July 16, 2021

Launching the $10K Ground Truth Challenge

It's official! We're launching our first experiment in "quick and dirty sensemaking".

Over the next week, we will offer a $100 Amazon gift card (or a similar donation to a charity, or applicable alternative) per documented non-corrected false statement spoken by Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Pierre Kory, Robert Malone or Steven Kirsch in four recent podcasts listed below.

Crucially, we're looking for proofs of falsification, not verification. A lot of knowledge on COVID-19 is too fresh for us to conclusively verify. However, we can at least work together to help weed out demonstrably false statements and cite what can be cited.

The awards will be given out up to a total of $10,000.

Interested? Keep reading.

Why are we doing this?

First, some context. On July 6, Quillette published an article purporting to critique and expose viewpoints expressed by Bret Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist and podcaster. Specifically, it focused on Weinstein's viewpoints regarding COVID-19 vaccines and the drug ivermectin as a treatment and prophylactic.

As listeners of the DarkHorse Podcast, we are well aware of the seriousness of the claims being made by its hosts and guests. Like most, we would prefer if those claims were not true. We read the Quillette piece with interest, hoping to hear a counterpoint that gave us reason to think things would turn out for the best. We were disappointed to discover that under basic scrutiny, the criticisms crumbled.

The pervasive view that the DarkHorse Podcast broadcasts misinformation, paired with the inability to point to exactly what that misinformation might be, leads us to wonder about what failure of sensemaking might be taking place on either side of this debate. We believe we need 'better skeptics', ones committed to calling out bad behavior, but also to offering concrete evidence for scrutiny.

We decided to make this our first experiment in collective sensemaking: Could an online community, aided by a purpose-built protocol, resolve the question of factual veracity in the views expressed by Bret, Heather, and their guests, on the topic of vaccines and ivermectin?

Unlike existing fact checkers, we recognize that in new and developing situations, no-one can or should claim to hold the absolute truth. Consequently instead of "verificationism", we're embracing Popper's Falsification philosophy. We can't aspire to verify all claims out there, but we can attempt to eliminate demonstrably bad statements by falsification and in that process illuminate the voices that may be pointing to truth.

How will it work?

In the spirit of agility and time, we've created what we hope is a focused process by which we can tease out and validate any solid criticisms of Bret & Heather's views through a collective and (somewhat) decentralized effort.

For this we've chosen four recent podcasts which discussed COVID-19 vaccines and/or ivermectin. These are:

  • COVID, ivermectin, and the Crime of the Century. June 1, 2021. Video - Transcript
  • How to Save the World in Three Easy Steps. June 11, 2021. Video - Transcript
  • Joe Rogan Experience #1671 - Bret Weinstein & Dr. Pierre Kory. June 22, 2021. Video - Transcript
  • Bret and Heather 87th DarkHorse Podcast Livestream: We Must Drive this Virus to Extinction. July 12, 2021. Video - Transcript

We think it is worthwhile to take full accounting of the quality of the statements uttered in these podcasts. This is almost 11 hours worth of live speech, so it would be unbelievable if the number of false statements is zero. Should some false statements be identified, it will be for the world to see how the interested parties react. We want to compose high-quality fact-checking from average-quality ingredients: normal people, with our own biases and internal contradictions.

A detailed description of the challenge process and rules is available here. In a nutshell: Anyone who identifies what they believe is a false statement will be required to submit their claim to us via public Twitter message with a specified hashtag. Three referees will evaluate each submission across two rounds, and all submissions scoring 9 or above will be awarded the $100 prize.

All submissions and corresponding ratings will be viewable by anyone on this public spreadsheet.

The challenge will be open for a week from launch day or until the $10K pot has been exhausted, whichever comes first.

The referees

We have selected three people with very different backgrounds to validate and rate the submissions. We had no prior knowledge at time of selection of their views on the subject materials, and certainly not on specific facts, but we believe them to be honest brokers, so we're happy to defer to them as relatively-unbiased referees.

Agree or not, we will honor their decisions, so long as the total prize pool of $10,000 has not been exhausted.

These brave volunteers are:

  • Max Borders, founder and executive director of Social Evolution, a non-profit startup dedicated to liberating people and solving social problems through innovation
  • Paul Crowley, cryptographer, currently leading encryption of Android devices
  • Jocelynn Pearl, scientist with background in gene editing, epigenome engineering and systems biology. Currently works at a biotech startup and hosts the Lady Scientist Podcast

For the full details on how to participate and terms and conditions on the award, head over here. In a nutshell:

  • Submit falsification and "unsupported claims" entries
  • Respond to verified claims that are tweeted by the @BetterSkeptics account
  • Watch the referees and volunteers work in our public spreadsheet
  • Clone the sheet and do your own independent evaluation
  • Share the challenge with as many people as possible

Open source

The materials and mechanism of the challenge will be published as an open source project under the BY-SA Creative Commons 4.0 licence for all to experiment with. Our intent is to run a proof of concept and then share a mechanism that can be used and evolved by anyone.

Statement of independence

At the time of this writing, the Better Skeptics team has had no private communications with the hosts of the DarkHorse podcast. We subscribe to their Patreon accounts, as we subscribed to Quillette until very recently, as we are always interested in supporting independent voices.