High-Level Argument

  • The burden of fact-checking has shifted to the consumer
  • This is a challenge, because fact-checking is hard
  • Here's why this happened
  • Here's what's going to happen if this trend continues
  • Here's what needs to happen in order to stop this trend
  • Here's how other domains have solved this problem
  • Here's how Karma is attempting to solve this problem
  • Here are some examples

  • Process interview with JRE Tialib - generate principles
  • Principle - investigative journalism is in decline
  • If it bleeds it leads - empirics
  • Clickbait - phenomenon

The Scientific Format

The scientific format gives us a standardized protocol to efficiently communicate scientific findings at several different levels of detail.  It usually looks like this:

  1. Title: What am I talking about?
  2. Abstract: My results, condensed.
  3. Introduction: What's the problem?
  4. Materials and Methods: What tools did I use to solve the problem?
  5. Results: What did I discover?
  6. Discussion: What does it mean?
  7. Works Cited: What work did I build upon?

There are other variations, but this is the structure that you generally see when reviewing the results of scientific studies.  Here's an example.

For the more technical reader, the scientific format is sort of like HTTP for scientific information transfer.  Instead of just blasting bits onto the wire, we negotiate with our desire for complete freedom and accept some democratically determined rule-set that serves the interest of the entire system by standardizing our information transfer protocol and reducing the cost of encoding/decoding for everyone.

Would it be possible to carry this manner of thinking beyond the domain of science and into general ideation?

Hyper-Synthesis Transfer Protocol

I believe that if our goal is to continuously become more educated, then we should constantly be filtering our perceptions through a filter that asks, "How true is this?"

To answer this question, you need time to dig up primary sources, validate their credibility, and critically examine the rhetoric of everything you consume.  That's very difficult to do, and takes a lot of time.  The burden of fact-checking is now on the consumer, though.

We can begin to make this question easier to answer by continuously distilling the things that we learn into the "core truthy principles".

In an effort to standardize "principled thinking", I'm going to begin experimenting with the following scaffolding within the HSTP Principle post-type here on Karma:

  • Title: What is the principle, stated as a fact?
  • Summary: Explain the principle to a five-year old.
  • Details: Explain the principle to an adult.
  • Support: What supports your assertion that this principle is true?
  • Criticisms: How can this principle be criticized?
  • See Also: What does this relate to?

Wherever possible throughout my research, I'll attempt to extract my findings into HSTP Principles that we can then build upon together.  You can see my progress here.

But... what's the bigger problem that this new protocol is solving?

Principled Thinking

I've observed that the algorithm of a pop-sci author appears to be the following:

collect all related pop-sci
mash it all up into my own version
try to find and cite primary sources
select an emotionally engaging title
sell it as something new

This means that a lot of what we're reading in pop-sci may suffer from generation loss and signal distortion by the time its ideas have crossed the profit-driven pop-sci membrane:

Authors are incentivized to do this because publishers are incentivized to encourage it.  When all you care about is profit, fact-checking and journalistic integrity are deprioritized in favor of catchy titles and clickbait.  Content doesn't matter as long as eyes are glued and ratings are high.  It's hard to get high ratings and glued eyeballs when your material is difficult to process or accept.

This is why investigative journalism has been in decline: investigation isn't profitable.  This is a serious social problem.  Investigative journalism is the social organ that's supposed to keep our institutions in check, but it's gradually been replaced by the more profitable sound-byte business model that has content creators, publishers, and authors all competing for slots that favor attention-grabbing junk-food over more weighty social discourse.

I don't want content creators to feel that their ideas must compete with other ideas in a game that rewards clickbait and controversy.  I would like to build a game that instead incentivizes objective reporting of factual information.  I want to incentivize principled thinking:

In the shoes of a content creator, I have to formulate an objective and then create collateral that achieves my objective.  Today, the objective is "money" and the collateral that achieves this objective is mostly "clickbait". 

In the shoes of a concerned citizen, I want to see nonpartisan, factual information presented without any concealed agenda.  That's the collateral I want to see.

How do we incentivize content creators to create objective collateral when it's become more profitable to create the junk-food?

I think we have to start by reducing the cost of creating healthy food.  I think we can do this if we standardize the process of extracting and consolidating insights from primary sources.  With a standardized insight-extraction process, we can begin to build upon each other's work and we can reduce rework.

The HSTP Principle post-type on Karma gives us this standardization by allowing us to consolidate and reuse the insights we extract from primary sources.  These insights can be reused in the form of principles that are gradually connected to multiple sources that either increasingly support the principle or render it obsolete.

This model would allow content creators to "shop for principles" based on some measure of support.  It would reduce the cost of objective ideation.  If we reduce the cost of objective ideation, maybe we can incentivize objective content creation and prioritize open-source collaboration towards the truth over incendiary competition to confirm biases.

Instead of institutional vampires clickbaiting us with sensationalized, editorialized, misleading junk-food that sits seven degrees from the truth, this model could give us crisp, objective articulations that sit as close to the source as possible.

In this sense, Karma would be kind of like GitHub, but for knowledge workers including educators, nonfiction authors, journalists, and anyone else who's looking for a collaborative advantage.

Side note: While mainstream media has become incentivized to avoid critical thinking (why lose eyeballs?) and critical journalism (why risk getting sued?), a collectively owned knowledge-management platform that gives people the power to participate in citizen education and citizen journalism would reverse this incentive.  We wouldn't depend on a small handful of profit-motivated institutions in order to reach our audiences.  This means that, theoretically, the institutions we criticize would have nobody to sue.  You can't sue the internet.  I think this is where the value of worker-owned means of production really shines.

My dream is that - assuming this proves valuable in conjunction with Study Mode - we'll have a recursive engine that has us building truthy castles with each other's reusable, memorable, peer-reviewed, well-supported principles.  Instead of engaging with emotion, we engage with objectivity and then use emotion to facilitate deep consolidation and synthesis - not deception [1].

Thoughts?  Do you see any value in this "principle protocol"?  How would you improve upon it?


  • TODO: Update principles with this framework, cite them here, build works cited / footnotes functionality into authoring UX