DebateMordechai Sones

The people behind Rootclaim, an Israeli start-up founded by Saar Wilf (brother of former MK Einat Wilf) will pay anyone a heaping sum of money to win a judged debate against them. A caveat: The challenger must be willing to lose the same, which would be $100,000 (USD), unless the contender is established in the specified field, in which case the stakes would become more palatable, at $10,000.

This offer is essentially a bet, but one in which the dealer (Rootclaim) lays out the proverbial cards face up on the table for the challenger to examine. Their site is transparent about where they get their information, and how they formulate their conclusion. It even reveals the percentage of the possibility of an error.

There are currently four active challenges being entertained by the company: the origin of the COVID-19 virus, the effectiveness of vitamin D in treating COVID-19, the likelihood of fraud in the 2020 U.S. election, and who is responsible for the 2013 Syrian sarin gas attack. Rootclaim invites you to a debate, judged by two impartial experts, agreed in advance, who will conclude which hypothesis is more likely true.

The Israeli start-up came to my attention during a Twitter blitz in response to the announcement regarding the devastating gas attack that took the lives of hundreds of people in Syria. Spoiler alert: Rootclaim concluded that, with a proclaimed 96% likelihood, that it was not the Syrian dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, who was responsible for that particular 2013 attack, but that the guilty party was Liwa al-Islam, an Islamic terror group dominant in the area from where the attack likely originated.

Though Rootclaim aims to analyze, assess, and announce conclusions devoid of any emotion, their results aren’t always received with the same objective integrity. Soon after Rootclaim announced their results regarding that sarin attack, its founder, Saar Wilf, and those who found legitimacy in Rootclaim’s process and conclusion, were subjected to shaming attacks - to effectively shut down this authentic intellectual endeavor.

I’m not qualified to challenge any of Rootclaim’s current results, but I want to know more about this company offering such a curious proposal.

I thank Saar Wilf for giving me his time in helping me straighten out a few details.

Quintero: What inspired you to start Rootclaim, was it a specific event?

Wilf: Not really. I’ve been forever troubled by the failure of society to agree on matters of fact, and how our flawed brains cause intelligent people to reach such different conclusions from the same evidence. Specific cases, like the Syria chemical attacks, the SARS-CoV-2 lab leak, and the failure to adopt cheap Covid treatments, demonstrated how this problem could become an existential risk to humanity.

Quintero: Many people tweeted a refusal to accept Rootclaim’s conclusion regarding that specific sarin gas attack on the people of Ghouta, on August 21st, 2013. It’s difficult to respond when emotions are heated, and space is limited to 280 characters. What would you like those people to understand now?

Wilf: It is very human to reject facts that don’t align with our political affiliation and identity. In Rootclaim we repeatedly find that truth doesn’t “play nice.” Sometime it sides with the left, sometimes with the right, sometimes with the West, sometimes with Russian or China.

In the case of Syria chemical attacks the evidence is very clear: We have a video showing opposition fighters with gas masks launching the rockets used in the chemical attack on the night of the attack. This video strongly matches the features of a small field that lies right at the intersection of 7 trajectories calculated from the rocket impact sites.

Quintero: Is it possible that there could be strong evidence that might be classified or otherwise hasn’t been made public, that could run counter to Rootclaims’ conclusions?

Wilf: Yes, it is possible, but depending on the already available evidence, it may be very unlikely. For example, consider a murder case. Imagine that all available evidence, forensics, and witness testimony (and related reasoning) point to the conviction of the primary suspect. How likely is it for a video to surface of someone else committing the murder? If this new documentation existed how likely would it be that all the previous evidence, pointing in the opposite direction, also existed?

New pieces of evidence countering existing conclusions are more likely in situations of higher uncertainty. As we get closer to certainty, we expect fewer surprises. With high uncertainty, such as if two competing hypotheses were equally likely, we would not be surprised by evidence in either direction.

In more colorful words: if a Rootclaim analysis reached a confident conclusion, say over 95%, based on public evidence, and an intelligence agency or other authority claims to have confidential information that proves this is wrong, then it is more likely that they are misinterpreting their data due to human reasoning flaws (or, maybe, just outright lying).

Quintero: What debate is Rootclaim in the middle of sorting out now?

Wilf: A few interesting analyses we’re looking at:

What killed Yasser Arafat?

China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Who murdered Tair Rada?

Who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin?

Quintero: Would Rootclaim dabble in the field of making predictions?

Wilf: This requires major upgrades to the model. We hope we will eventually get there.

Quintero: Rootclaim unpacks theories and offers challenges. It appears you’re still in the process of building a presence. After Rootclaim becomes more well known, who would be your clients and how would they use Rootclaim? Basically, how will Rootclaim be sustained?

Wilf: At this point we’re focused solely on creating value to humanity.

Quintero: I noticed that your site states that Rootclaim doesn’t make money from this platform and that you “don't even plan to make any revenues off Rootclaim in the foreseeable future. We're currently solely focused on helping humanity become more rational.” How would your site facilitate rationality? Would that be by being a reliable resource or by shifting the way people think?

Wilf: Hopefully both.

To accept one of Rootclaim’s challenges, or just see how they sort through information to arrive at evidence-based conclusions, visit Rootclaim. Stay tuned for their Hebrew version. And, stay updated on new developments by following @Rootclaim on Twitter, or their founder, Saar Wilf, at @saarwilf

Faith Quintero is the author of Loaded Blessings, a family saga that alternates between Inquisition era Spain and modern-day Israel. It’s among the Federalist’s top books of 2019 list and a Montaigne Medal finalist for the Eric Hoffer awards. The Montaigne Medal is an additional distinction, awarded to "the most thought-provoking books." Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithQuintero7 and Arutz Sheva Opinion at @israelnatopin