Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"According to Google,..."

Being both a poker player and former writing teacher, I am better acquainted than most with just how stupid the average person is. The fear that this day would come has lurked in my mind for some time, but today, I re-discovered the ugly truth that people just don't understand even the most basic tenants of reason, research, skepticism, and critical thinking.

Through a series of blog links, I happened on to the comment thread for a popular TV/radio talk show host's web page (I refuse to link to it). The topic regarded one of the current presidential candidates' alleged ethnicity (clearly false/ridiculous hypotheses peppered the thread). I have long since been accustomed to idiocy regarding high profile public figures, so none of this interested me, until I skimmed past one commenter whose attempt at validating the allegation started with "According to google,..." and proceeded to quote some unspecified website. This would be a classic case of argument from authority were it not for the fact that the mere Google search engine alone was being treated as the authority in question.

If Google returns it, it must be true.

There is a scary group of idiots out there who, deep in their hearts, believe that Google magically filters their search returns for QUALITY. Hence, Google is being treated as a primary source.

"Burn down the mission, if we're gonna stay alive..."


Erin said...

"basic tenants of reason": eggcorn or typo?

This appeal to the authority of Google is troublesome in linguistics, since we often refer to Google results for evidence for hypotheses about usage. That is documents indexed by Google as a data source, rather than its search results as authoritative figure, of course, but this may not be obvious to the average Joe. :\

Jason M. Adams said...

I was googling "according to google" to see if anything interesting popped up and jumped to page 7 -- where I found this post! :)

Chris said...

oops, typo. To the chagrin of many laypersons (laypeople?), I am one of the many linguists who can't spell to save my life, and make no apologies about it either, hehe. I'm also one of the many linguists who can barely speak a foreign language. Again, no apologies should be expected.

I think Erin's point about Google's use in linguistics research is worth its own post. Adam Kilgarriff has a nice review of the issues. I'll find a link and post on it soon.

And what a difference a day makes. I just checked "according to google" and I'm now all the way on page 13! I gotta work on my page rank stats, pronto!

Dran said...

I know it's totally random to comment on something so old but I wanted to say, I don't think that's an appeal to authority. Maybe I'm just giving people too much credit, but I usually take 'according to Google' to mean you take the words on their own authority, ie if they sound reasonable or not. 'According to google' is just sort of a fun way of qualifying your source.

Plus everyone on the internet is a troll anyway!

Chris said...

Dran, thanks for the comment.

I think you make an interesting point. You seem to be suggesting that "according to" is acting as an evidential ("I heard that...", "I read somewhere...", "I know that..."). You could be on to something.

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