your assertion if you were responding to Jews and the holocaust”

    Yes I would.

    A jewish person who denies climate science gets called a denier.

    Whining about the holocaust has no more relevancy there than yours does.

  54. Love it! Seems a big improvement over my RSS feeds which are not learning at all! Still need to wait and see how smart your system is, but at least it should learn something, which is already a big improvement.

    Can you add an option to combine traps in folder so I can separate work from private and so on?

    Thanks a lot for this, the world needs it. 🙂

  55. Where in all this do you falsely equate the argument to denialism? I’m not asking anyone to deny anything, just to be aware of the fact that the connotation Young Turk is offensive and demeaning. I’m not going to deny you your right to be offensive should you wish, but you should at least know the issue. I’m fighting ignorance with education. If with those tools, one still chooses to move forward with their definition and terminology, fair enough, at least we know it’s done with the knowledge that you’re rejecting the idea that it’s offensive. Educating is not the same as censorship. Do you see me at any point telling Ethan to stop using the term? All I’m doing is pointing out the loadedness of it.

  56. When I add one of the featured traps to my traps am I creating a new trap? Or is it a link to the featured trap?

  57. Astroprogenus, I’m with you regarding Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks contrasted with the Armenian genocide — it’s problematic.

    But you should not discuss this with the commenter Wow. It’s futile.

    Regarding Ethan and his trap-thing, perhaps we see one of the limitations of the concept. In front of an international and multicultural audience there will always be people who don’t agree — and because of good reasons, not because they are quacks, or lunatics, or (using a more fashionable term) deniers.

    For me, Ethan appears like being obsessed. Why? Just because he wants to create a news source “[w]here you or anybody could come to get a wide interpretation of perspectives … all of which are controlled for quality and veracity, on a huge variety of science and health issues … Where political or ideological biases are minimized and sources of spam have been filtered out. Where demagoguery is not allowed.”

    Thinking that he, as the superman, er, sorry, the head editor and curator of the Science and Health sections, is able to do this in an international and multicultural context, is already polluted with a substantial ideological bias, which will also be incorporated in the AI involved.

    But I hope Ethan will succeed … well, to a certain degree. And being obsessed is okay sometimes.

  58. Ciaran @50, in cases like the one you pointed out, do you have a preferred location where you’d like to see the button sit? Would you like it to retract or fade/slide away when the mouse is stationary? I can make some suggestions based on what you think an improvement would be.

    transcendentape @51, it often takes me a few different attempts at making a trap, using a slew of different keywords/combinations, to get the trap I want. In general, more keywords leads to fewer discovered results, but fewer keywords leads to a noisier trap. My own experience leads to me dealing with it by (important: tutorial here!) starting with only one or two general keywords, going through the sources and disliking content of the irrelevant ones, disliking the sources of the anti-science/pseudo-science ones, and then (and only then) liking the best 5-7 articles that I’d like to train the AI to pull more articles like that. I’ve had the most success with that approach, but your mileage may vary.

    Wow @53, when you have seen a great many sensationalized claims of revolutionary results based on a very slight deviation from expected results, where the errors are not transparently accounted for (the GEO 600 results, the DAMA/CoGENT results, the LSND results, the OPERA results, etc.), you will come out with an informed — and possibly a strong — opinion when it comes to interpreting those results. I think I am exactly the right amount of open-minded when it comes to these new OPERA results, and I think I know exactly what it will take for me to either give more or less credulity to a “new physics” interpretation of these results. In the past, I think I have been not skeptical enough of the GEO 600 results, exactly the right amount of skeptical of DAMA/CoGENT, and perhaps slightly too disbelieving of the LSND results.

    But I am open to the possibility that something new is going on. If the OPERA result is verified, my hunch will be that neutrinos see the normal matter of the Earth as a medium with an index-of-refraction slightly less than 1. But I don’t think it will be; I think it’s far more likely that there’s a systematic botch in there. And I’m not afraid to say so.

    Astroprogenus @54 (and later on), I did not know that! I knew only of the modern interpretation of a “young Turk” as a young, ambitious, power-seeking upstart. Much like, when I was younger, I did not know the term “to gyp” was offensive to the Roma, I did not know the history of this term and how loaded it is to the Armenian people. I am unsure how to refer to the news program without giving offense, but I do appreciate at least being made aware of the other meanings of this term.

    Kurt @60, we are working on a feature that will enable you to organize your traps into user-created categories. That will likely become enabled for users in the relatively short-term!

    dmholland @63, if you add one of the featured traps and do nothing else to it, you will continue to mirror the content in the featured trap. (Which I recommend; otherwise, you will lose my training and be left to fend for yourself.) But if you think you can do better, at this point in time, you are welcome to like and dislike articles and personalize the trap for yourself.

