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Ask Founder About Detecting Media Bias 299 is not the Microsoft-funded Blews experiment that is supposed to help detect rightness and leftness in stories based on blogs that link to them. Instead of detecting blog links, Skewz relies on readers to submit and rate stories, and even tries to pair stories that have "liberal" and "conservative" biases so that you can get multiple takes on the same event or pronouncement. The Skewz About page explains how it works. The site has drawn a fair amount of "media insider" attention, including a writeup on the Poynter Institute website. But what does all this mean? Where is it going? Can help us sort our news better and make more informed decisions? We don't know. But if you post a question here for founder Vipul Vyas, maybe he'll have an answer for you. (Please try to follow the usual Slashdot interview rules.)
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  • by line-bundle ( 235965 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:05PM (#22941582) Homepage Journal
    I still do not understand why everything is left/right. Reality tends to be complicated and every story has a lot more aspects than left/right (even if you manage to define those two terms).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chunk08 ( 1229574 )
      True. Not all issues can be defined with left/right. However, in politics, we can generalize (oh the horror) thus: Left: Do as much as possible through government, especially welfare and education. Less free market. Higher taxes, more government benefits Right: Do as much as possible in the private sector. This includes welfare (private charities) and education. Lower taxes, less government benefits. Now this does not cover every issue, but it gives a general idea of the philosophies that an intelligent pe
      • And IMHO, that's exactly why it shouldn't be either left or right, because the middle ground is often a very good one. However, media is often aligned with either of the sides, and pushes for ideas I think often are suboptimal.
        • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @02:35PM (#22942604) Journal

          it shouldn't be either left or right, because the middle ground is often a very good one.
          Here's teh problem with that, Jugulator: Through the manipulation of the media and overwhelming application of corporate power, the "middle" you speak of has been artificially pushed way to the Right.

          Just look at how a politician like Barack Obama is said to be "far Left", when in fact, he's to the Right of a real Center. I've lived long enough to have seen a real "Left" in America, and my father and grandfather have lived through a time when there was even a farther Left, with the Wobblies and the CPUSA. In fact, during my granddad's adulthood, Socialism was not very far from the mainstream in the US. I wonder what would happen if a real Leftist ever became a serious candidate for office here. I'd go so far as to say that not one single member of Congress could be honestly said to be on the "far Left" and that includes Rep Sanders (Ind-Vermont).

          On the other hand, someone like John McCain, who is widely (and wrongly) thought to be a "Centrist" supports a torture regime, the elimination of habeas corpus, warrantless surveillance of US citizens, corporate control of media, the elimination of the Department of Education, the repeal of all banking and securities regulation, and many more positions that would normally earn a politician a reputation as a member of the Far Right, if not actually Fascism.

          Seriously, let me list those again: John McCain supports torture, holding people, including US citizens indefinitely without bringing charges, warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and email conversations, unregulated corporate control of all media, the elimination of the Department of Education, the repeal of all banking and securities regulation, etc.

          And interestingly, he was one of the politicians who used to push the privatization of Social Security, although he wouldn't whisper a word of that any more. Remember, if Social Security had been privatized during Bush's first term, which Bush wanted and McCain supported, there would have been a lot of Americans who had their Social Security funds at Bear Stearns, which recently went from over $100 per share to $2.00 per share. Those Americans would have lost almost every penny. This is why you don't hear any more cheerleading for the idea of privatization of Social Security from conservatives any more, even though they would still love to see it happen.

          No, "Left and Right" aren't really useful terms any more, when the spectrum has really become "Right and Further Right".
      • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:41PM (#22942004) Homepage
        Actually, it's simpler than that:

        Left = Quality of life at the expense of economic growth

        Right = Economic growth at the expense of everything else, no matter what the cost

        You see this in the US, where schools and hospitals are run purely to generate profit, with the barest minimum of education or care provided (got to keep those overheads down, no matter what!)
        • by imamac ( 1083405 )

          You see this in the US, where schools and hospitals are run purely to generate profit...
          Funny thing is, I was in the ER last with with my two-year-old, and there was a big sign that says (in summary) "We will take care of you even if you can't pay." Come to think of it, it's in EVREY hospital in the country.

