A few days ago I wrote about how Google was researching into changing how it ranks websites during searches, claiming that the aim was to give sites that are loose with the truth a lower ranking and to favor sites deemed to be reputable.
But the possibility of abuse in such a system is worrisome.
So I asked some leading climate figures by e-mail what they thought and have gotten some responses. Here’s what they wrote (some editing):
Prof. Nir Shaviv (astrophysicist)
It is just a research project. The Fox News article says ‘A Google spokesperson told FoxNews.com that the fact-based-rankings are, at this point, just a research project.’
I can’t imagine Google will do anything like that. It is so wrong on so many levels it would be shooting themselves in the leg.”
Lubos Motl (physicist):
I don’t believe that it’s technically possible to design an algorithm that could reasonably accurately assign the truth value to all pages on the Internet (it’s just very hard to evaluate all the billions of statements that are out there – quite often, one really knows the answer) – I would be impressed if they proved me wrong; and I don’t believe that Google will impose filters that would selectively and significantly skew results in a direction that is political.
I don’t believe that Google plans to suppress or eliminate skeptical blogs about the climate from the rankings, and I don’t even think that this follows from any media reports on Fox News or elsewhere, so I view these fears as nut job conspiracy theories.
It’s my belief that they’re doing a good job. Some said that the solution to these censorship fears (which seem unjustifiable to me themselves) is to create a competition to Google, or something like that. Even if some folks in Google have politically extreme, left-wing opinions etc., they’re still primarily a technological company that has done amazing things that even some of the best people in big competing companies such as Microsoft couldn’t have matched (and I am a fan of Microsoft). Of course if Google searches turned out to be unusable due to political censorship or something like that, people like me would try to switch to a competition.
Google is an extremely important company and it is assessing its importance sensibly. Generally I am not going to join the bashing of Google based on conspiracy theories. My cooperation with the company (talking about AdSense) has been good for many years and as an ordinary user, I am impressed how many services Google has done for the users basically for free. Even if they wanted to use their search engine to push politics or the climate debate in some direction, they clearly have the right to do so, but because it would mean to throw away the value of the company which has grown into a rather standard corporation, I don’t believe that it will really take place, regardless of the opinions of some officials at various places.
Dr. Holger Thuss (President of EIKE)
Without a doubt, there are a lot of lies out there. However if Google really thinks a truth formula is the right way to promote ‘truth’, it will backfire on them because there simply is no such thing as absolute truth. Hence I believe this step would be entirely unnecessary. It will not stop promoters of ‘inconvenient truths’ such as climate realists from doing what they are doing, and it would cost Google large parts of its credibility. On the other hand, it would slow down important political and scientific debates. I also don’t see how, in the future, Google will convince organizations to pay for its advertising services if its reputation is damaged and people go away to other search engines. Nobody likes to listen to truther organizations.”
Dr. Benny Peiser (Chairman, GWPF)
I very much doubt that Google will implement the proposal to rank websites according to their “truthfulness.” Such a potentially self-destructive move would make Google look like George Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ who was responsible to falsify historical events or rewrite predictions. One only has to think about the way Google would deal with Michael Mann’s ‘Hockey Stick’ and the elimination of the Medieval Warm Period from history to realise the potential for abuse and manipulation.”
Dr. Hans H.J. Labohm (Dutch publicist)
Nobody should claim to possess the monopoly on truth. Therefore let people decide for themselves what information they deem trustworthy. And remember: ‘Du choc des opinions jaillit la vérité!’ Consequently Google should drop this initiative and bury it, covering it with a tombstone with the inscription: R.I.P.
Dr. Sebastian Lüning (Die kalte Sonne)
Who would be the referees in this process, and how impartial could they be?
Dr Sonja A Boehmer Christiansen (Editor, Energy & Environment)
On whether Google would be able to control the Truth:
NO that would take a long time to emerge if ever…many scientific disputes took centuries to be resolved. Truth is likely to establish itself, temporarily, if combined and advertised in combination with solutions, like AGW.
There are short-term truths of course, what people act on in the hope that it is the truth, but then they usually have another motive to back up the truth like greed, personal advantage, getting research funds, pleasing ‘mates’. If they went ahead, they would be taking on a divine role. A warning!”