Troubling search engine results

34


Discussion by: TSM
This topic may end up straddling to Education and Pseudoscience.

As a matter of curiosity, I wanted to do a little research into the phenomena of chimpanzee DNA vs. Human DNA and the possibility of genetic fusion in human DNA at position 2.
Entering that as my search in Yahoo, I was astounded when my first 4 results were (in order) Answers in Genesis, Wikipedia, The Institute for Creation Research and Apologetics Press.
Has the academic community become so defensive about their scientific papers that they have effectively ‘firewalled’ the public and curious students from scientific truth or are the creationists just a bit more Internet savvy?
What I am beginning to see, as we shut down libraries and bookstores, is an unfortunate situation whereby the less discerning adult and the mentally developing child is being thrust into creationist thought by the results of flawed web searches that do not discern fact from fiction.
What can be done about this in the interest of creating a new generation of scientists?

34 COMMENTS

  1. I googled your entry ( by cut and paste) to verify your displeasure. My order of “hits” was :

    wikipedia, then apologetics press, then “gate.net” (which seems to be a vocal proponent of evolution), then “world mysteries” — Answers in genesis and the institue for creation research did not show up on the first two pages … I googled (chimpanzee DNA vs. Human DNA and the possibility of genetic fusion in human DNA at position 2.) which I directly copied and pasted from your OP.

    I was disheartened that wikipedia was first ( but fully understand the driving force behind it). I was also distressed that apologetics was second. Although I didn’t see the same pattern as you, I too wonder what this “order” spells out to the novice or ignorant (used in the true sense of the word) and their acceptance/rejection of “facts” due to their order of representation in a google search.

  2. I was a little less than clear in my post. Forgive me. My actual search string was “human dna chimpanzee dna” on the main Yahoo search engine. I have just reconfirmed my results.

    Perhaps this is a little simplistic but I tried to put myself into the mindset of the young perhaps writing something as a school assignment.

    One additional component may be that new algorithms for location also tend to skew results. I am in China.

  3. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have set up their own search engines:

    1. Seekfind
    2. I’mhalal
    3. Jewogle (even the Google colors are copied).

    I typed your query in Jewogle and in .52seconds received 7 results: all religious. Not one scientific source.

    Is it hard to imagine that devout parents have their family computers locked to those addresses? Child abuse, imo.

    Mike

  4. I share your disappointment. I am often depressed to search for any ‘controversial’ (only controversial in the religious camp) scientific facts on any search engine. If you would like to fall deeper into depression, search for ‘Flat Earth and the Church’. Not even in that phraseology. Any combination of various synonyms containing ‘flat earth’ will return results ALL religiously motivated – ‘proving’ that the church never believed in a flat earth and that the only church workers who did were marginalized. After hours of searching, particularly for my own benefit and for the research pages of my current book, I concluded that there is a WEALTH of evidence to the contrary. Anyway, the internet can be a very discouraging place for reason and logic.

  5. Thanks for quickly responding to my “little experiment”. Either way, (I share your) alarm at the amount of bullshit you have to wade through to get to anything of substance. When you weigh your quick illustration with the presence of the “sandy hook truthers” and their ilk, it makes me wonder what will pass as “history” in our near future. It also makes me pessimistic about this medium called the internet.

    Happiness is green.

    In reply to #2 by TSM:

    I was a little less than clear in my post. Forgive me. My actual search string was “human dna chimpanzee dna” on the main Yahoo search engine. I have just reconfirmed my results.

    Perhaps this is a little simplistic but I tried to put myself into the mindset of the young perhaps writing something as a school assignment.

    One additional component may be that new algorithms for location also tend to skew results. I am in China.

  6. What of the other aspect I tried to introduce?

    Lately, scientific research is confined to educational or scientific, subscription only sites.

    I refer, of course, to things like JSTOR which Aaron Swartz hacked to bring science papers into the public realm in contravention to copyright laws.

    As it is, leaps in science are behind firewalls and we, the public, are forced to view them through the filters of news organizations (Like Fox or CNN) or through the refutations of religious sites. Both the media and religious sites have the funding to pay the fees which are often in excess of $3,000/pa.

    Having written several articles on environmental issues, I find that my resources often end up being quotations of The New York Times, et al quoting papers to which I have no access because of massive fees.

