Sunday, December 29, 2013

Skeptic Action Year 2013 in Review

When I started Skeptic Action  May 17, 2013 I did so because it was what I wish someone else had started for me.  I had learned how to use WoT but never went to woo sites, so I rarely ever rated a page.  I wished someone would email me a link every day to rate.  So after thinking it over I decided I would just go ahead and do it myself and share it with others who were like-minded doers.

Anyway, I've been evaluating the numbers, trying to discover how much if any impact we have made on the sites we have reviewed.

The goal has been for us to change the way the "Aunt Bea's" of the world see these paranormal websites. We want to discourage innocent people from accessing sites that have untrustworthy claims.  First we need to make sure that our Aunt Bea has WoT installed on her computer.  As of today, WoT has over 108 million downloads.  That is a lot of Aunties.

In September, WoT changed how the rating system worked and made it simpler by removing two areas to rate, and removed the numbers that showed how a website scored.  Now it is only Trustworthiness and Child Safety we can vote on.  The scale no longer has numbers.  Very Poor, Poor, Unsat, Good and Excellent.  Very easy for a user to understand.

In the beginning I was planning on using the number system to analyse the changes made to the page, now that the numbers were removed I had to adjust how to determine effectiveness.

I numbered the scale from 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent).  Every time I send out a Skeptic Action post I write down what the site is rated as before you all see it.  Today I selected 36 pages from Sept-Dec that previously had a rating of some kind.  I also only looked at Trust, and not at Child Safety.

What I discovered.

Of the 36 targets, 24 stayed the same.  No change in their rating.  This surprises me as many of these sites were what I would have thought were low traffic,  Hollow Earth, Angel Therapy and such that our votes would effect them more than a page like John Edward and Deepak Chopra's would.  (Edward's stayed the same at Unsat. which is Yellow, and Chopra's stayed the same at Good which is Green)

Only one page improved their rating, that was Rethink which went from a Yellow Unsat to a Green Good score.  The remaining 11 targets all decreased by one, with the exception of the Cancer Treatment Center of America which went from a Green Excellent to a Red Poor.  I was very pleased to see that we moved the Mercola page down one point from Green Good to Yellow Unsat.  That is a very popular page and it must have taken a lot of votes to move that score one point.

I also looked at the sites (not included in the 36) that came to our attention as brand new sites with no score. Most of them remained as "unknown", I assume it really takes a lot of votes to make it have a score.  The outstanding exemptions were the brand new Sylvia Browne Now (now at Yellow Unsat) and the new Burzynski Saves page (went to Red Very Poor) within 24 hours.  I would like to point out that both these pages went out to the general community like wild-fire and both are people that our community feels very strongly about.  So when we really engage we can make a difference quickly.  Also in my opinion these two already had strong websites and rewriting them probably would have been simpler than starting a new website.  I feel that possibly they were hoping to get past the skeptic community watch dogs and start fresh with a page that was not rated.  That failed cause we are awesome!

In September we were at 641 Skeptic Action members, and now are at 729, a 14% increase.  I do not know how many of these people actually actively participate.  I have had some feedback that indicates that people find rating using WoT only takes them a few seconds a day.  One said that she always wants to leave a comment for a stronger effect so she makes sure she reads through the website and quotes it in her comments.  The facebook team seems to have become a little community, with them letting me know when they have finished rating, and also commenting on the website and suggesting more sites to target.  I have a couple twitter followers that every day retweets the target (thank you) and at least one FB member shares the target on the Australian FB skeptic page (thank you Amanda).  Which is making the Australian's the biggest non-USA group of members.


I've had feedback that some people have a hard time finding sites to Rbutr with.  Wikipedia pages can be excellent sources to use.  But keep in mind that not everyone needs to add Rbutr links to each page, there probably does not exist 75 different examples to use.  As long as there are a few Rbutr's on every target page, then we are doing great.  As I went through these 36 pages more than 50% have at least one Rburt. One page had 13 (I think that was the newest Burzynski page).  Wonderful people!  We have a few members of the Facebook team that seem to have made this their specialty (thank you guys).

