How to Use Rbutr to Become a Better Online Critical Thinker

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Has this ever happened to you?

You learned something new from an online article, video, or podcast. You weren’t sure it was true, but it sounded accurate.

Being a good skeptic, you knew there was a chance it could be wrong. However, you didn’t see any information refuting the claims. You didn’t have time to do more research, so you accepted the claims at face value.

Later, you learned that the claims were false (often after embarrassing yourself by repeating them to others).

Frustrating isn’t it?

Wouldn’t you love it if there was an easy way to find opposing information on a topic so you could avoid being led astray by false claims?

Rbutr is your new best friend.

What is rbutr?

Rbutr is a web application that aggregates pages from across the internet and matches them with opposing views. It lets users like you match inaccurate information with rebuttals — pages that tell the truth.

In the words of the founder, Shane Greenup:

“Rbutr aims to facilitate inter-website debate, guide users to rebuttals of dubious information, and indirectly influence our users so that they approach all online information with an increased level of skepticism and critical appraisal.”

The goal of rbutr is to help break your confirmation biases. We all have a tendency to see what we want to see and ignore everything else. The internet makes this easier than ever by creating an online “filter bubble.”

Rbutr helps you find contradictory information on a topic that you might have otherwise ignored. The content may be a direct debunking, or may contain contrasting evidence.

Rbutr also provides a list of links to rebuttals against the webpage you’re browsing, if any have been submitted.

It sounds almost too good to be true, except for one major hitch.

The Biggest Potential Problem with rbutr

While rbutur can be useful for providing alternative perspectives, that doesn’t guarantee that the information is accurate. It could easily be used to promote pseudoscientific nonsense like chiropractic, “fructose is toxic,” and overhyped supplements.

However, Greenup makes several good points against this argument.

First of all, users can vote on the quality of rebuttals, so the bad ones won’t matter if no one votes for them.

Second, most pseudoscientific claims follow similar narratives, and they’re often easily debunked by one good article. For instance, most fad diets rely on the idea that calories don’t count for weight loss. If you match a web page making such a claim with an article that proves calories do matter for weight loss, the argument is essentially dead.

Remember also that the goal of science is not to silence false claims, but to understand why they’re false. It’s good to know both sides of an argument, and to know why one side is right.

That said, you should do everything you can to make sure this powerful tool is used to promote science, rather than pseudoscience and scams.

How to Get Started with rbutr

If you haven’t already, download and install the web browser Google Chrome on your computer. Right now rbutr is only available for Google Chrome users, but that’s probably going to change soon.

Create a rbutr account.

Install the Chrome plugin.

Now let’s explore how you can use rbutr.

Subscribe to Rebuttals

Go to your account and subscribe to various topics. Once you subscribe to a topic, you will be notified when a rebuttal is added.

In the screenshot below, you can see that our user is subscribed to “Heath,” “Alternative Medicine,” “Skepticism,” “Homeopathy,” and “Vaccination.”

rbutr Subscriptions

Vote, Comment, and Explore

Once you click on a rebuttal, you’ll be taken to the rebuttal page. Here you can comment, vote, and look at the web pages in question.

Rbutr Rebuttal Page

Positive vote = good rebuttal.

Negative vote = poor rebuttal.

Request Rebuttals

If you find a webpage making dubious claims, you can request that it be “rbuted” by clicking your Chrome extension.

For example, let’s say you’re interested in learning about the safety of GMO foods.

You end up on Dr. Mercola’s website, where he claims that there is a conspiracy behind GMO foods, that they’re dangerous, and that you should choose organic foods instead.

Instead of leaving this unchallenged, you click the rbutr icon on your Chrome browser, like so:

Requesting a Rebuttal

It looks like no one else has filed a rebuttal against this page yet. To change that, click the “Request” button. Once you do, enter a few tags to describe the page. In this case, you could enter “GMO,” “Science,” “Health,” “nutrition,” and “Conspiracy.” Then you click “Submit” and your rebuttal has been requested.

Add Tags to rbutr

Create Rebuttals

This is the really fun part. Using the same example, let’s say that you’ve found another source of information that refutes the claim that GMO foods are dangerous. For instance, a Skeptically Speaking podcast episode featured several leading scientists who talk about some of the false claims and bad science surrounding GMO hysteria.

To submit this podcast as a rebuttal, click the rbutr icon on your browser.

Then select the Mercola page as the “source.”

Rbutr Source

Now navigate to the page that rebuts the Mercola article. In this case, the Skeptically Speaking podcast:

Rbutr Navigation

Once you’re there, click the rbutur icon again. This time, enter the webpage as the rebuttal. Then enter a brief description, like “Disputes the claims of negative health consequences caused by consuming GMO foods.”

Then enter a few tags to help others find the rebuttal. Since the Skeptically Speaking podcast wasn’t a direct rebuttal, you shouldn’t check the box at the bottom. Once you’ve filled out the information, click “Submit.” Congratulations, you’ve just furthered critical thinking on the web.

Skeptically Speaking GMO Rebuttal

Once you click submit, you’ll be taken to a new tab showing your submission. Here you and others can leave comments and vote on the rebuttal.

Become a Better Critical Thinker with rbutr

It’s frustrating to be misled by false information.

You’ve only got so many minutes in a day, and you want to make sure your time spent reading, listening, and watching is as productive as possible. You want to know you’re consuming and spreading accurate ideas. You also like to call “B.S.” on people who are spreading, well, B.S.

Rbutr is a tool that lets you do all of that and more.

Even if you’re a hardcore critical thinker who is not easily deluded, rbutr can help you ensure that you’re exposing yourself to new sources of information and not falling prey to a confirmation bias.

You can also help others who may be less skeptical by promoting science, and rebutting pseudoscientific noise. If you’re a blogger, you can also submit your articles to rbutr. In fact, you’re encouraged to.

Will you be using rbutr to help spread skepticism online? What other tools do you use to find accurate information online? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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