    • Are all americans one dimensional

      No, our (and yours even more so) media would just like you to think that. I'm amazed that the rest of the world thinks they're so spot-on about Americans when your media arguably distorts facts in an even more insidious and twisted fashion than ours does. Seriously guys, come on, are you this naive?
    • I think all comments after the parent are pretty much redundant. It took me a while to figure out why this new site bothered me, but the parent summarized it quite nicely: the distinction between left/right and liberal/conservative are completely artificial in this country, and largely defined by opposition of the other side, not support of an idea or platform. Sites like skewz do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that there is a right/left dichotomy that has clearly definable boundaries. In my opinion
    • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      OK, I want marijuana, prostitution, and gambling legalized. Do I vote for a Republican or a Democrat?

      See, the thing is, there really is no right/left. Democrats and Republicans are like two wings of the same party (both wings want me in jail). The reason for the percieved right-left is that the corporate and monied interests control all non-internet media, and those interests are allowed to bribe candidates with so-called "campaign contributions". Joe Moneybags gives ten million to the Democrat and ten mill
    • by LuYu ( 519260 )

      I still do not understand why everything is left/right. Reality tends to be complicated and every story has a lot more aspects than left/right (even if you manage to define those two terms).

      This is nearly what I was going to say. Who really cares about two arbitrary and meaningless (and historically malleable) categories like "conservative" and "liberal"? I mean, what is the difference between Coke and Pepsi, anyway? Are they not just two versions of the same thing? Finally, is breaking things into

    • (even if you manage to define those two terms).
      Hmm, it's been attempted before []. Fairly well too, seeing as even the writers admit to the ambiguities and gradients in possible political opinions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )
      I agree... currently the Left is for big government.. while the Right is for big government... hmm.
      But the left suppresses free speech ( "PC"- reeducation ) while the right suppresses free speech.. hmmm.
      And so on...

      Even on issues like abortion, there are pro and anti-republicans, democrats, and others. Some republicans are really just pro business. Of course so are many democrats (as long as the business is in their state... i.e. Boeing vs Airbuss recently).
  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:06PM (#22941590) Journal
    So, is sexual impropriety liberal (Clinton) or conservative (Gingerich)?
    How about economic activism (Greenspan)?
    What about pro-war?
    How about government hypervigilance against its own citizens?
    How about abortion?
    What about economic stimulus?
    How about WTO?

    Honestly, with the way all the votes actually go when a liberal or conservative party has control of everything, I have to say that in each of these cases, the "liberal" and "conservative" positions are identical, and the opposite position has no coverage.

    • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) * on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:18PM (#22941752) Homepage Journal
      And how much difference does it make?

      For example, [Ll]ibertarians don't tend to see politics in this light. They see things as "statist" or "non-statist". Any viewpoint favoring the rights of the individual over the power of State intervention is non-statist. To a [Ll]ibertarian left and right can both be wrong, as they may, and oftentimes DO, both represent a statist viewpoint.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:06PM (#22941598) Journal
    What do you offer to entice users to register and rank stories for you? It seems that the benefits just come from the people that do all the work, is your only incentive that the person feels good for helping you out? Do you rank your users? Is there a reward system even if it's only number of stories ranked?

    The article said you are hoping to raise your current set of 600 users to something more like 10,000--what are you doing to accomplish that?
    • by jgoemat ( 565882 )

      The article said you are hoping to raise your current set of 600 users to something more like 10,000--what are you doing to accomplish that?

      Uh, posting a story on slashdot?

  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:07PM (#22941604)
    Shouldn't just "being full of shit" count for anything? Why not just rate stories on their frequencies of lies, distortions, unsupported assertions, and factual inaccuracies?

    That's what gives the impression of "bias" to a reader in the first place.
    • by Trojan35 ( 910785 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:30PM (#22941870)
      I agree with your overall point, but there is a difference between lies and bias. Example:

      Truth: Joe went to the store to buy milk.
      Bias #1: Joe, once again being the dutiful husband, went to the store to get some milk.
      Bias #2: Joe, once again leaving his wife home alone with the child, went to the store to get some milk.

      See the difference?
      • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 )

        Nice example. The obvious next questions are: who was he getting milk for and what did his wife feel about the matter? Of course, we find it difficult to ask follow up questions from the mass media. It's a broadcast, not a dialogue, and maybe it's that disenfranchisement that is at the root of the problem.
      • I agree with your overall point, but there is a difference between lies and bias. Example:

        Truth: Joe went to the store to buy milk.
        Bias #1: Joe, once again being the dutiful husband, went to the store to get some milk.
        Bias #2: Joe, once again leaving his wife home alone with the child, went to the store to get some milk.