  59. I added climate change to my traps. Later I went back to it and tried to open it and got the message: Sorry, that trap is history. The climate change trap is still in the featured traps. What happened?

  60. Duncan @64, I’m expecting a tough crowd. I didn’t announce this to all of you first because I wanted a pat on the back; you all have very exacting, demanding, and diverse standards, and feedback from you is only going to make this product better.

    dmholland @67, I’m not sure; that’s a new one for me. I’m going to see if I can reproduce it on my end and, if so, what can be done to fix that. Thanks for reporting it!

  61. Ethan: “I think I am exactly the right amount of open-minded when it comes to these new OPERA results”

    Everyone does.

    Everyone is “a moderate”, everyone “not rich” even if “not poor”. Nobody is an extremist.

    And duncan, if you have nothing to say, say nothing. What’s futile is pretending that saying “don’t bother” is some sort of counterpoint as opposed to the modern adult version of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “lalalalalala! Can’t hear!”.

    Even if, in the very extreme case you being 100% right that I’m wrong, there is absolutely nothing said that explains why. And if there’s no explanation of why someone is wrong, then why do you expect a recantation? Just because you’re a twonk?

  62. Ethan, maybe what I didn’t make clear was that I wasn’t saying that you ought to change your approach, but that a different approach may make the appearance of “NEW AND ASTOUNDING” claims grate less against your New Yorker sensibilities and get a sense of, if not wonder, at least pleasure at the appearance of the new, if outlandish, claims in the future.

    As the General said to John Sheridan: look at this as an opportunity, not a burden.

  63. JoeB @69, thanks for the find on that article. For traps like Climate Change, I would love to be able to filter and ban “Letters to the Editor” as well as most Op-Eds in general; you’re very unlikely to get actual science as a consistent voice in there. Climate change in particular is a difficult one; many sources which are good (or acceptable) for other topics — even other science topics — are simply unscientific when it comes to climate change, and need to be blocked. That is, expectedly, one of the most difficult traps to keep pristine. Thanks for the help.

    Thanks also for the suggestion that some type of identifier indicating the type of internet source be placed atop each article. I would also like such a feature.

    Swapnil @70, you say that like it’s ironic. This is how things actually are in most places in America these days.

    Wow @72, I would like very much to be able to have nuanced, rather than sensationalized, reporting on such findings. My hope, eventually with trap!t, will be to be able to provide some of that, particularly on polarizing issues. There are some features being developed (that are still a ways off) that will eventually allow me to weigh in with more than just a response to the sensationalism coming from the mainstream media.

  64.!welcome/2 is blank… that’s the featured science traps… but in Ethiopia who knows what will/will not work… anyway, the others do work. It would be good to have one dedicated to politics (elections, US, Europe, World, etc.), as well as education (best schools, research, studies, etc.). Also, I do not see an unbiased portrayal of the climate change issue… but rather one side with biased language, which I understand based on your personal, opinions, but uh… isn’t the whole purpose of the website to provide UNBIASED opinions and information?


  65. all the featured pages now work, mostly (sorry, it must be the internet here) It would be really great if you could put arrow-links to the next and previous articles as they flash by, so that you can get a better chance to read all the ones you want.

  66. all the featured pages now work, mostly (sorry, it must be the internet here) It would be really great if you could put arrow-links to the next and previous articles as they flash by, so that you can get a better chance to read all the ones you want.

  67. Karl, I like your suggestion for arrow links as the articles flash by; I will suggest it as a possible feature to add in the future.

    The purpose, to reiterate, isn’t to provide unbiased opinions and information. Yes, that would be a lofty goal, but I honestly believe that is pretty much unattainable. What I am attempting to do is aggregate as much information out there about a given topic from as many different sources as possible, and then cull out/block the ones who are reporting scientifically misleading/counterfactual claims.

    If you find sources in my traps that are doing so — and they exist on all points along the political spectrum — let me know, so I can not only remove them, but better train these traps to not include them. Also, if you find news articles that are factually correct and would make a positive addition to a trap, but isn’t in there, for some reason, let me know, and although it takes time (and behind-the-scenes effort), I will attempt to train articles like that one into the trap.

  68. Ethan, there is a certain aspect of your new project which made me thinking (the following is only my opinion, of course, and I think you won’t like it, sorry).

    If I don’t know how the artificial-intelligence engine works, then I’m in the same situation I’m in when I read any news source “driven” exclusively by humans.

