Today’s show is brought to you by Audible. Please visit Audible podcast dot com slash point to get a free audio book download. This is Point of Inquiry from Monday, September 10th, 2012.
Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. So if I have one overriding goal, one purpose that kind of animates everything I do, it’s pretty simple. I’d like to find a way to make American politics just a little bit more rational, more evidence based. And increasingly, I’ve been wondering if we don’t need a good old fashioned killer app to help in that process. That’s why I’ve decided to vote this episode to a promising innovation called Truth Market. You’re gonna hear much more about it in the interview. But basically, it’s a site where people who care about the truth can crowdfund campaigns, which are dedicated to either proving the veracity of true claims or demonstrating the falsity of wrong ones and campaigns where, in essence, you make money by showing your right. The goal, of course, of all of this is to use market style forces to vanquish truthiness. And, you know, here’s hoping that it just might work. So to talk about the new site, I’ve invited on its founder, Rick Hayes Roth. Rick is the chairman and CEO of Truth Steel Corporation, as well as a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. In the past, he’s served as chief technology officer for software at Hewlett Packard and program director for research and information processing at the Rand Corporation. He’s currently the founder and chief executive of Truth Market, a new Web site that is the subject of our show today.
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Ricki’s Roth, welcome to Point of Inquiry.
Oh, Chris, it’s a pleasure to be here.
I’m glad to have you. And I wanted to have you on because I am extremely in favor of any innovation that can help. Good information, sort of rise of the top of the heap and bad information sink to the bottom of the heap. And your new project, Truth Market dot com, seems to me like it really has the potential to do this. So first, I just want to ask you to explain what is truth market? What’s the concept? How does it work? And I guess you’ve just launched, right?
Yes, we just launched last week. So the truth market has a couple of ideas in it. Idea number one is we want to find a way that people who are speaking the truth might actually win money profit and people who are telling lies or misrepresentations might actually lose something.
So we’re trying to tilt the marketplace from one where money can buy any message it wants to, one where money might actually start favoring truth telling. The second idea is that we allow crowdsourced funding of campaigns that are creating rewards for truth tellers or.
Penalties for liars and the way we do that is truth market consists of a set of independent campaigns. Each campaign is offering a bounty that says if this campaign is not telling the truth. Please take our money. And we hope that the money that goes into those campaigns and the bounties associated with them will shed light, bring public attention and even call to a lot of people’s minds.
The contrast between what they’re hearing and the fact that money is sitting there going untaken.
So let me think about well, let me think about the incentives here. So let’s say I see one in the campaigns. Someone’s created a campaign and they’re making a factual claim. And let’s say, I don’t know, the factual claim is something something where I know I can refuted. So I know a fact and I’m just not of it. Good example. I know. But I know a fact that will prove their statement wrong then. And they’ve raised a certain amount of money. I mean, clearly, incentive is for me to send in that fact because then I win their money. Is that how it works?
That’s exactly right. And so you in your scenario, you were playing one of three roles that are important to this truth market. You were playing the role of a challenger and the challenger submits his evidence, pays a small fee, and the independent experts who are employed by us adjudicate that. And if the fact you submit proves the claim wrong, you win.
The other two roles are someone who creates a campaign, who tries to get other people to help him create that bounty and potential reward in the people who co-sponsor and co fund that campaign.
And so the other are the other possibility, right. Is that I you know, I don’t want to refute somebodies campaign, but maybe I’m just sick of a certain kind of nonsense, like I’m sick of global warming denial or I’m sick of people saying President Obama was not born in the U.S. So I’d create a campaigning saying, you know, this is false. And then it would be the burden on the rest of the world to try to refute me.
That’s correct. And we actually have a number of campaigns that all around the topic. You just mentioned.
So, for example, there is a campaign that is based on, sheriff, our PIOs so-called citizen posse that basically put out an official press release stating that they had concluded that there was very significant evidence indicating that you did the state of Ohio or the White House had. Essentially forged the long form birth certificate. So a campaign.
You mean Hawaii, right? Just to be clear, a white lie.
OK, well, it’s either Hawaii or the White House. Either one might have been responsible.
Campaign is basically saying that that is B.S., We use B.S. to mean a bogus statement and that campaign is sitting there with a big pot of money saying, look, if you can prove this thing really is a forgery, please take our money. Otherwise, why don’t you just go home and stop pretending, you know, something that nobody else does.
So how much money sitting there for for an aspiring birther to win 5000 bucks?
Oh, so we got to really publicize this right away to birthers, right? I mean, bring it on. Let’s lay down the gantlet for them. I guess that’s I guess that’s something that our listeners can kiss. Well, you know, there’s there’s e-mail.
