You don’t have to go far to find online commentary on policy issues, from newspaper headlines to your aunt’s Facebook comments. Sometimes these debates teach us things, other times we have ideas to contribute or hear claims we think are wrong. But too often our forums of debate – comment threads, rebuttal blog posts, tweet replies – are too limited or indirect. We end up talking past each other, misinterpreted, our comments get lost in the void.

Thicket is designed to help us think about things, together: to make us consider the assumptions implicit in our opinions, to weigh the moral considerations that are so easy to overlook, and to ground our claims in reality. For instance:

  • What is a fair and sustainable healthcare system? How much should be spent on rare diseases? On the elderly? What should we be willing to give up to face those costs?

  • How should we choose between lifting current generations out of poverty and protecting the environment? Who should make these choices? How much of a trade-off is there really?

This is a small sample from a long list of issues that matter, but that none but a few experts are fully equipped to think coherently about. Still, those experts exists and their knowledge is out there: researchers have carefully crafted tests to sort through competing hypotheses. Their results have been peer reviewed. They have produced evidence, which too frequently the world then proceeds to ignore. This is in no way an infallible process – science typically works by disproving earlier theories, and it can and has gotten things very wrong. Yet it beats all the alternatives.

Thicket allows any lay person to access these expert findings, and see how they fit into the debates shaping the world we live in: immigration, labor laws, environmental protection, involvement in armed conflicts. By amending existing lists or creating new ones, any user can contribute to these debates, reframe them if she feels they need to be. Concretely, this means exploring and mobilizing existing evidence, and including arguments that have been overlooked.

This process can help you think and understand the world. Joan Didion is often quoted for saying “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I am looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want, and what I fear.” We may never write like she does, but the goal of Thicket is not entirely dissimilar: to figure out what the noise is really about, what we are seeing, and what we are thinking.

Didion talked about writing as an act of self-assertion. With Thicket, there’s no need to have her voice or her craftsmanship to make your points stick and stand out in a debate. Thicket is rigorous: it is based on pear reviewed research and the careful linking of specific evidence to specific arguments. But it is also democratic. And because it is an interactive debate space, it is built not only to allow our point to be made, but also to help us take others’ views into account. Once in a while, it may lead us to the most rewarding and necessary thinking of all: changing our mind, based on evidence.