    And so it is where we create an online community comprised primarily of free religious refutations of papers we cannot see while the actual knowledge is firewalled.

    Thus, our view of science has become skewed by either political or religious agendas.

  7. In reply to #7 by zengardener:

    In reply to #2 by TSM:

    I am in China.

    My wife is from China.

    What do you get if you search,

    Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 ?

    I get what you get because I search with the English versions of Yahoo and Google. The problems come when you click on the links which are inevitably blocked.

    On the Chinese versions, Yahoo and Google both censor before the search is done.

    The reasoning is that few Chinese have the ability to read English at a journalistic level of English.

  8. I have always thought that hits came up in order of popularity. I realize that there are certain “algorithms” (not sure the type of info my computer gives) that enables search engines to bring up what (they think) I would want. The attempt is to tailor results to my personal preferences, but it actually can limit the type of info you are exposed to. There was a TED talk regarding this issue. I would assume that programers/engineers employed by the search engines could skew the likelihood of certain information reaching the top five. I wonder if companies can pay off search engines so that they get favorable hits.

  9. In reply to #12 by benjamincoote:

    Wow, Benjamin. I’m not sure what your post has to do with the topic, but you have the synopsis of a great book there, or perhaps a screenplay for a 3 part film. Go for it.

  10. This post raises the extemely problematic issue of censorship of the net. Should there be any? Is it already happening? Who’s doing it? Where does it end?

    You should be chilled to know that governments around the world are already looking at, not only censorship of sites, but censorship of search engines too. The EU naturally leads the way as this article makes clear.

    The War on Media Freedom

  11. In reply to #3 by Sample:

    Christians, Jews, and Muslims have set up their own search engines:

    Seekfind

    I’mhalal

    Jewogle (even the Google colors are copied).

    I thought Islam was a ripoff of Judaism. Surely I’mhalal would be the one which copied everything. :-/

  12. Are you being DIRTY??? In all seriousness, comment #12 disappeared on a thread dealing with internet censorship. Ironic?

    In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

    I googled “chimpanzee, sex, human” after reading the OP, and I don’t want to tell you what the results were.

  13. In reply to #12 by benjamincoote:

    The god we know is the end product of evolution by natural selection in a universe beyond our own.

    Or in scientific terms we know that humans created their numerous versions of god(s) – many in their own image, and the god-spots in their evolved brains have been propagating their assorted memes in the form of delusions ever since.

    The stories have now moved onto the internet to continue the process of meme-spreading.

    Gapology claims knowledge of universes beyond our own, but there is no evidence of any details of these universes available to ANYONE on Earth, so any such claims must be fiction.

  14. In reply to #11 by QuestioningKat:

    I have always thought that hits came up in order of popularity. I realize that there are certain “algorithms” (not sure the type of info my computer gives) that enables search engines to bring up what (they think) I would want.

    There have always been ways to gain favorable search positions, so much so that a whole industry was created in the area of search engine optimization along with tools for analyzing and achieving the top positions.

    Again, the top positions do not matter when the results of research are not available to the general public on the internet but are hidden inside paid access scientific paper sites like JSTOR.

    You can read multiple refutations of various scientific theories and papers contained IN those sites for free at sites like Answers in Genesis, et al. however you can’t get to the paper itself without paying the $3,000 annual subscription fee.

    Answers in Genesis however has a large contributor following who is willing to pay this and other fees so that they can get in and apply junk science before the paper has a public airing.

    The result is invariably a whole series of Junk Science refutations, a Wiki entry and media announcements such as the NY Times.

    My original contact with this type of thing was on a blog where some anti-abortionists were quoting a person called Priscilla Coleman, Ph.D. who had recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJpsych). After doing a bit of research about this person I found several troubling things about how the internet was being manipulated.

    The most Damning piece was here: Political Research Associates

    She is mentioned specifically in the above article however she managed to have her ideas given Oxygen in the BJpsych of all places.

    THIS is her Wiki Entry.

    This is not simply a matter of position on the search engine. This is a deliberate attempt at playing ‘The Long Game’ by salting junk science onto the internet so that it is ‘grandfathered in’ to popular science and can be used by religious movements in the future.

    Do a search on her name in general on the internet and be prepared for a long read.

    Now have a look at the response to the article

    Note the defense of her by other people mentioned in Political Research Associates such as David C. Reardon.

