Does Google Do Evil?

OK my title is a bit of media sensationalism but so what, you are now reading this thread as a result aren’t you? I’ll admit though that it should really say ‘Is Google biased towards the man-made global warming/climate change hypothesis?’

biased: having or showing bias or prejudice:

My blogging on this topic has been prompted by Willis E’s recent ‘Open Letter to Google‘ thread on WUWT.  Willis was in turn prompted to blog on this topic because of Google’s recent announcement/decision to fund 21 (so called) climate research ‘fellows’ (http://solveclimatenews.com/news/20110318/google-climate-change-fellows-science-new-media) who will ‘improve the way the science of global warming is communicated using new media’.

Has Willis E ‘jumped the shark’ on this one? Probably not but he certainty has over-reacted IMO. This announcement/decision hasn’t been made directly by what I’ll call ‘corporate Big G’, but rather by its ‘philanthropic arm’ known as Google.org (not Google.com).  Is it possible for corporate Big G to completely divorce itself from its ‘philanthropic arm’ Google.org? I doubt it, but that’s a completely different question.

The question I’m about to ask and attempt to answer is ‘Is Google (corporate Big G) biased (prejudiced) towards the man-made global warming/climate change hypothesis?’ Well how does one go about answering that question? In my case, I’m going to use a simple search for the phrase ‘climate change’ on both Google UK Search and the UK version of Bing.

First of all then, over to Google.co.uk search and type in ‘climate change’ in the search box and click Search or press enter.

http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=547&q=climate+change&aq=f&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=

Note that at any given time when you click on the above link, the ‘Top 10’ non-sponsored links appearing on Page 1 won’t necessarily be the same each time. The results returned (and their relative order) will most likely vary from day to day and possibly even hour to hour.

So at this moment in time (12:40 pm on 213/2011) who do Google think are the moment relevant authorities on Climate Change? Here are the ‘top 10’ ranked URLs in descending order of  their ‘relevance’ as far as Google are concerned.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change

2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather/hi/climate

3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/

4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-change

5. http://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/campaign/index.htm

6. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/index.htm

7. http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climate/index.htm

8. http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-change

9. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get_involved/campaign/climate_change/

10. http://www.decc.gov.uk/

With the exception of Wikipedia, notice anything about all those web sites? Are they all fully funded or in part funded by the UK Government? Answer – Yes!. Is it much the same for the URLs that appear on page 2,3, 4 etc? Yes! What proportion of them are ‘institutions’/NGOs etc? Answer – nearly all of them?

Well it pretty clearly shows that as far as Google is concerned that the opinions (on climate change) of the UK Government and the institutions/organisations it chooses to fund are far more relevant as far as Google UK is concerned than the opinions of other non-government funded sources it chooses not to fund. Does this mean that Google UK is biased and can justifiably be accused of only presenting one side of the climate change debate? Well that depends.

One could argue that the data needs to be ‘adjusted’ and (a)no(r)malised to allow for the fact that there are probably far more web sites on the internet that present the case ‘for’ rather than ‘against’ man-caused global warming/climate change. Obviously we also need to adjust for the no. of ‘institutional’ versus ‘non-institutional’ web sites that present information on and discuss climate change on the internet. This is of course just the UK and different levels of adjustment will most likely be needed for other countries ‘raw’ Google Search data. Where there is insufficient data available for a given country will will also need to ‘in-fill’ the missing data with appropriately extrapolated data (particularly in far northern latitudes) as I’m sure searches carried out with Google within a 1200 km radius are well correlated and its not our fault that not that many people do Google searches above the Arctic circle.

If the level of adjustment exceeds the the amount of bias (we already know is there), then we’ll need to be even more carefully. We may need to use novel statistical techniques to tease out the ‘bias signal’ in the data if it is not immediately apparent post our required adjustments. I’ve heard that using de-centred PCA, padding the end points and smoothing the data when looking for the bias trend always comes in handy. I sent an email to RealClimate for some advice on this point.

If we are looking for a more longer term trend in bias, we might even decide to forget the actually data altogether and opt for a ‘proxy’ instead. It doesn’t really matter if the proxy data needs to be adjusted as well, as it’s the bias trend that we are interested in isn’t it and (a)no(r)malising the data will make full allowance for that I’m 99% certain.