It doesn’t need any more support. But there is another campaign that someone created that basically goes after Trump’s charges that are also birther charges. And it’s trying to raise about another twenty three thousand dollars for its campaign.
We don’t at Truth Market. We don’t decide which campaigns should go forth. We edit them, make sure that they are acceptable, suitable, legal and falsifiable and not a not identically redundant, but it’s a marketplace of ideas.
So what’s it helped me think here? What’s the kind of campaign that you wouldn’t allow? Because it’s just I mean, something really vague, I guess something that you can’t falsify.
Well, if you can’t falsify it, we wouldn’t allow it. If it was slanderous or libelous, we wouldn’t allow it. And if it had basically no value for advancing society governance issues, we wouldn’t allow it. But if it’s a any issue that is of importance to a lot of people and has none of those negative features, we say bring it on and let’s have the conversation and let’s see if we can resolve these questions in favor of fact.
Well, I’m I’m certainly hoping you have a lot of takers. And one reason, you know, I got interested and I want to have you on is actually a lot of your I guess are your board of directors aboard. You know, your board includes many people we’ve had on this show in the past, George Lakoff, Michael Shermer, Sean Lauren Zadow. They’ve all been on there, all, you know, sort of champions of making U.S. politics and conversation a little bit more rational.
Well, just to be clear, we call them our board of advisors.
They don’t have any fiduciary corporate responsibilities, but we look to them both because they they are beacons that stand for the desire to clean up the information pollution and also the concern that it’s not a harmless thing we’re doing to our society to continually deluge it with false information. So, of course, Lakoff is very concerned with the idea that in politics, the mere repetition of a lie is harmful because it causes increasing acceptability and credibility in the ALLAI mere repetition. And of course, Shawn Otto is very concerned about the poor plight of science issues in politics and in public discourse. So one of the campaigns on our Web site right now is based on the importance of people not continuing to believe that there is significant disagreement among climate scientists about global warming. So, in fact, there’s a campaign that basically says 95 percent of these scientists agree that this is a real phenomenon and it’s caused by humans. And it’s a small bounty. It’s just someone created it because they wanted to get that one going. But we’re hoping that we might actually get to a point where there are some giant bounties.
I’ll give you an example of one that’s also on there that has a very high aspiration for crowd source funding, which is on the what you might call the anti-democratic or the Republican side. And it’s going after Harry Reid for making his unsupported claim that Romney had paid no basically no taxes for 10 years.
But the only person wait said that the only person that can refute that one is somebody who has from his taxes. Right.
Well, actually, the way the campaign is set up, it’s either someone who has the taxes or the source that claims that he has credible evidence comes forth and is a credible source on those things.
Well, you probably have a limited window on that one.
But certainly that would be newsmaking if if someone provided you your friends there, because they haven’t, of course, I don’t think it’s come out in the media that people have that knowledge, have not brought it out yet. So. And that kind of I guess that kind of raises the issue. I mean, you know, you’d have to get a pretty big pot of money in some cases, maybe in order to get people really engaged. I mean, you have evidence that people are willing to really crowdfund large amounts in this sort of endeavor to just to establish a truth or falsehood.
Actually, that you’d have to say is the key experiment.
And for me, the great challenge is trying to find ways that you can get people who are.
Riled up and passionate about issues and feel that they are powerless to do anything about it, to reach for their wallet, to contribute to a public relations oriented effort to have their position and their voice stated now.
For us, the hypothesis is that people are willing to do this for all kinds of reasons. There’s plenty of evidence that crowdsourced funding is working across a wide range of areas. And we just hope that we can get people to pull out a few bucks and have a lot of people fill out a few bucks to try to fight back against what we see is wanton pollution of the information environment.
Well, I’m certainly I wouldn’t be having you on if I wasn’t hoping you it worked and thinking that has some potential to work. And so may just remind our listeners. The Web site is truth market dot com.
So I want you to check it out after the interview or even during the interview. No. Now, Rick, one of the key things that’s going to make or break this, I guess, is going to be credibility. So you’re a.. Is it going to be you who’s going to assess what is true?
I mean, and you’re quite confident that you’re going to be able to pull that off and not make any mistakes. Because, I mean, I think if if if something goes wrong, it could be a real problem. If you if you claim one thing and then somebody else actually refutes you, you could be in a bad position.
Well, so there’s a number of levels here. Question. Let me start with the simplest part of it first. Who’s going to do it? Everyone is involved, which includes me is a trained scientist. I have APHC in science and I view the question of who these data falsify this claim as a relatively simple kind of assessment.
