Applying for the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund

We’ve never had any real funding for the rbutr project. We kept this whole thing limping along under our own efforts and through our own financial support. That has caused problems for us, and resulted in multi-year breaks of productivity while Craig and I attempted to make ends meet and take care of our own families and lives.

To fix that problem I am currently working to secure every form of funding that I can bring in for rbutr. I am applying for grants wherever I can find them, and will shortly be launching a crowdfunding campaign to help get rbutr to a couple of key web misinformation/fact checking conferences over the coming few months.

Facebook disputed by screenshotThere has never been a better time to aggressively push rbutr out to the world. With Facebook recently launching their own “Disputed by…” tags, the world has just started to catch up to where rbutr was 5 years ago. Now we need to help take this first step the rest of the way to its natural conclusion – a universal system which provides the best available critique for all pages in order to promote skepticism and improve critical thinking.

With that in mind, outwards I go, looking for grants, partnerships and assistance in all forms I can find it.

The Knight Foundation Prototype Fund

Ever since I discovered the Knight Foundation through their News Challenge competition, I have had a lot of respect for them and the work they do. This prototype fund initiative is a perfect example of what I love about them. They fund ideas which aim to make a difference.

We’re looking for technologists, journalists, designers, teachers, researchers, and others who are eager to develop ideas to help ensure all people have access to accurate information. We understand issues of trust and misinformation are nuanced and complicated, and we are looking for ideas and collaborations that can help bring new voices and vision to these debates.

This fund is perfect for rbutr and what rbutr does. So I have written an application.

If only they weren’t so US centric, we might have a chance of getting a grant.

As it currently stands though, their FAQ says that the only people who can apply are: “U.S. based individuals or organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit) may apply.” Since when is misinformation an America only problem?

I’m putting in the application anyway. Maybe we can register a new organisation in the USA to get around this unnecessarily geographically restrictive rule. Besides, I want people to understand the solution more than anything else, and so I am hoping that someone will notice my application, even if we don’t meet the geographic requirements.

Our Application


Critical thinking for everyone! A systematic web based approach.

Describe your project

Our vision of the future of the web is one where every user has permanent, easy access to the best available critique, correction or rebuttal of whatever webpage they are viewing.

In this future you might be on Facebook, Twitter or any other source of content. Every link in that newsfeed has a small non-invasive link/button which would, when clicked, show a list of webpages that critically analyse that content. Being interested in the subject, you open the original link and the top rated rebuttal in new tabs. Reading both articles gives you a wider perspective on the issue and an insight into some of the problems in the original position. You are not totally convinced by the rebuttal though, so you click on a small button in your browser and a list of critical analyses of this rebuttal drops down. You click on the top one, and a rebuttal to this rebuttal opens in a new tab. You read it and continue to gain new perspectives, nuance and understanding of this complex issue.

Our role in this vision is to build a database to record the page level relationship between rebuttals, and the pages they rebut. Our goal is to have all publishing platforms integrate our data into their system so that corrections, critiques and contradictions can always be easily found alongside the information it is critiquing.

We aim to organise the content of the web so that all content is given the skeptical treatment and exposed to relentless critical analysis.

What problem are you trying to solve?

This project is the long term solution to the problem of misinformation and false beliefs.

Many people have tried to solve the problem of misinformation and media bias in the past, but they have all made the same mistake. They have tried to correct misinformation with “true” information. This is a mistake because corrections are not a good way of changing minds (see backfire effect, and the long list of cognitive biases) and when people are told by a web application that they are wrong, they will tend to start ignoring that application, or otherwise avoid it.

Users will tend to conclude: “I’m not wrong. Your app is broken.”

While this project will put corrections up against misinformation, and debunkings against hoaxes, and fact-checks against political lies, that is not how we will beat misinformation.

We will beat misinformation by creating a pervasive culture of critical thinking and skepticism by bringing the best available critique to all information. Good, bad, complex, fake, nuanced – all information is open to critique, and everything needs to be critiqued. When all information online is presented alongside strong critical analysis, then critical analysis (critical thinking) will become mainstream. Scientific skepticism will be normalised.

This approach won’t remove all misinformation from the web, but it will severely impede its ability to spread. It will inoculate people against falling for lies, manipulations and scams.

This project is a vaccine against believing misinformation.

Who will be impacted by your project and how do you understand their needs?

All internet users will be impacted by successful implementation of this project.

Through experimentation with this concept for over 5 years now, we have concluded that the following approach is the only way forwards.

First, it needs to be understood that the average person will not install a rebuttal or fact checking app. They will not go to a fact checking website, nor a debate website every time they read a headline on Facebook. Most people have no real interest in fact-checking, debating or spending time researching things found on Facebook or Google.

Worse than that, misinformation spreads quickly, and corrections take time to write. If the average person needs a correction handed to them in order to spot misinformation, then they will constantly be misinformed by the latest shock story not yet debunked.

The only solution is to actively foster a skeptical culture in all internet users, and to provide them with a constant exposure to high quality rebuttals, which demonstrates to them how to think critically about what they read.

This approach may have mixed results in the older generations, but children will only know a world where all information is critically analysed, and they will embody that socratic attitude.

In order to create this atmosphere of constant critical reflection we need to create a central, open platform which collects and organises these relationships (W3C regulated perhaps) so that all web platforms, internet giants and media outlets can access the data and present it themselves – requiring no opt in from users.

Please list team members and their qualifications

Shane Greenup
B. Science (hons), B. Arts in Philosophy and the History and Philosophy of Science. Certificate IV in Small Business Management. IndieBio alumni, StartupChile alumni.

Craig O’Shannessy
Over 25 years of experience in all areas of software development and business.
Dr. Aubrey de Grey
B. Arts in computer Science, PhD in Biology. Author and Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation.

Dr Michael Shermer
B.A. in psychology, M.A. in experimental psychology and Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. World famous science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims.

Tim Farley
B. Science in Physics. Tim is a computer software engineer, writer and instructor with an expertise in computer security and reverse engineering. He is a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, the creator of the website What’s The Harm?, and the owner of the SkepTools blog.
Dr. Joseph Thomas-Kerr
PhD Computer Engineering, B. Eng – Electrical Engineering. Over ten years of experience, working primarily with Java, C#, and C/C++

Harry Durgin
Over 10 years of experience programming

Nava Tintarev
B. Science, Masters and PhD in Computer Science. An expert in Human Computer Interaction, Nava is currently an assistant professor of the Web Information Systems group at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.

What progress, if any, have you made on this project? *

We’ve built a fully functional prototype system at

We have built the database (which needs a lot more work done to it, or a complete rebuild) and crowdsourced almost 30,000 claim-rebuttal connections into it.

We have developed prototype interfaces which use our data, such as a Chrome browser extension, a reddit reply bot, a twitter reply widget, and an iFrame interface which will work on any device.

We are currently working with a couple of universities to research our core hypotheses and to test rbutr (as it currently stands) in an educational environment.

We have established relationships with many skeptical organisations, and academic research teams around the world.

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