        See the difference?

        Good answer.

        Continuing this example, here is a demonstration of an even nastier form of bias, first pointed out by Goldberg in _Bias_:

        Commentator: "Now we'd like to he

    • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:50PM (#22942092)
      Came here to say that, more or less.

      The problem I have with the term "bias" is that it's going to apply to any source of news and information that attempts to present some context, background, and interpretation into its reportage. The stripped, "unbiased" news merely reports what this or that political figure says, without any clue about where they're really coming from. When the media tries to do this, they not only fail to paint an accurate picture of what's going on, they often outright mislead.

      Motivations are important in politics. If the authors of the "Clean Air Act" are actually backed by polluter interests, or if the "Patriot Act" actually does nothing but strip us of rights and liberties that real patriots fought and gave their lives for, then that case needs to be made. I've had enough of news media that constantly give disingenuous and manipulative politicians the benefit of the doubt by merely transcribing what they say, or allowing them to put their labels on things unchallenged. They're little more than PR agencies then.

    • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) taken over by cybersquatters in 3... 2... 1...
    • by Lendrick ( 314723 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:56PM (#22942154) Homepage Journal
      Case in point: has this article [] rated as "liberal" -- it looks to me like it's just the result of a (somewhat alarming) study on education. This article here [] appears to have been labeled "conservative" just because it came from Fox News.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moryath ( 553296 )
      Why not just rate stories on their frequencies of lies, distortions, unsupported assertions, and factual inaccuracies?


      - Lies of comission = stuff they just plain get wrong
      - Lies of omission = stuff they deliberately leave out to tilt the story
      - Bias-words; portraying the "facts" with a strong tilt or weasel words designed to push a positive/negative impression of something, like describing terrorists as "freedom fighters" or "insurgents" or "militants" instead, or running a story that twists and ti
    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )
      There's your interview. That's the one question I'd like answered.

      Jon Stewart's rant on Crossfire has already been mentioned, but I'll add, there's no issue inherent in the Crossfire format. The issue is, just having both sides of an issue represented does not mean you are unbiased. If one side is lying, it's not ok just because you have someone from the other side to counter with their own lies.
  • Fake "Balance" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:09PM (#22941644) Homepage Journal
    What is the point of providing only two "balancing" stories with "liberal" vs "conservative" biases, when neither "liberal" nor "conservative" are labels with any real meaning except propaganda buzzwords, when the two illusory groups agree on so much but also mutually exclude so much not falling under their convenient labels, and when there are so many other viewpoints? A point other than validating the grossest oversimplification of the world since "right brain / left brain" dumbed down psychology to meaningless twaddle, that is.

    And when one or the other is just wrong, why dignify them as "balance"? What's the point of balancing lies against truth?
    • Right now, I think the consensus on slashdot is that this website as described would not be worth a first visit. But maybe it could be made worthwhile.

      Let me put forward my brother's idea, in conjunction to a reply to this post. First, the reply:

      If liberal/conservative means bunk to you -- as it will to most slashdotters -- surely the same process could be applied to a different division that is important to you "high tech/low tech" "wicked/humble" or whatever you want.

      You might not care about labeling s
    • The truth is under no obligation to be "balanced". Rating media bias by tallying how many stories get linked from either side of the political spectrum pushes the media to aim for "balance" instead of the truth. If either side is more corrupt than the other, just report it truthfully. Don't tone the story down just because some jackbag declares that you're biased.

      This quest for balance is the reason that news reporters interview people on both sides of the political spectrum, and when one side spouts thi
      • Real journalism is supposed to use sources and evidence to find the facts, then understand what's happened/ing, and finally tell the story of the truth.

        Instead, contemporary fake journalism is just gossip, finding different people to contradict each other, and never comparing any statements to any facts, measures or truth whatsoever. The current journalistic "fact" as reported is merely "X said Y", often leaving X anonymous and Y some buzzword generalization. Those statements are worth including in a report
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stradivarius ( 7490 )
        Demonstrable falsehoods are one thing. But more often it's not that simple. For example, there was a fascinating study [] about coverage of a massacre in Beirut, where the same news articles were viewed by both sides as biased towards the opposing point of view. Clearly the exact same article can't be biased in both one direction and its opposite, but yet both groups felt their point of view was being treated unfairly.