If the data are good, they’re independent, the sampling is reliable and the results are significant. So in some sense, what we’re hoping to do is what you might call practical science one to one.
Let me leave that as a simple answer. Let me back up to what I think is another layer of your question, which is.
So what kinds of things can you decide?
And isn’t truth a philosophical undertaking? Well, we’re being very careful to make sure that every one of the claims is falsifiable in principle with data that are at least plausibly available on the face of the earth. I’ll just give you one example that came up earlier when we were testing related ideas. We took the claim that’s off repeated that FOX is the most trusted name in national U.S. TV news.
And I and others had vetted that claim, found two independent studies confirming it. And we put it up there with a thousand dollar bounty for anyone who could falsify it. And it wasn’t three weeks after it was published. That’s a young guy who’s a teacher submitted a challenge. He paid a seventy five dollar fee and he had evidence that that claim was false and his evidence was another survey that had included PBS.
Among the options and evidence that the that PBS had been excluded from the alternative surveys that claimed that Fox was superior.
And in the survey he submitted, the evidence was reliable, independent and significant, showing that actually when you include PBS, Fox is not the most trusted name in news.
Mm hmm. OK. Now, that works for me. You know, I guess what I worry about here is that we already have a group, a class of people, a group of people who have made it their job, their duty to do something very, very close to what you’re doing.
And I would argue that while they’re pretty credible, their credibility is not 100 percent.
And that’s because they’re clearly beholden to political perceptions of them. And I’m talking about the fact checkers in the media, you know, and and my perception of that, you know, the official anointed fact checkers. My perception is that usually they are right and they’re definitely more honest than the politicians they check. But at the same time, you know, they got a they got a ding one side, then they’ve got a ding the other side. And sometimes even and I’d be happy to give you an example. Sometimes even they’re willing to themselves be wrong just so that they can look balanced. I mean, how you can avoid that kind of problem.
I think that’s exactly right. And so there are a couple of problems with the fact checkers model. One is there is no flywheel that feeds money in. The more facts you check, the more money you make. It’s kind of a reflection of the state of journalism in general that resources are scarce. And so these people try and figure out which facts to check and they try and syndicate their results like. And you’re absolutely right that they’ve shown that when you check facts and you limit yourself to the political arena, it turns out, as a number of Republicans and a number of Democrats are saying, that right now more of the baloney is coming from the right wing side. So it makes you look biased. If you’re just trying to sort out all the facts. So my hope is that will avoid that by establishing a true independence and unbiased scientific approach and.
Appealing to the moneyed interests, whether their small interests or large interests on both sides who are trying to persuade the persuadable, they’re trying to influence the influencing bill. There are people whose minds are not made up. There are people who are open to compelling evidence, evidence that stands the test of scrutiny on the Internet, where there’s an open amount of money available, where there’s an open Judy occasion process for the people to see, that has the potential of bringing in a lot of money on both sides. And a lot of people on both sides. And my hope is we wind up creating that marketplace and people say, oh, I shop there regardless of their political brand.
Well, I think one concern I mean I mean, that’s that’s your answer, we’ll have to see, you know, how it works out over time. But I mean, one one concern is this idea that, you know, people will try to work, work the refs, so to speak, you know, and that’s what I think fact checkers are afraid of, is they’re afraid of too much backlash and getting the doors slammed shut because they refute one side too often and not the other side as much. I mean, so so there’s that concern.
But then the concern, if you avoid that problem, you know, and it’s like this kind of like Scilla and Shrub, this kind of thing where, like, you steer too far one way you get killed by one Monzer, you steer too far. The other way you could kill by another monster. I mean, if you if you really don’t care what people think about you and it’s just truth, and then you’re but your truth ends up supporting one side, let’s just say that that’s the case.
Then what will happen is the other side will then create its own truth. And in fact, they’ll create. I mean, if you’re successful, they’ve created their own version of you. Where and this happened with Wikipedia and Conservapedia.
Right. As conservatives created their own Wikipedia, where they have their own facts that are different from Wikipedia’s facts because they are fed up with Wikipedia, always refuting them. So what do we do about that? That’s my ultimate problem with the truth, Marc.
Well, it’s too soon to tell.
But I think that one of the differences between what we’re doing and what they’re doing is every assertion here is testable and refutable. And the criteria is the standard criteria of objective, repeatable, credible evidence.
So it’s not possible for somebody to game this system any more than it is possible for people to game reality.
Facts are our friends, facts don’t have political brands.
Political brands can choose to adopt them or deny them.
But in this arena, the people who put up truth win and those who try to get away with falsehoods lose.
