Thanks to my recent single-minded posting I’ve stumbled across this resource that pulls together news and blog posts on vaccines and anti-vaccine topics.

It uses a cool functionality of Scoop.it to collect posts which are then “curated” by a real person (hate those obviously fully automated ones that often ping my posts).

Vaxfax monitor is a Scoop.it site, which means the curator specifies keywords and the software trawls Twitter, Google, Digg and Youtube to generate content that matches the keywords. Once this is done the output is offered to the curator to vet. The posts that are retained through this process are published to the main site while those that don’t make the cut are discarded.

The curator of this feed is a poster who goes by the handle anarchic_teapot. Regarding anarchic’s chosen Nym I took this from the about page:

“My handle was chosen entirely at random, so don’t read anything political, social or ironic into it. I have no connection with the Anarchist Teapot Collective, or the coder using the handle anarchic.teapot (with a period, not a hyphen). I’m pretty certain I used the name first, though.”

I contacted anarchic_teapot to get a bit more information about the process involved in putting this feed together and to get a feel about the person behind the page and for why this resource is important.

[Scepticon] Where abouts in the world are you based?

[anarchic_teapot] I live in France, surrounded by sunshine, wine and cheese. And lots of other stuff that’s bad for my diet.

[Scepticon] The agregator uses keywords to collect content, is there any way to get random stuff you’ve noticed into it?

[anarchic_teapot] It’s also possible to scoop stories directly off the Internet, using a browser widget. In fact, the 3 main aggregators I use: paper.li, scoop.it and newsvine now all offer this service.

[Scepticon] What’s the difference between those services?

[anarchic_teapot] Scoop.it will publish each article immediately it’s validated. You choose any tags and which sites you’re going to publish to. It’s useful for getting breaking news out the door, but does require a lot of time curating. Another drawback is that it can mean a lot of tweets going out, and I don’t like flooding the intertubes, out of respect for my long-suffering readers. I want to keep them!

Paper.li does quite a good job of finding keywords, and you can pick the regularity at which it’s updated. At most, you’ll have two tweets a day.
The (big) disadvantage is that you can’t remove unwanted content until after an update.

Newsvine doesn’t send out tweets, although I suppose it would be easy to send your personal RSS feed through a service like Twitterfeed for that. On the other hand, it does allow comments, so you can get a discussion going. You can also write quite a lengthy post about the article you’ve seeded, as they call it. However, you have to go find your content for yourself; it won’t go looking for you. Although you *will* be warned if Newsvine thinks someone has already seeded the same story.

[Scepticon] Once the stories are gathered what happens?

[anarchic_teapot] Every time I check the feed, I have up to 100 stories that I can either discard, block the source (porn sites, bots, or other minor noise) or decide to publish. I try to keep Scoops recent (past 2-3 days) and from reliable sources. I also try to keep repetition down.

[Scepticon] Why did you feel the need to create such a resource, what do you see as the goal of aggregating all this stuff in one place?

[anarchic_teapot] I suppose the need comes from not having enough time to check major news sources regularly, and nobody to do it for me. I’ve always been one to let the computers do the spadework. Putting it all in one place gives me the chance to spend more time sifting through the dross. There is a lot of dross. I have some absolute doozies lined up for future blogging.

At the same time, to see so much quackery being sold so hard scares me.
It keeps me motivated, and I understand why others are so implicated in the struggle for science too.

[Scepticon] What is the criteria for inclusion, do you simply include those things you already agree with?

[anarchic_teapot] Well, it’s all a bit subjective, as things have to be when you’re playing editor (I hate the word curator, that’s for museums) to any sort of publication. As a rule of thumb, I try to keep to stuff that’s informative, not too technical – I’m not the health professional in the family – and of immediate use. I had to think about announcements of potential breakthroughs (HIV and malaria are currently doing the rounds) but decided it would be quite enough to deal with currently available vaccines.

[Scepticon] What is the main focus, news stories that demonstrate harm of anti-vaccine views or information about vaccines themselves?

[anarchic_teapot] Both, really. For reasons of space, I try to avoid localised reports, unless the story is of wider relevance (e.g. a clinic offering free shots probably won’t make it, but an outbreak of mumps may). I occasionally throw in some of the nastier antivax stuff, well flagged as such, in the hope that someone better qualified than me will pick it up and pillory them.

The teapot also admitted to using the generated content prior to publishing as a means of keeping an eye on the shall-we-say “less reasoned” content out there. I believe the term used was “Stupidity detector”, turning these gems into the bases of blog posts.

One of the things that I am grateful the anarchic for is the attempt to keep the feed from turning into an agglomeration of random crap.As noted earlier, I often get pingbacks from sites that have linked to my posts (and sometimes published portions of them) that when I check are simply grabbing everything with a keyword with in filtering, even to the point that the main purpose of a page is 180o opposed to what I’ve written but presents my content as if it’s in line with the site’s philosophies.

According to the teapot:

“The nice thing about Scoop.it is that you don’t *have* to publish anything.”

Ah, how refreshing.

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