        In other words, the two sides had completely different ideas of what constituted "the truth"
    • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      And when one or the other is just wrong, why dignify them as "balance"?

      Because as often as not both are wrong. Both parties parrot the "things that are bad about marijuana" when the things they say about it are either wrong ("causes cancer") or is a result of the laws themselves ("leads to harder drugs").

      I wonder what the Green party's position on marijuana is? Too bad I can't find out what the Greens or Libertarians are for and against by reading a newspaper, or for that matter this new bugus piece of shit
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:12PM (#22941668)
    The Left say the media is to Right.
    The Right say the media is to Left.

    How do you prevent your own views from skewing the results. Because someone who is Left or Right of Moderate would consider themselfs a moderate, while they are not truely moderate. So they would True Moderate coverage as Slightly to the Left or Right.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:12PM (#22941670) Journal
    I listen to a lot of NPR news stories and the majority of my fellow Americans find these stories to be tilting to the left. I see them as unbiased an, as a result, am often labeled a liberal. How do you plan on dealing with different countries that have populaces with different mindsets? For example you cover stories on abortion and in some countries this is legal at any stage and others it is not. I would expect the citizens of a country where it is illegal to view any story allowing it in only the first trimester to be very liberal while in the USA that may be viewed as a more balanced middle ground. Do you cater (inadvertently or on purpose) to one single population/area/demographic?
    • I listen to NPR myself and I find it the best place to get news. But it does have a Left Slant to it. Often when something goes right it the credit is given to a Democratic Senitor, when something goes wrong it is label Enacted by the Bush Administration (Even though that bill may have been passed by a democratic majority congress). When interviewing the Democrats they are less confrontational about the issues. It is no where as bad as Fox news but if you listen carefully to NPR and the wording and inflect
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 )
        NPR only has a left slant to it if you have an American notion of the left/right spectrum, and if you ignore the show "Marketplace", which often displays a market-fundamentalism that would make Ludwing von Mises blush.

        Also, most public radio stations buy shows from a variety of sources, not all of which are NPR. American Public Media is another producer of public radio content, and is often chosen by public stations with more conservative demographics.
      • by Nimey ( 114278 )
        I'd take you more seriously if you didn't write like you were semi-literate, what with the perception of conservatives being less educated and all.
        • what with the perception of conservatives being less educated and all.
          Well, unfortunately its a fact that the more education you have received, the more likely you are to be "Liberal" or register as a democrat. The statistical correlation is undeniable. I will leave the causation for speculation, since I'm not entirely certain there is any specific cause out there we could attribute this to.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jellomizer ( 103300 )
            I would say that correlation is due to a couple of factors and not that Democrats are Smarter Then Republicans.

            Issue One: Republicans are more business friendly. So if you are a republican you are more likely to skip higher education or not go for advanced degrees and go straight to the work force.

            Issue Two: University Professors Unions. Being that most professors belong to a Union (which are rather tighly linked to the democratic party) they will not try to speak out against the Unions or their problems. I
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Gat0r30y ( 957941 )
              I think you missed what is most certainly the most influential - Parents. Democrat parents raise democrat kids, republican parents raise republican kids. Just like with religious beliefs , you gotta get em early. Liberals generally place a higher value on going to a liberal arts college and the whole higher-ed process, so their kids will want to please their parents by going to said liberal arts college.
              On another note completely - about professors, there are generally two refuges for conservatives in h
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Straif ( 172656 )
            You left out the part that studies also show the less education you receive the more like a person is to be "Liberal".

            In general "Conservatives" are more likely to have graduated high school and/or have a bachelor degrees while "liberals" are higher represented in the high school drop out and Masters/PhD's categories. Although in almost all categories (except the drop out rate which tends to lean Liberal by up to 20% more than Conservative)) the variance is usually less than 10%.

            PEW has some good studies t
    • I too listen to NPR often, and while their choice of stories may be somewhat biased liberally, the coverage of each story is fairly balanced. This of course raises the question as to what is meant when people say the media has a bias: Is it the choice of stories, or the coverage of the stories?
  • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:17PM (#22941728)
    How will you keep the results from being biased by the responders? For instance, if you were to have more links to this from fox news than from other news outlets, you would get a large number of conservatives rating stories. In that instance, you would get a lot of people saying that right-leaning stories are more unbiased and more unbiased stories would be rated liberal. The opposite would be true too; if you get a lot of traffic from, there's going to be a large number of people rating things as conservatively biased.