Well, I don’t want to give you too hard a time about this, because, like I said, I support I support the endeavor. And I and I and I do believe that there is a way to check what’s true and what’s not. That is, quote unquote, objective, at least to the extent that it can possibly be and that people can practice that. But but what I’m saying is there’s also motivated reasoning where people convince themselves of truths that aren’t actually true. And I’m not saying that you’ll fall prey to it in this way, but I am saying that people who argue back against you. On some campaign, for instance, even if they lose, it will manage to piece together logic and arguments for themselves in such a way that they believe that they’re still right.
Well, let me say that, of course, you’re right about that. And in fact, the world that existed before Truth Market was created. Was entirely composed of the kind of players and scripts and plays that you’re talking about. I mean, today the control of Meems that are spread through the airwaves is completely determined. I mean, let me say not completely, but 90 percent determined by what? Dollars go behind them. So you could take someone like let’s take the topic of climate change and the so-called climate change deniers. So Richard Muehler, the scientist at Berkeley. Was famous for doubting from his knowledge as a physics professor that the evidence on global warming was credible and he was taking money from the Cooke brothers.
So, obviously. People who.
Doubted climate change. We’re delighted that he was among them. And, of course, other scientists were looking for money from anybody would pay them to in the energy industry was the obvious place to get it. And he was not very credible to people on the other side because he was taking this money from this source. And so his objectivity was questioned and everything about it was questioned. So when he recently.
Came out with his public op ed saying he had converted, he was no longer a skeptic. It was as useful and as potent a message as the normal media could make of it. It would have been a whole lot more potent if someone had put up a million dollar bounty. About him or about the fact that he was denying because a whole lot more people would hear about it. So all we’re doing is trying to say, is there a way to amplify the megaphone that stands for truth because somebody is going to help pay for it?
No, I agree with you. I mean, just from a media standpoint, the million dollar tag and of course, this is something that James Randi knows as well. The million dollar tag definitely gets attention. I mean, I think I think what would also get attention, honestly, I mean, you’re pretty far from this. You’re in the early stage. But if you had essentially a class of and I’m just I’m I’m indulging a little sci fi here. Maybe, but if you had a class of truth investors who became good at this and basically made small fortunes off of truth. I mean, I don’t know if one could imagine that happening or not, but now the early something to be able to point to such a person.
Yeah. What I love about that idea. Is that it? I think it honestly reflects how unknown this space is that we’re opening up. There could be all kinds of emergent surprises that would be kind of a straightforward one. There could be others. But the basic question that is motivating us in that we’re. He’ll be one of many people probably to explore is what mechanisms tie. Prophet to truth telling.
It’s unexplored. It really does seem on his word. I tell you as a journalist, I’m just thinking that I would write this story if you had somebody who, you know, they’re a skeptic, their free thinker, but they can never figure out what they wanted to be, you know, and they just batted around different careers, could never find it, and then suddenly found themselves as a truth investor and started racking in all this money. I mean, that would be that would be an incredible story to tell. And so here I am. I’m trying to inspire our listeners to take up that challenge. So we’ll see if I succeed.
That would be great. And, you know, one step in from where you are is imagine that we had journalists who were paid for truth finding.
Yes. We’re not. Right.
Not I mean, not in general. We definitely can’t sustain successful careers if we’re constantly being wrong and being essentially exposed for it because that, you know, it hurts your credibility. So you very much have to be a careful fact checker and also careful attributive sources.
But, you know, at the same time, there’s a lot of other incentives in the system. And so people can get away with all kinds of things. So I would not say the truth is the primary thing that determines how a journalist fares. I wouldn’t go that far.
No. That’s right.
And so what I’m saying is we have we got to the 21st century and we came out of, you know, say a Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments world where the reason you should tell the truth is because God told Moses you shouldn’t lie. And then somewhere along the way, it became obvious to everybody, as a friend of mine said, by the time they were 10 years old, that lying pays.
And so who among us actually thinks that telling the truth is not a sucker’s game?
So let me let me again remind our listeners. Go check out Truth Market dot com. If you want to get involved, start a campaign. It’s a Rexall. What’s the ultimate goal? I mean, we talked a little bit about this before. I mean, I guess if you had some kind of I mean, you would need the cloud of Google. But if you had some kind of actually tagging of true claims, you know, whenever people search for them, wherever they find them, there is some easily recognizable stamp of approval.
I mean, it seems like that would just have a huge effect.
Well, when we started this company, which was back in 2011, the mother company is called Truth SEAL and we put up a Web site to shield.