    Notice the attacks by everyone from Ben Goldacre to just about every psychiatric organization from the USA, Canada, Europe, New Zealand … everywhere…

    Now … look at that internet search again on her name.

    Now … just for giggles, search for a paper that refutes it.

    THAT is how the internet is bring used by Religious organizations who are a lot more internet savvy than real scientists it would seem.

  15. In reply to #20 by crookedshoes:

    Are you being DIRTY??? In all seriousness, comment #12 disappeared on a thread dealing with internet censorship. Ironic?

    In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

    I googled “chimpanzee, sex, human” after reading the OP, and I don’t want to tell you what the results were.

    I usually just use chrome and open a shitload of windows. Sooner or later I always find what I’m looking for.
    Ahhh, the joys of being a simpleton. :-)

    Edit: Whoops, wasn’t a reply for you crooked but just a general post on the subject. A rookie mistake sorry.
    PS. I only use google, not google scholar.

  16. In reply to #20 by crookedshoes:

    Are you being DIRTY??? In all seriousness, comment #12 disappeared on a thread dealing with internet censorship. Ironic?

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at, crookedshoes. If comment #12 disappeared then I’m sure it had nothing to do with internet censorship; rather, it must have in some way contravened the terms and conditions of this site.

    As to my being DIRTY???, well, if you equate sex, even sex with non-human animals, with dirtiness and feel the need to capitalise such words when addressing issues like bestiality, I have to say I feel for the students in your biology/evolution classes.

    By the way, man, don’t flag your own comments, even if it is for some asinine little personal experiment. It’s tacky, wastes the mods’ time, and isn’t cool.

  17. Very confusing. The word dirty was capitalized for emphasis because I was making a joke. It may have been a poor joke, but, nonetheless, a joke. I do not understand what you mean by flagging your own comments… I certainly have not done that. It never really crossed my mind until you mentioned it.

    If you scroll down the page and look at the comment numbers, you will see that several of the comments have been removed. Censored, if you will. I was pointing out that this is ironic on a thread where the OP is essentially about censorship.

    As for my profession and how I approach my duties, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and it is beyond insulting for you to say what you said. I am passionate and enthusiastic and love every minute of what I do. I will take the high road, because it is hard to step in dogshit and end up smelling good.

    In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #20 by crookedshoes:

    Are you being DIRTY??? In all seriousness, comment #12 disappeared on a thread dealing with internet censorship. Ironic?

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at, crookedshoes. If comment #12 disappeared then I’m sure it had nothing to do with internet censorship; rather, it must have in some way contravened the terms and conditions of this site.

    As to my being DIRTY???, well, if you equate sex, even sex with non-human animals, with dirtiness and feel the need to capitalise such words when addressing issues like bestiality, I have to say I feel for the students in your biology/evolution classes.

    By the way, man, don’t flag your own comments, even if it is for some asinine little personal experiment. It’s tacky, wastes the mods’ time, and isn’t cool.

  18. I think that you think that my “little experiment” involved me flagging my own comment. My little experiment was me cutting and pasting the OP’s search words into the search engine and seeing what I got and trying to see if the engine generated the same order of hits.

    I would not waste the mod’s time however, you seem to be wasting mine. Get your shit straight before you lay into someone. This is what I call ignorant.

    In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #20 by crookedshoes:

    Are you being DIRTY??? In all seriousness, comment #12 disappeared on a thread dealing with internet censorship. Ironic?

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at, crookedshoes. If comment #12 disappeared then I’m sure it had nothing to do with internet censorship; rather, it must have in some way contravened the terms and conditions of this site.

    As to my being DIRTY???, well, if you equate sex, even sex with non-human animals, with dirtiness and feel the need to capitalise such words when addressing issues like bestiality, I have to say I feel for the students in your biology/evolution classes.

    By the way, man, don’t flag your own comments, even if it is for some asinine little personal experiment. It’s tacky, wastes the mods’ time, and isn’t cool.

  19. I just heard a show on the radio driving home from work today. They talked about scroogle, how google scans Gmail accounts for information so they can target ads. They defend their practices saying that no human reads people’s emails – it is done by a computer picking up key words. Oh the dirty little secrets.

  20. In reply to #27 by Alan4discussion:

    If you put in terms like “sychonicity” (Tidal – locking) you will get all sorts of astrological garbage!

