Rick Hayes-Roth - TruthMarket
Posted: 16 September 2012 10:26 PM   [ Ignore ]
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(Apologies if I’ve broken protocol by starting a new topic, but I didn’t see this episode among existing topics.)

I can imagine plenty of reasons why this TruthMarket endeavor might fail, including potential users’ apathy, suboptimal website design (not that I could do better, but that’s not my area of expertise), and inadequate effort to publicize the website (http://www.truthmarket.com) or particular “campaigns” on it.  That said, my initial reaction is that this could be a good (great?) way for capable skeptics to profit from their rational, empirical approach while accumulating a public record of their positions’ merit.


To illustrate my current understanding of the website and elicit corrective feedback, here’s an example based on a hypothetical CAM remedy:

0. Suppose that promoters of this CAM remedy have asserted that it has some demonstrable health benefit, or that they at least strongly suggest such a benefit.

1. I decide to make some money and make a point by publicly exposing these promoters’ assertion as a bogus statement (BS), in TruthMarket parlance.

2. I create a TruthMarket campaign that consists mainly of my claim that the CAM promoters’ assertion is BS, specific criteria for challenging my claim, a bounty amount for a successful challenger (e.g., $5000), and evidence to bolster my claim; creating this campaign costs me $75.

3. Other interested parties sponsor my claim by making contributions of varying amounts; if they contribute enough to reach the bounty amount before the campaign’s deadline, the campaign goes “live”; otherwise, all sponsors’ contributions are refunded to them.

4. If my campaign goes live, anyone can challenge my claim by paying a small fraction of the bounty amount and submitting their evidence (e.g., substantiating the CAM promoters’ assertion with credible evidence), which is presumably reviewed by TruthMarket personnel—how this works isn’t clear; if the challenge is successful, the challenger receives the bounty, in which case I lose $75 and the sponsors lose their contributions.

5. If no one successfully challenges my campaign’s claim within the allotted time, then I get 20% of the bounty (e.g., $1000 of a $5000 bounty) and the remaining 80% (e.g., $4000 of $5000) goes to the sponsors; so, in this case I could turn a nice profit by making a claim that holds up to challenges, and sponsors would lose only 20% of their contributions—essentially paid to me for creating the campaign.


Does that match your understanding of how TruthMarket works?  If so, why aren’t skeptics flocking to this website to profit from exposing the masses of pseudoscientific claims that surround us?  Seriously.  It seems to me like a version of James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge, with the twists that (a) the bounty is potentially raised by many sponsors’ small contributions, and (b) the campaign’s creator can profit financially if no one successfully challenges the claim.


I suspect a huge percentage of campaigns will fail in Step 3 above, largely because—like many crowdfunding newcomers—the campaign’s creators will naively assume they can accumulate support by simply creating the campaign and passively waiting for money to start pouring in from like-minded enthusiasts.  The problem is that most people who might give a rat’s ass about the campaign have no idea that it (or TruthMarket) even exists.  To prevent their campaign’s death by apathy, creators—and maybe the TruthMarket team—should probably take cues from various crowdfunding sites and gurus about actively building a network of supporters and shamelessly driving those people to their TruthMarket campaigns.

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Adam

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Posted: 17 September 2012 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Good one.

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Posted: 17 September 2012 11:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Adam, I’m the founder of TruthMarket, and I have a great interest in seeing this succeed, so I will try to answer your thoughtful questions crisply.

The total costs of campaigns include a bounty service fee, which is a sliding percentage of bounty size. The minimum bounty for any campaign is $1000, and the maximum is $1,000,000.  The minimum bounty carries a service fee of $1000 or 100%, and all bounties above $100,000 carry a 10% fee. We use that fee to cover the costs of the business and at the upper end we will spend more on expert juries. At the low end, we use professionally trained scientists on our staff to adjudicate challenges.  I have a PhD in an empirical science field (mathematical psychology) and our Director of Campaign Execution, Neil Jacobstein, is a scientist and former president of Singularity University.

Last year we offered bounties on a number of vetted assertions as part of TruthSeal.com’s start up.  We paid out a $1000 bounty in less than 4 weeks after posting the oft-repeated, and twice vetted, claim that “Fox is the most trusted name in US TV news.”  The challenger provided suitable data to falsify the claim, which now shows as false on that website.  The challenge adjudication decision, data, and rationale are publicly available here

TruthMarket will follow a similar process of adjudication, including a period of public review for a pending decision. We will then publish a decision either sustaining or rejecting the challenge. We are objective, unbiased, independent, and scientifically trained. That’s what we bring to the adjudication process, and the market members agree to abide by our decisions. The business is neutral on issues of fact and depends on sustaining a reputation for sound and grounded decisions.

Now in the specific example of your trying to put up a $5K bounty, that carries a $2500 bounty service fee.  We also allow campaign creators to include various optional public relations services such as social media marketing or print advertising, which we execute and charge for. Those would increase campaign fundraising needs. But keeping it simple, your proposed campaign requires net sponsor contributions of $7500.  We pay bank service fees on contributions of roughly 5% so that comes off the top.  Your sponsors would need to provide $7895 for your $5K bounty to go live.  If your campaign goes live and succeeds at not being falsified, you would get $1000 as a reward and your sponsors would get the remaining $4000 distributed to them. As they contributed a total of $7895, they are getting back a little more than half their contributions.

I think the rest of your post was cogent and accurate, so I’ve only addressed above a couple of places where you might have misunderstood some of the details.

You can see all the options and fees for campaigns on the Create a Campaign Page (actually the second page of two, because the first page is all about the content of the campaign).

Finally, let me say that we do not assume we have anything exactly right about the web design, the best way to help campaign creators, or the best way to make this pay adequate rewards. What we have is an initial attempt to provide reasonable answers to the essential questions: (1) Is there a marketplace where truth telling might be profitable? (2) How would money flow into it? (3) How could issues be adjudicated without incurring bias?  (4) Can practical scientific reasoning be applied to everyday issues of some import?

We appreciate your interest and informed inputs.  Keep them coming, please.  Our reason for doing this is mostly because we believe the world needs this badly. Trying to find a way to mitigate information pollution motivates us.

—Rick

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Posted: 17 September 2012 08:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks, Rick, for clarifying some points of (my) confusion about the TruthMarket process.  I’d gotten most of my information from skimming the website’s Quickstart Guide and FAQ:

  http://www.truthmarket.com/Help/Quickstart-Guide
  http://www.truthmarket.com/faq

One critical thing I misunderstood—indeed, overlooked entirely—is the bounty service fee.  Although that decreases expected profit/utility somewhat, I still think creating TruthMarket campaigns will be worthwhile for many skeptics with modest resources (e.g., money, social networks) who feel strongly about promoting truth and combating misinformation.

So, continuing my example of a CAM assertion where I create a simple BS campaign with a $5K bounty that requires $7895 for the campaign to go live—I might be neglecting small amounts, like the $75 fee for creating a campaign—I think I understand better the possible outcomes for me, the campaign creator.  They seem to fall among the following four cases based on (a) how much money I contribute personally and (b) whether the campaign succeeds by withstanding all challenges:

A. contribute $0, success: I gain $1000, CAM assertion is debunked

B. contribute $0, failure: I gain $0, CAM assertion is reinforced

C. contribute $7895, success: I lose $2895, CAM assertion is debunked

D. contribute $7895, failure: I lose $7895, CAM assertion is reinforced

Clearly A is most favorable for me and D is least favorable; it’s unclear how B and C compare.  Creating this campaign could be worthwhile if I sufficiently valued debunking the CAM assertion and were reasonably certain that (a) sponsors would cover a substantial portion of the contributions and (b) the campaign would succeed.  For a more careful cost-benefit analysis, we could assign monetary values to debunking and reinforcing the CAM assertion (or other consequences of success vs. failure) and specify probability distributions for sponsors’ contributions and the campaign’s success.

Granted, my quick analysis above oversimplifies matters substantially: Besides ignoring the sponsor and challenger perspectives, I focused on the extremes of what I could contribute and neglected potentially important elements of the incentive structure (e.g., costs of compiling evidence and convincing sponsors to contribute, other benefits of a successful campaign).  And of course some things would change if the bounty were higher or, as you suggest, the campaign involved public relations services.

It’s entirely plausible to me that members of skeptical communities would band together to crowdfund campaigns against CAM remedies and a wide variety of other pseudoscientific claims.  I suspect that a couple well-run, successful campaigns on topics that skeptics care about could get the ball rolling.  If I were to start making a list of good candidate topics for skeptical campaigns, I’d probably start by perusing popular skeptical podcasts (e.g., Skeptoid, Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) or blogs (e.g., Science-Based Medicine, Pharyngula, Skepchick).

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Adam

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Posted: 18 September 2012 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yes, I think you have it exactly right.  There are a range of motives for illuminating bogus ideas, and a spectrum of “reinforcing” outcomes expected.  I hope the mix is attractive enough to engage more of the fact-based community in helping bring additional open-minded individuals to a more informed state. I’m of the personal belief that we need more informed people, across a wide range of topics, because there are many important ones that need thoughtful attention.  I hope to see your hot campaign, and I’ll be glad to help promote it!

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