Com and Truth Market is an attempt to use crowd source funding as a way to overcome the barrier that we encountered, which is it’s very difficult to get individuals to guarantee the truth of their own statements. But we think that the ultimate that you’re talking about, which was the reason we created Truesdale, may actually come to fruition. And what a true SEAL is, is basically a mark that goes on a statement that says this statement has been vetted. It’s supported by evidence and it’s guaranteed monetarily.
And please, if you have evidence that it’s wrong challenge, it will be independently adjudicated and the mark will be rejected, nullify. That’s what happened with the claim about Fox being the most trusted name in news. So we have the technology in place to do exactly what you said. We created it in 2011. We created a business to go see if we could get people to buy these seals and decided that it was too soon. People don’t perceive a competitive advantage. Today. To labeling their own statements as true and guaranteeing them.
But that is my ultimate objective.
You know, that would be really something I was on. In 2005, my first book is called The Republican War and Science came out. I was lucky enough to be on The Daily Show. And Jon Stewart asked me this, and I can’t remember exactly what he said. But it was something like, you know, is there somewhere you can go to find out? This scientific claim, it got three stars. Everybody laughed. It was something like that that he said, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was to that effect. And my answer was, well, I think I said the National Academy of Sciences. But, you know, I’ve I’ve grown and thought a lot since then. And I actually don’t think the scientific community does this kind of function. I mean, yes, if you wade through the reports carefully, you can actually find out what’s credible and what isn’t. But there’s no sort of really putting it out there, you know. This is true. This is false. And we’re back in that. You know, this seems like they I want to wade into those sort of fights.
Well, that’s right. And, you know, one of my my whole career has been about information, science and helping people determine which hypotheses are true or false. And so one thing that’s perfectly clear to me about this is this is a very practical manufacturing problem, if you will. It’s a problem of scale. How could you possibly develop? A machine or an organization or a business that was big enough to even mark up a modest fraction of all the claims that are out there. And so I know how to do it. Technically. I know that it’s not a philosophical question. It’s as I said before, it’s a science one to one question. So if the assertion is clear, if it’s backed by evidence, if it’s falsifiable, that’s what we mean by truth with a small T in science. But who’s going to do all that work? Where’s the engine that’s going to pay for it? And Bill Clinton was actually after we started to steal. He was actually interviewed on CNBC. And he was asked about how you could know what was true or false.
And he mused he had obviously never dealt with it deeply and he quickly went through all of the options that would occur to you. The government should do it. There should be standards. There should be an independent body. And he not no sooner had he expressed it that he was able to say why it wouldn’t work.
And he basically said. We would need a new kind of business to do this.
And so I felt that that was a little confirmation, but for me, again, having you know, I’ve been the chief technology officer for software at Hewlett-Packard.
I’ve started small companies. I know what it’s like to try to scale a business.
This business, the business of marking things true.
Is only going to work if the society thinks it’s worth spending money on and the only way our society thinks big things are we’re spending money on it, it lets businesses go do that. So you have to figure out a profit motive for truth.
Well, I would love to. I’d love to live in a world where truth profits and but I and I think we’ll probably wrap up here.
But I just will say that the one thing is the business design challenge that you’re clearly thought a lot about. But then there’s this added problem, which is that if the business succeeds, if truth market that comes succeeds, I very much hope that it does.
You will then have the deniers getting even louder. Right. Because you will hit you will hit them where it hurts so badly that they will have to set up, you know, go even farther to create their own reality and see.
And that problem is the one that I many days at least feel is intractable. So, I mean, I guess, you know, that’s like another hurdle down the road.
It is. And there are two ways to compete. One is to cheat. And one is to.
Actually, meet your competition head on.
And in turn, this would be cheating. This is what they would be doing, would be cheating. Yeah, yeah.
And well, but that’s you know, there are two ways to run a business.
I mean, you can look at the Apple Samsung case as an example. You know, in the end, if you’re going to be a prevalent force on Earth, let’s hope it’s because you’re the best user of truth and knowledge. If we can’t make that be the case. That is, if people who embrace truth and embrace knowledge are not going to win.
Well, you know, the world is not going to be a very happy place.
So I’m hoping that truth becomes a competitive tool.
Well, you know, I’m hoping it, too. And so, you know, on that note, Rick, I want to thank you for coming on board of inquiry and sharing with us this this intriguing idea. And I guess we will all be watching it grow.
Well, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about it and more of your listeners who can get involved the more we can all make it happen.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about this show, please visit us at point of inquiry dot org and leave your comments. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dot org by email. And you can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry are not necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations.
One of inquiries produced by atomizing and amrs New York and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney.