What Fresh Hell Is This?

March 7, 2015

Google, The Knowledge Vault, And (Inevitable) The Denier-Outcry

I saw this at birther central World Net Daily this morning:
According to an article in New Scientist, the Internet search giant is considering a new algorithm for ranking its search results: one based not on how commonly a site is linked – which is central to its current system – but on how “trustworthy” Google determines the source website to be.

In other words, those sites Google says print truth would come up first in user searches, while those sites Google thinks stray too often from the truth would be buried on a later page.

New Scientist author Hal Hodson explains: “The Internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free ‘news’ stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.”
There's more from that New Scientist article:
Google's search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.

A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. "A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy," says the team (arxiv.org/abs/1502.03519v1). The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.
Facts vs misinformation and a way to tell (and rank) the difference.

And so the science deniers are up in arms (back to WND):
Hodson’s implication that anti-vaccination sites are inherently untrustworthy, however, only serves to highlight the questions his article doesn’t answer: What if Google’s version of the “truth” is mistaken? Or biased? 
See that? We've entered into same right-wing post-modernism that's causing so many policy problems.  We're no longer talking "facts" but someone's "version of the 'truth'".  See the subtle shift?  And the ontological danger of that shift? 

Facts are stubborn things while someone's "version of the truth" is simply an opinion.  Science (whether it's Climate Science, Evolution or Women's Health, doesn't constitute "fact" as much as it's just "someone's version of the truth."

Fox "News" has some (muted) outrage about Google separating facts from non-facts:
In a step that critics worry will inject political bias into search results, a Google research team released a report this month on ranking search results based on how factual websites are. They propose eventually using that to change Google rankings, which are currently based on website popularity.

The Google researchers give, as an example, websites that say President Obama was born in Kenya; such sites would be penalized in Google rankings, whereas sites that correctly say he was born in the U.S. would get a boost in rankings.

That fact is not controversial, but critics worry that this is a first step towards Google playing God and effectively censoring content it does not like. They fear that skeptics of things like climate change or more immigration (both subjects that Google founders have expressed strong feelings about) might find their websites buried if this ranking system were adopted.
Wile it's interesting where Fox "News" and WND part company: Obama's birthplace, you should also notice the verb Fox uses in the first sentence of that last paragraph - censoring.  Who said anything about censoring?

The more truthful websites rise up on the list of search results - but that's not what the science deniers want.  You start judging websites by how accurate they are and it'll be that much more difficult to find the useless filling found within them.

And that's what the science deniers fear the most.

Stay tuned, I am sure we'll be hearing more about Google's fact-based "censorship" in the coming weeks and months.

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