OK time for a bit of ‘Binging’. What are the ‘Top 10’ search results for for ‘climate change’ on Bing UK (http://www.bing.com/?cc=uk) at 13:54 on 21/3/2011?

http://www.bing.com/search?q=climate+change&go=&form=QBLH&filt=all&qs=n&sk=&sc=8-14

Here’s Bing’s Top 10

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change

2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather/hi/climate

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-change

4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/

5. http://www.answers.com/topic/climate-change

6. http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-change

7. http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/climate

8. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get_involved/campaign/climate_change/

9. http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate_change.html

10. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/index.htm

Now hang on that list is remarkably similar to the earlier Google ‘Top 10’ list. Greenpeace and FOE have sneaked in at the expense of DEFRA and DECC so maybe the UK government spends more on advertising with Google than it does with Microsoft? Or maybe Microsoft ‘Does evil’ as well? It’s a similar situation on pages 2,3,4 5 etc of Bing as well. Lots and lots of UK government funded institutions/NGOs. Despite once more adjusting and (a)no(r)maling this ‘raw’ data and applying the same novel statistical technique to it as I did for the Google data I’m struggling to find any statistically significant difference between the ‘climate change bias’ I’ve found (OK was already looking for because I knew it was there!) in the Google data and the Bing data.

I’m tempted to try Yahoo and AltaVista as well to see if they also ‘Do evil’ but I’ve ran out of time.

As a result of Willis E’s publishing his ‘Open letter to Google’ on WUWT have I changed my default search engine from Google to Bing? No! That’s the wrong question again. Have I changed my default search engine so that it is no longer Google? Yes! Why? Because, like I suspect a lot of other folks, I’ve got fed up with being re-directed to some irrelevant web site (I’m not interested in horny housewives Google – honest ;-)!) at the whim of Google whenever I first click on a link in their returned search engine results. Oh hang on! Is Google really the ‘keeper of all our secrets’ as Willis E seems to think? For the sake of the continued longevity of my happy marriage, God I hope not! My wife might be able to find out just how much time I spend on the internet ‘researching’ (climate change of course!) when I’m suppose to be ‘keeping her in the life she has become accustomed to’.

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About KevinUK (DITC)

Ex-nuclear physicist now self employed software developer searching for plausible evidence as to whether or not mankind is responsible for the late 20th century's (non-)global warming trend.
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19 Responses to Does Google Do Evil?

  1. j ferguson says:

    Listings disappear and become difficult to find using google. Take this one by Richard Black: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12789749

    I saw it first as a listing under Google news, read it, found it reasonable and imagined that i could point other people to it.

    Not quite. When I went back to do a URL link, it was gone. it could not be found by searching “richard black” and in fact I wasn’t able to find it again even as this is written.

    I thought that perhaps BBC had second thoughts about it – too rational don’t you know – but no, it was there.

    I tend to favor innocent explanations for something like this, but I do wonder.

    One cannot conclude that because something reasonably current cannot be Googled, it isn’t there.

    • KevinUK says:

      “Listings disappear and become difficult to find using google. ”

      Indeed they do but not necessarily fro any particularly nefarious reasons I think?

      From personal experience I find that a lot of web pages I bookmark/add to my favourites become ‘broken’ at a later date. In your example it probbaly became hard to re-find because the BBC ‘moved’ it rather than that Google decided to expuge it from their search data. Beside my ‘hobby’ of ‘researching’ (cliamte change obviously) on Google I also develop web sites/web applications on a part time basis and so I’m more than aqauinted with the ‘black arts’ of search engine optimisation (SEO).

      The Google ‘crawler’ positively hates broken links, so if you want to stay on the Google crawler’s good side always make sure you fix any broken links you find on your web site ASAP or else accept the ‘Wrath of Google’ and watch you page ranking tumble.

      “One cannot conclude that because something reasonably current cannot be Googled, it isn’t there.”

      Great piece of advice there. The best ‘golden nuggets’ of information I’ve ever found on the internet were never found on Page 1 or even for that matter page 20 – they’ve usually been on about page 50. But how many people are that patient? As a software developer who abhors the idea of ‘re-inventing the wheel’ I am and I take great satisfaction from learning from other developers’s experiences and of course return the favour when at all possible. The best advice from the best software developers is most definitely not always on the first few pages of Google Search.