    (The pseudos love important sounding sciency words)

    One newspaper (U.S.) changed the term ‘horoscope’ to ‘astrograph’. Mule in horse harness.

    Did the police song ‘synchronicity’ pop up in your search?

  21. In reply to #30 by bluebird:

    In reply to #27 by Alan4discussion:

    If you put in terms like “sychonicity” (Tidal – locking) you will get all sorts of astrological garbage!

    (The pseudos love important sounding sciency words)

    One newspaper (U.S.) changed the term ‘horoscope’ to ‘astrograph’. Mule in horse harness.

    Did the police song ‘synchronicity’ pop up in your search?

    Try entering terms from Quantum Mechanics and you’ll get Deepdish Chopra.

  22. In reply to #30 by bluebird:

    Did the police song ‘synchronicity’ pop up in your search?

    It was a while back, during a discussion about planets on the old site,

    I did not get to the song but had to dump about 20 links to wonky-donkey astrological woo-twaddle, before I found a decent astronomical article on synchronicity in axial rotation of orbiting bodies to link to the discussion.

  23. Creationist websites rank highly because other creationist and religious sites link to them.

    Write any scientific sounding creationist rubbish and other creationist and religious websites will link to it. This linking results in creationist websites achieving a higher page rank than the content would suggest it deserves.

    Here’s why I think this.
    My Google.com search results for the search term ” human dna chimpanzee dna ” resulted in the following ranking of websites.

    • 1st Creationist
    • 2nd Science
    • 3rd Creationist
    • 4th Science
    • 5th Science

    The first spot in my search results was occupied by the website [creation.com] with a webpage titled human-chimp-dna-similarity-re-evaluated. Google is saying that this webpage is most relevant to my search of ” human dna chimpanzee dna “

    Why does Google place a creationism site first?

    To answer this we must first understand a little bit about how search engines like Google rank websites.

    How does Google rank a website?

    Here’s Googles own explanation

    Source: http://www.google.com/competition/howgooglesearchworks.html

    ———————————————–quote————————————————–

    For every search query performed on Google, whether it’s [hotels in Tulsa] or [New York Yankees scores], there are thousands, if not millions of web pages with helpful information. Our challenge in search is to return only the most relevant results at the top of the page, sparing people from combing through the less relevant results below. Not every website can come out at the top of the page, or even appear on the first page of our search results.

    Today our algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals, some of which you’d expect, like how often the search terms occur on the webpage, if they appear in the title or whether synonyms of the search terms occur on the page. Google has invented many innovations in search to improve the answers you find. The first and most well known is PageRank, named for Larry Page (Google’s co-founder and CEO). PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.

    ———————————————–end quote—————————————————-

    The important part is the use of page rank.
    The creation.com website was returned first in my search results partly because it has a number of ‘quality’ links pointing to this page or website. It is however important to point out that quality in this case doesn’t mean ‘sound scientific argument or theory’. Quality means something completely different to search engines

    Here’s Google’s take on quality

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_submission#cite_note-goo-1

    ———————————————–quote————————————————–

    PageRank (quality) relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.” Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages’ relative importance

    ———————————————–end quote————————————————–

    The creation.com has plenty of ‘quality’ links pointing to the chimp/human dna webpage and also to it’s website overall. If we delve a little deeper we can start to find out what other websites are linking and causing creation.com to rank favourably in Google.

    Here are the top ranking websites that link to creation.com.

    Please note for the link analysis I used http://www.opensiteexplorer.org

    Sites with a high page rank linking to creation.com

    • christiananswers.net
    • talkorigins.org
    • answersingenesis.org
    • creationresearch.org
    • creationism.org
    • intelligentdesignnetwork.org

    From my initial observations it would appear that creation.com is ranking high because other creationist and religious websites are linking to creation.com. Google sees these links as a positive thing. Write any scientific sounding creationist rubbish and other creationist and religious websites will surely link to it. This linking results in creation.com achieving a higher page rank than the content would suggest it should.

    There was one website that went against this trend. A website called http://www.skepdic.com (Sceptic website) Which in trying to dispel the nonsense sprouting from creation.com, was linking to the page and in google’s eyes giving it a vote of confidence :)

    How can we improve scientific search results?

    I would suggest we need more websites linking to legitimate scientific sources. This site does a great job but we need more.

