Academic Research and rbutr – Announcing a collaboration with the Delft University of Technology

I’m very happy and excited to announce that Assistant Professor Nava Tintarev has recently been awarded a €50,000 grant to work with and investigate the potential applications of rbutr in a classroom setting.

Dr Nava Tintarev SuSPECT Research project a the Delft University of Technology, with rbutrDr Tintarev was awarded the grant by the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning for her project: SuSPECT: Scaffolding Student PErspectives for Critical Thinking which aims to help university students not only assess the veracity of online resources, but also develop more nuanced and balanced thinking.

The grant is being used in part to help develop a new feature for rbutr which will automatically find potential rebuttals to any given URL. The new tool will use social media to construct a list of URLs which could be rebuttals. That list is then presented to the user to evaluate as genuine or not.

The research itself will be looking at a number of different ways that rbutr can be used in classroom settings to help reduce the natural biases in the content, and improve the critical thinking of the students as they engage with the material.

For more on this collaboration, please see the SuSPECT project page, and Dr Nava Tintarev’s blog post.

More collaboration and more research!

This grant, and Dr Tintarev’s work to make it happen have been quite invaluable for rbutr. We’ve all been working together for the last few months now (applying for the grant and organising everything in the background), and the whole process has helped to bring an extra dimension to rbutr’s roadmap and growth path.

Dr Adrian Holzer EPFLRegular readers will remember that I recently wrote about the prospect of conducting research around the central hypothesis behind the entire rbutr concept: the idea that regular exposure to critical analysis will improve critical thinking skills. That post connected us with Dr Adrian Holzer at EPFL who has been working in this space for many years. The three of us (Nava, Adrian and I) are now all working together to help design and conduct high quality studies of how rbutr may impact critical thinking and skepticality.

More about those studies and our collaborations as they happen.

Why? What is this research for?

At the end of the day, I have been working on rbutr for five years now because I believe that this central hypothesis is true. I believe it in part because I have lived it. I have read hundreds of rebuttals over the last few years and it has absolutely changed the way that I interact with information. But none of that matters at all if my belief in the central hypothesis is untrue. That is, it doesn’t matter that I think using rbutr has made me a better critical thinker and more skeptical of claims which I encounter, because I could be wrong in my self-assessment, or I could be unique. We need to know that widespread implementation of a system like rbutr will actually have a measurable impact on critical thinking and skepticality towards information in the population at large.

This is why we need to conduct these studies. We need to know that this work is worth doing.

I haven’t worked on rbutr all this time because of an irrational obsession with our browser plugin. I’ve worked on it because I believe that the idea behind it will make a profoundly positive change in the world. A change so significant that it will become utterly shocking to everyone that it wasn’t implemented many many years before it finally happened.

That is the belief which drives me, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, or else at least find out that my core belief is wrong.

Hopefully these research projects will ultimately help us get to where we need to be.

Join us in Slack! Help us make this happen.

With these new academic collaborations, and the addition of a couple new open source developers working to relaunch our plugin with some much needed updates, we’ve got a vibrant active little community working away on rbutr every day now. Get in touch if you want an invite into the channel.


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