      • j ferguson says:

        Kevin,
        thank you for your observations on this topic. It makes perfect sense that the problem might have been more mechanical, but I hadn’t fathomed what the mechanism might be.

        IO do find Googles search-result ranking on relatively innocent topics sometimes as bit strange. On searches related to hardware or machinery issues where there is international interest, a search launched in English will produce a few pages of English results them ten or fifteen pages of Foreign posts, then more English with the English results which seemed in my opinion to best fit the search words 30 pages in.

        Long ago I used to do Nexus searches where there was a significant dollar cost to each run. I was very careful to combine the search terms to be sufficiently inclusive that once I had the results, I could refine the hunt locally.

        Google is still a very great gift.

  2. DERise says:

    Yahoo top 10, 3/21/11 1155 EST.

    1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change

    2. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange

    3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial

    4. climatide.wgbh.org

    5. http://www.answers.com/topic/climate-change

    6. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/climatechange

    7. topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/globalwarming

    8. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basicinfo.html

    9. climatechange.worldbank.org/climatechange

    10. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/climate-change

    Course that’s a USA search. I wouldn’t use Google to look for a shoe store. I noted a severe bias in the search results at least 5 years ago and stopped using it. Only use it for the satillite and road view maps noe.

    • KevinUK says:

      DERise,

      Thanks for you leg work on Yahoo. We just need the quartet once someone has done a similar search on AltaVista and then we’ll be able to confirm what we’ve always known, namely that all search engines ‘do evil’. Search engine ‘evil’ is all relative right? It’s whether its going or decreasing that matters and whether or not is man-caused or not that important. Just like climate change.

  3. j ferguson says:

    Re: the above. Obviously i did find it again, but by searching the bbc web site.

  4. Smokey says:

    KevinUK writes:

    “One could argue that the data needs to be ‘adjusted’ and (a)no(r)malised to allow for the fact that there are probably far more web sites on the internet that present the case ‘for’ rather than ‘against’ man-caused global warming/climate change.”

    That makes no sense. There could be a million blogs that get no traffic, and one that gets, for example, 73 million unique hits and over 560,000 comments [like WUWT]. Why should the million blogs with no traffic get a higher page ranking?

    A good comparison is WUWT versus realclimate. Realclimate consistently trails far behind WUWT in traffic, but my Google search finds realclimate – but no WUWT.

    With members of the current Administration openly on the Google payroll [along with Algore], there is no doubt why WUWT is on the Google “enemies list.” This is pure corruption. Previously, every department head appointed by every Administration put their investments into a blind trust while in office, to avoid a conflict of interest.

    But the Obama Administration not only lets its members openly use their government positions to enrich themselves through the corporate boards they sit on – they also accept pay and stock options from Google, while using Google to subvert the political process and to employ government scnctioned censorship of opposing views.

    If and when a Republican Administration and Congress takes over from the current anti-American crowd, I expect Google to be broken up into tiny little pieces, just like AT&T was. People will not forget their kissing up to China, either. And I sincerely want to see these self-serving crooks prosecuted and sent to a Federal penitentiary for their blatant corruption and subversion of the 1st Amendment. The RICO statues are sufficient for conviction.

    • KevinUK says:

      Smokey

      “That makes no sense”.

      Sorry for leaving off my sarc tags. After following one empemism for ‘bodily fluid’ take after another I thought I’d made it clear how sarcastic I was being about the science of climate change. Next time I’ll be more obvious.

      “With members of the current Administration openly on the Google payroll [along with Algore], there is no doubt why WUWT is on the Google “enemies list.” This is pure corruption. Previously, every department head appointed by every Administration put their investments into a blind trust while in office, to avoid a conflict of interest.”

      I’m sure putting all your invests in a blind trust while you are in administration makes all the difference. Hopefully Dick and Donald’s (to name but two) ‘trusts’ have had their cornea operations by now.

  5. j ferguson says:

    I’ll bite, Smokey.

    Who in the Obama regime is currently on the Google payroll? Pick the most notorious example.

    • bubbagyro says:

      Al Gore. And don’t you dare say that he is not in the administration or on the payroll! Depends what “in” means.

