Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2015/ Wishful Thinking 004: Crowdsourced Canadian Politics Fact Checking

Wishful Thinking 004: Crowdsourced Canadian Politics Fact Checking

Update: There is a fact checking site for Canadian politics at http://factscan.ca . I still think a crowdsourced aggregator would be worthwhile.

News flash: politicians frequently twist statistics and facts, make promises they know they can't keep, and even lie in public. Many of us are cynical of these statements, but don't know the truth. Worse, politicians that do tell the truth (or make honest efforts to tell the truth without spin) are not rewarded for doing so.

The BBC has an excellent radio show called More or Less where "loyal listeners" submit statistical claims to be checked by Tim Harford and his merry band of debunkers.

In the United States, there are a few websites like http://factcheck.org and http://politifact.com which attempt to disentangle political spin.

There are a bunch of ad-hoc fact checking done on blogs, the CBC, and some news organizations.

One huge problem with political fact checking is that it is so polarized, and it is difficult to know which facts to trust. Think tanks muddy the waters instead of clarifying them. Everybody has an agenda. But a service that breaks down the facts and figures by sourcing them and putting them in context would be a great help in helping us understand the political spin. In the best case it might cow politicians into being more honest.

I wish there was a website like Stack Exchange for political fact-checking. There are open-source Q&A software packages out there, so maybe somebody could use one of them for this website instead of an actual Stack Exchange site.

There is a Stack Exchange at http://skeptics.stackexchange.com which would be a good model for the kind of website I am looking for.

It would be very important that answers to these questions would show up high in search results. One goal of this website would be to consolidate political fact-checking in a trustable location, as opposed to having bits and pieces of good reliable fact-checking floating in the ocean of political hackery.

I feel that having a Canada-specific website is also pretty important. There are lots of claims made about American politics, and while some of that fact checking is transferable to the Canadian context there is a lot that is not.

It is dangerous to crowdsource this information (because astroturf campaigns would downvote correct answers that do not mesh with particular ideologies) but I am hoping that good moderation could blunt the hyperpartisanship. I do not feel that there are enough reporters (in particular: reporters who would be able to release their research for free) to do a good job of fact checking Canadian politics. But there are hundreds of blowhards on newspaper websites, and I think that some fraction of them will be willing to back up their claims with facts on some fact checking website.

Even having partisan responses on the site would be helpful, because those partisan responses would have to compete with each other to convince us of their truth. Seeing the arguments and counterarguments on a single page can be confusing, but can also be enlightening.

I think that the Stack Exchange convention of blockquoting answers on the site itself (instead of just posting links to giant articles) would also be helpful.

I also think keeping a historical archive of checked facts would be very useful. Politicians would still make debunked claims, but they wouldn't get away with doing so as easily. Also politicians often reverse their positions for partisan reasons, and a historical archive would help call politicians out when they did so.

Project status: unknown. If such a site exists I would like to know about it. Certainly such a site is not widely known.

What I can offer: next to nothing, unfortunately. I just want this thing to exist.