    I seriously don’t know why I should trust trapit more than any of the other sites I observe. This is a fundamental problem with any artificial-intelligence engine with more than a minimal degree of sophistication. With trapit, born out of a monster project, I don’t have any chance. Trapit is forced to build a reputation just the same way any human being has to. So, trapit doesn’t have any advantage regarding the quality claims in your article above (I don’t mean just speed and volume, of course).

    What do you think? (By the way, I read everything available on the trapit website.)

  69. I know what you mean about climate change being a particularly difficult area.

    But now the climate change trap says “Sorry, that Trap is History”..It’s gone. Bring it Back!

  70. Ethan @75, that’s fine.

    Make sure you don’t use sensationalist claims to counter claims sensationalist in the newspapers, though. SN1987a wasn’t any form of rebuttal. The claim of (originally) measurement error was valid and, apparently, taken on board.

    A claim “This theory has to be able to explain why we have neutrinos from SN187a, and if it can explain WHY THEY ARE DIFFERENT from expected, then this theory will gain traction” would have worked better. And, after all, if an alternative theory is to even START gaining traction, it needs to explain things BETTER than other explanations, not just “about as well”.

    A genuine fraud will end worse if bandied about in public too early, just see Cold Fusion for an example. And a genuine mistake may reflect poorly, but in this day of cuts, cuts and yet more cuts, the hard-sell tactics are hard to justify avoiding when science funding everywhere (yes, Rupert Murdoch, even in climate science) is dropping. See NASA and the Mars missions.

  71. You’re right, of course. I was just desperetaly trying to be witty!

    What I meant is not really that people will distrust some (or all) of your choices per se but it could be hard getting them to trust it in the first place.

    Having read your blog for quite a while, I wouldn’t have any trouble trusting you on a number of issues (we must not forget that the important thing here is the process of filtering) and I have enough confidence in my own expertise in other areas to sort the information.

    The issue I see, and it’s not specific to this system alone, is that to bring people to use it, you have to convince them your system is better than other ones at doing this job. I know your blog and a bit about science in general so I would use it more as a shortcut to pertinent information. Which is great! That saves lots of time and no need to use RSS feeds on a reader and try to organize them. My concern is about those less-scientifically minded or knowledgeable : unless I advise my relatives and friends to use this system, which they would do only if they trusted me about science, I don’t see why they would choose it. Of course, this is a problem for every website. And I’m not saying that it’s a major problem for your project. Just that to become really popular outside of academics and science geeks, there “maybe” needs to be a way to reassure the public. It’s not that they don’t trust you (or someone else, for that matter) about a particular subject; they just don’t know who you are and why your filtering system should perform better since it’s based on your perception. Maybe it’s worst because, in the end, you’re the only curator. I don’t know. Of course, the fact you’re a scientist can be reassuring. Even though there’s another physicist in my city who claims publicly that vaccines are a way for government to insert microchips in everybody… !!

    All this being said, I’m glad such a project exists and hope to see it spread!

  72. “I don’t see why they would choose it.”

    They’d choose it for the same reasons they choose other sources of information and entertainment.

    A mix of, accuracy (in those things they do know about), verification (so that you have a good idea that at least they did their homeword), approval of respected others (why is that a problem, by the way?) and, unfortunately over-commonly, agrees with their preconceptions.

    The last one is more common among the right/centre-right and more religious elements since they already promote many things as “just true”, whilst the left more often have a doubt over their own abilities and atheists already primed to look with wry cynicism over their and others statements. That’s a VERY broad brush, but the tendency is there and real, though the overlaps are extensive.

    E.g. Stalin was 150% convinced of his own rightness. And so was Joe McCarthy, to the same extent. Left and right can have the same bad features, but there’s more questioning among the left and atheist movements.

  73. Thanks, everyone, for all the great comments and feedback! Many of them were incredibly useful as far as helping our young company address known issues, identify new fixes to implement, and help decide what feature upgrades need to happen sooner rather than later. Between direct messages, comments here, and messages sent to google+, facebook, and twitter, there were well over 100 messages received; thank you! This was really invaluable, and I thank everyone for their input!

    There should be a number of upgrades and fixes being implemented incrementally over the next few weeks; make sure you come back and check it out again soon! (I’ll keep working hard to make this great, I promise!)

    The random drawing was just conducted and the winners of the T-shirts as well as the winners of the sweatshirts have been chosen!!! I have sent an email to the winners’ addresses that were left in the comment thread here. If you received a message letting you know that you won, make sure you respond as quickly as possible; I’d like to send you your prizes as soon as I can!

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