  6. bubbagyro says:

    I left Google a year ago, because of the preponderance of evidence. Yes, I went to Bing. It may be just the small Satan, but at least it is not the big one.

    • KevinUK says:

      bubbagyro

      You’re a high flyer? What was your compensation package like? I trust they (Google) compensated you generously for your silence? Give it a couple of years and hopefully you’ll be able to repeat the same trick with Microsoft.

  7. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Kevin, I appreciate your post and your comments on this. It is an important issue. I would like to clarify my position.

    1. I think that Google is making both an ethical and a tactical mistake by funding the scientists. It is immaterial whether it is the .org or .com doing this, no one knows the difference and it is not a legal question. It involves the ethics and the trust of any and all of Google.

    2. For me, Google funding people to take a side in a fight is like J. Edgar Hoover funding people to take a side in a fight. Perhaps J. Edgar wouldn’t do anything wrong to increase his chances of winning … but I wouldn’t bet on that, given the opportunity the temptation for wrongdoing is overwhelming.

    3. Certainly it is legal for Google to do this. However, I think it is unethical and will backfire badly for them. Consider the effect it has already had, splashing Google’s name around the web with generally bad publicity and people’s testimonials of problems, lots and lots of folks jumping ship … hardly a winning strategy to date.

    4. Google indeed knows what your midnight searches are. If you ran for office, they could let them “slip” out … along with the contents of your Gmail if you’re on it … oops. Would they do that? I don’t know, maybe not. But historically, people have not been real good at refusing to take unethical advantage of others … so I’d greatly prefer not to let them have the chance.

    5. Is Google currently slanting their results? I have no idea, but I know they screwed with the autocomplete feature for “Climategate”. The problem is one of trust. Unless people trust Google, they won’t use it. And at the moment, I don’t trust them. Why should I? Have they done anything to reassure me that they are not screwing with the results? Heck, they have never commented on it at all, as far as I know … hardly the way to keep customers.

    6. This is not a question of which side Google takes. That is immaterial. I don’t want them taking my side, I want them out of the political activist arena entirely and completely.

    7. Note that this is just the beginning. Once the 21 Fellowses come up with their brilliant plan regarding how to snow the public into believing in AGW, Google intends to fund it. So it’s not just “toss some money out for basic scientific research”. It has nothing to do with science at all. It is an active public relations plan.

    My position is simple. Google can be a trusted unbiased provider of information, the honest librarian to the world. Or it can be politically active and do all the PR it wants.

    It can’t be both. Humans aren’t made that strong. The temptation to use the secrets and skew the searches is overwhelming. So I say they need to pick, one or the other. Because if they try to be both, they will end up with neither. Folks simply won’t trust them in either arena. I mean seriously … do people think that anyone will do anything with the output of these 21 scientists except point and laugh? They’re funded by Al Gore, how much credibility will they have as Al’s lapdogs?

    That’s not a bad name for them actually, “Gore’s 21 lapdogs”. I think that’s how I’ll refer to them in future whenever any of their names comes up, it makes it clear that they are not just scientists doing science, they are also paid lackeys doing Al’s bidding. Clear naming conventions help in keeping the players straight.

    Thanks, Kevin,

    w.

    • KevinUK says:

      Willis,

      Firstly thank you for visiting DITC and for your long and detailed comment.

      As you hopefully already know (like your good self) I’m a CA ‘lifer’ and a long term supporter (and when possible contributor) to the cause. On this occasion (your open letter to Google) I think you’ve gone a little over the top – in particular in implying that Google (corporate Big G) has ‘chosen sides’. It has indeed chosen sides and does it every day. It chooses to accept the money of its advertisers and consequently chooses to rank their opinions as more ‘relevant’ than those who can’t afford to/choose not to advertise with them. What’s wrong with that? It seems Bing and Yahoo do the same.

      I think (and will hopefully show today in a new thread entitled ‘When Amy met NOAA (and JPMorgan Chase and WWF and ….) that its much more likely (Occam’s razor) in this case that Google.org’s decision to fund ’21 climate research fellows’ has been heavily influenced by an ambitious (greasy pole climbing), committed environmentalist (and UCS member) namely Amy Luers.