    We also need to avoid other websites linking to creationist websites and web pages. This is a little harder to achieve. But an example might be where a news website bends over backwards to accommodate the religious view point. News websites need to be called out when they do this.

    Better Searching Engine Optimisation (SEO) training for science writers. I would suggest at least an understanding of the basics. SEO Basics – Wikipedia

    Finally, I’d like to see more pressure put on creationist websites. This can be done through the comments. If you feel that a site has misrepresented current scientific understanding then say so. But more importantly provide a link to legitimate research or scientific papers to back up your claim. At least from the website creation.com all critical comments appear to be published.

    And I might add – you’ll have fun because you’ll never know what they’re going to say next (Thanks to Christopher for this one liner :)

  24. In reply to #34 by BryanDibben:

    Creationist websites rank highly because other creationist and religious sites link to them.

    Write any scientific sounding creationist rubbish and other creationist and religious websites will link to it. This linking results in creationist websites achieving a higher page rank than the content would suggest it deserves.

    Thank you for a thoughtful detailed analysis.

    How can we improve scientific search results?

    I would suggest we need more websites linking to legitimate scientific sources. This site does a great job but we need more.

    I would again like to point out to readers that typing “google scholar” and going to http://scholar.google.co.uk/ will avoid lots of rubbish sites.

    See also: -

    http://scholar.google.com/intl/en-US/scholar/about.html

    Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.

    How are documents ranked?

    >

    Google Scholar aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature. ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

    http://scholar.google.com/intl/en-US/scholar/help.html – Search Tips

    http://scholar.google.no/advanced_scholar_search?hl=en

  25. I’m going to tackle this from a perspective as a software engineer. If you enter a search in a search engine, they use a ranking system which determines which links you get to see.
    There is no human “ranking” these websites. It’s actually done using eigenvectors which is a concept in the field of linear algebra.

    It uses a system called “pagerank”, first licensed by google. there is no human interraction in this anymore,it’s done with a very complex system of superb coding!
    To be honest, I hate “advertising” my own website on here, but if you’re really interested in why they are ranked the way they are, you might want to take a look at this: http://it-ca.net/blogdylan/?p=512
    It is a very fundamental view of how it is made.

  26. In reply to #36 by DylanMeeus:

    It uses a system called “pagerank”, first licensed by google. there is no human interraction in this anymore,it’s done with a very complex system of superb coding!
    To be honest, I hate “advertising” my own website on here, but if you’re really interested in why they are ranked the way they are, you might want to take a look at this: http://it-ca.net/blogdylan/?p=512
    It is a very fundamental view of how it is made.

    Sure, but there are ways to beat this system. One of the most common is reciprocal referencing I.e. you link to me and I’ll link to you which tons of churches and other ID sites are willing to do.

    In this case, we are, as I keep saying looking at an Internet filled with links and listings to articles and information referencing ID while papers on science and scientific work are hidden behind subscription firewalls to protect the copyright of the scientist’s work. ID scientists gain funding from multiple sources including the Templeton Foundation and actually think they are winning the war distributing this garbage so they can ‘save souls’. How can the USA have the greatest number of registered Internet users and also have the largest percentage of their population believing in ‘young earth’ creation?

  27. In reply to #37 by TSM:

    How can the USA have the greatest number of registered Internet users and also have the largest percentage of their population believing in ‘young earth’ creation?

    I would suspect that it similar as to how large numbers of dogs and cats have readable microchip identities!

  28. I don’t see what’s wrong with Wikipedia showing up but I agree with your general point and I’ve noticed it as well. More and more when I do searches on topics like abortion, 9/11, climate change, evolution, etc. the articles that come up the most are pseudoscience. To some extent its a factor of the search engines just doing what they are programmed to do, if lots of idiots look for and click on BS, BS will get returned more often in searches.

    I think the answer at least in part is more and smarter technology. Especially things like The Semantic Web based on technologies such as XML and OWL are moving search away from just text strings and toward searches based on concepts. OWL (and tools based on it such as Protege from Stanford) allow you to organize information into ontologies, classifications based on sets. subsets, and relations and then specify where in the ontology you want to search. Its possible to get much more sophisticated kinds of searches, to specify the information you are looking for and not worry about matching specific keywords.

  29. It amazes me that some people would expect the internet to be a collection of facts or scientific litterature. It is a collection of knowledge about humans– 80% of which apparently (so I’ve heard) is p0rn

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