    This effect could even arise from random fluctuations with a small enough response group, and unless this is controlled, your site could eventually be labelled as "conservative" or "liberal" which would discourage the opposite group from voting, possibly providing a feedback mechanism for bias.

    How would you prevent this from happening while still allowing users to generate the results?
    • by Kelz ( 611260 )
      If both moveon and fox news people join and start rating, it would even out I'd imagine. Oh and hey, perhaps there should be a slider at the very top of the site to determine the site's bias!
  • The whole idea of having conservative vs liberal division is very misleading.

    In reality there are at least two divisions - along economical and political lines.

    For examples, majority of blacks are socially conservative and economically "liberal" (democratic).

    Muslims (I am being one of them) are socially conservative and economically they I believe fill quite wide spectrum: from libertarians to socialists.
  • What filters will be available in the future? Will users be able to limit the stories they see to those rated, say, (+4,Reactionary) or above? That would allow your portal to emulate the Drudge Report, the Daily Kos or the John Birch Society homepage at the user's whim, removing the risk of accidental exposure to differing viewpoints.
  • Missing sliders (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:27PM (#22941838) Homepage Journal
    From your site's What is Skewz? [] section:

    Skewz was started by a group of 4 guys with diverse political views who engaged in frequent political sparring. We tired of the coarseness of the public political dialog and the tendency for both sides to talk past each other. The goal was not to make peace between liberals and conservatives. Instead, we wanted to encourage liberal-conservative dialogue by improving on the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the discussions. We hoped that doing so would take focus from the cosmetic appeal of parties and personalities that generate allegiances and place it instead on wit and wisdom of intelligent debate.
    It seems that your site's focus is currently on cultural/political bias rather than the "wit and wisdom of intelligent debate." If your project is to be true to its goals, shouldn't there be evaluation sliders for an article's wit, insight, wisdom and informativeness? We use a simplified system for that on Slashdot and it works surprisingly well most of the time.
    • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      Skewz was started by a group of 4 guys with diverse political views who engaged in frequent political sparring

      I think that was a typo, shouldn't it read "frequent political spamming"?
  • Skewz me? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:29PM (#22941854)
    Skews makes no sense. Take this article as an example: []

    It's an AFP wire story with completely straight, factual reporting about high school graduation rates in the USA. There is no commentary from the author whatsoever. However Skewz users rate the story as "Liberal", giving it 2.5 out of 5 points on the Liberal scale. I'm having a hard time seeing the logic there. How can a purely factual report on this topic possibly be considered leftist?
  • Complaints? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Have you ever gotten complaints from actual journalists about how their stories are rated? I think one thing that we rarely - if ever - hear is how actual journalists rate the news. I'm not talking pundits, either, I'm talking about those who are supposed to report on the who-what-when-where-how of the news.
  • by EveryNickIsTaken ( 1054794 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:35PM (#22941936)
    Given that you aren't American, why should I listen to you or your site's take on American news and politics? Would someone in Mumbai honestly care about how Americans view their politics and news media?
  • by prxp ( 1023979 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @01:42PM (#22942012)
    What about when both parties reach a consensus and the story ranks 100% liberal and 100% conservative? Does the system explode? Is this a new sort of Quantum Computer? Enlighten me, please! (but hey, be fair and balanced, will you?)
  • It seems that the news media has become increasingly segmented, and indeed this provides a way for people to get only the news they want to see. But my issue stems not from Left or Right, but from a more general perspective. An increasing bulk of the news out there is increasingly aimed at the Lowest Common Denominator. I can see that there is a place for tabloids, and their stories, just like there is a place for soap operas. However, it seems that the tabloid mentality has infiltrated all facets of co
  • If by "multiple takes" you mean the two sides shouting, "Let's violate our citizens' rights through tax breaks funded by deficit spending!", and "Let's violate our citizens' rights through increased taxation!"... then sign me up!
  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @03:49PM (#22943438) Homepage
    Hmm, the Microsoft attempt looks more sophisticated: [], albeit totally orthogonal to what does.

    Are you guys using machine learning at all? If not, how do you protect yourselves against user bias (e.g. the situation where liberals like your site and conservatives don't, so you get mostly liberal stories). Personally, it seems to me that Skewz is just a glorified Digg with sliders.

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