Shane Greenup has made a video special for Skeptic Action members.


I've used this plug-in.  It took me a bit to set it up, but once done then it is pretty quick to use.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've only used it a few times.  But it might be the most effective as it reports a website that is making medical claims to the FDA directly.  Instructions from Tim Farely on what this is, with video explaining how to use it.

Amazon Book Reviews

This was something new I tried, and generally I don't approve of people rating a book without reading it first. But I made an exception with these books as it was reviewed strongly in our community and  is so dangerous to children.

Melanie's Marvelous Measles encourages parents to expose their children to measles and not vaccinate.   We targeted it Oct 31st and again Nov 30th, the star rating was 2.6 stars.  Sadly the book is still at that same rating.  The comments are amazing though.  The 9 most helpful reviews that Amazon first shows are all one-star reviews.  Note- there are a bunch of parody comments that have given the book 5-stars but when you read the comments you will see that the writer is trying to warn the potential buyer away. I suppose these people did not want to rate the book with one star hoping that their review would get more attention with 5-stars.  Not sure about this tacit, but it does make our work of getting the book to one-star that much more difficult.

Here is one example of a five-star comment "I hope this will be a series, including "Pete's Perfectly Paralyzing Polio," "Stanley's Stupefyingly Sterilizing Chicken Pox" and "Freddy's Frightfully Fatal Flu." And then the young adults series, starting with "Penelope's Punishing Papillomavirus.""

71 five-star 
6 four-star
3 three-star
0 two-star
165 one-star

The only other book we reviewed on Amazon was this one, Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth, and Your Baby's First Year. We targeted it also Oct 31st and again Nov 30th. It started out as 4.5 stars and is currently at 3.6 stars. Only 24 reviews in all, this book did not get the attention in our community that the Melanie's did, which was featured on the Skeptic Zone podcast.

15 five-star 
1 four-star
0 three-star
0 two-star
8 one-star

Here is an example of a five-star comment "Not only does this book give you very specific information on using homeopathic remedies, it focuses on emotional as well as physical symptoms (which is essential to homeopathy). The sections on labor and post-partum are some of the most informative I've read in my pregnancy. Detailed, honest, and non-judgmental, the book covers the myriad and often complicated emotions mothers may encounter during pregnancy and labor, and offers ways to deal with these issues naturally (often with simple practices like taking a bath). This book covers, in detail, several birth complications, and ways the mother can deal with these during labor. This is all done with very easy to read and matter of fact language. No foofy new-age stuff here. I wish every pregnant woman in the world could have the information contained in this book. If you are considering it, BUY IT NOW!"

In conclusion

Over 2013 I've also asked people to thank their skeptic meetup organizer, review our podcasts on iTunes, rate/comment on our skeptic books and drop off skeptic magazines to waiting rooms in your city.  I personally take this very seriously and have done all of these things.  We have to spread the skeptic love and make sure we have the backs of the people who do the really hard work for us.  I have also sometimes made skeptic websites the daily target.  We need to rate and comment on these websites to keep them green and healthy just in case they are attacked, plus it keeps your WoT comment scores from looking like you only rate negatively.

I have received no feedback from any of the 700+ members if they have done any of the above, so I can only hope that these things are happening as they are probably more important and effective to keeping our community strong and active.  

If you feel like you have missed rating some of these pages, all the posts exist in full all the way back to May 17, 2013.  You can still take a few hours and catch up.  

Also, as this is an all-volunteer crowd sourced project, I can assume that only a small percent of the members are doing the rating.  As I can not force people who are members of the group to participate, we can only improve these rates by growing our group.  Please retweet and share these posts to your social network.  Also if you have the chance to speak at a SkeptiCamp, Skeptic meetup or other Skeptic In the Pub event please let me know and I will help you develop a presentation on Skeptic Action. 

As always I welcome your feedback and ideas for future targets.  Send them to me at  

Thank You.