Saturday, September 26, 2009

Doggerel #202: "Google It!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words or phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Search engines can be wonderful tools. There's a lot of information out there, and these valuable programs can help us sift through the mess to find the most relevant bits.

But they aren't magical. A web page's tendency to show up in a search is based on whether it contains relevant words, combined with how popular it is. And, as you should know by now, popularity is not an indication of quality.

The main complaint skeptics have about woo is the low quality of evidence: A search engine can't tell if an experiment's methods really constitute "double-blinding," or if the author simply used it as a buzz phrase in hopes of placating critics. Search engines aren't mathematicians either, so they can't tell the difference between a genuine subtle effect and an artifact of statistical legerdemain. Search engines can be useful tools, but they're no substitute for critical thought.

In its more cynical use, an appeal to a search engine can be seen as a "shotgun response": Rather than provide one good example, we're expected to search the massive haystack for a needle that may not exist. It would be much simpler for everyone if our adversaries would move directly to their best shots. If you want to convince us, try to learn what we demand and why we demand it. That way, if you find a needle, you'll be able to lead us straight to it, instead of demanding that we sift through the haystack.

1 comment:

Yaos said...

I hate those, you ask them for proof and then they tell you to go find it for them and blame you when it does not exist.