      Should we all be complaining about what Amy has been up to? Most definitely but primarily to Amy Luers’ management and not to Big G! Should we now all be blackballing Google? IMO No – not yet at least! Should I now be abandoning my GMail account? Not on your live – is way too useful to me (I use several email addresses with IMAP).

      And now the most important question Willis! Am I still your wing-man? Always have been and always will be.

  8. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for your reply.

    If you’re happy with a highly politicized company shading your search results, and having a record of everything you’ve searched for, and holding copies of all your email, sure, then there’s no problem with Google being in politics. I must say, however, that attitude seems rather devil-may-care regarding the dangers of that situation.

    But if that’s the case, then heck, let’s get the FBI into politics too. Why shouldn’t they be able to influence political and controversial actions? After all, they’re a part of the government just like Congress, they should have the same rights. Let’s have an FBI political action committee, what could possibly go wrong with that? Surely the FBI would never, ever use their secrets and power to do harm …

    Some of us, however, are not nearly as sanguine as you are.

    w.

  9. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Oh, yeah, Kevin, I forgot, you are wing-man extraordinaire …

    w.

  10. KevinUK says:

    Willis,

    Thanks for dropping back again and posting a further comment.

    I’ve been way too busy today to write the new thread I mentioned in my last comment so on the off chance that you’ll be coming back again soon I have some questions for you.

    Have you Googled ‘Amy Luers’? Here is an interesting link straight-off of her ‘short bio’.

    http://www.joss.ucar.edu/cwg/jun08/bios/luers.html

    “Amy Luers is program manager of environment and vulnerability mapping for Google.org’s Predict and Prevent Emerging Threats Initiative. Prior to joining Google.org, Amy managed the Climate Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists California’s office and spent 10 years working on international development and global change in Latin America. She is co-founder and former executive director of a small NGO dedicated to supporting rural water supply in Latin America. Her research and publications have focused on issues of vulnerability and adaptive capacity to global environmental changes and on climate policy. Amy holds a Ph.D. in environmental science and an M.A. in international policy studies, both from Stanford University, and a M.S. and B.S. in environmental resources engineering from Humboldt State University. ”

    Notice my bold (and see later). Even better, here is the web page from where this bio link comes from.

    http://www.joss.ucar.edu/cwg/jun08/bios/

    Quite a list of who’s who in the CAGW world including such notables as Kevin “It’s a Travesty…” Trenberth, Judith “Road to Damascus” Curry, WWF’s Richard “Sponsor a leopard and help save the Amazon” Moss, Climate Central’s Heidi “Dis-bar all skeptical meteorologists” Cullen, to name a few and a postive ‘bouquet’ of NOAA Directors/Department heads’ of which “Uncle” Tom Karl is but one (of the less important ones)!

    The full list of the participants in this Climate Change ‘love fest’ retreat can be seen in the following link (http://www.joss.ucar.edu/cwg/jun08/P_List_20June.pdf)

    Now what on earth are these people all doing in Veil, Colorado? Well they are ‘reviewing’ NOAA’s ‘Draft Strategic Plan for a National Climate Service’ back in June 2008. Many of them are NOAA staff and members of this Climate Working Group (CWG), but why on earth have Amy Luers, Heidi Cullen, Marc Levinson and Chris West of UK CIG been invited? Well to present and discuss their ideas on ‘Framing Emerging Demands’ of course! You can see their presentations by clicking on the link on the following link (http://www.joss.ucar.edu/cwg/jun08/presentations.html).

    Hmmm! So here we have bonefide (arguably somewhat disturbing?) evidence of several ardent CAGW advocates and pretty much all the NOAA senior management being involved at the same meeting as the “Program Manager of Environment and Vulnerability Mapping for Google.org’s Predict and Prevent Emerging Threats Initiative”. She’s also a Stanford Ph.D alumini in environmental science and how many of those Google.org ‘climate research fellows’ are from Stanford University? Here is the list again so you can check.

    http://blog.google.org/2011/02/making-sense-of-science-introducing.html

    Don’t you love Google? I do! Come on Willis you do too really, don’t you? You are just in denial? And one last throwaway comment while I’m still on CWG. Jonathan “I never said ‘We must get rid of the MWP'” Overpeck is also a member of this same CWG.

    Another question Willis? Do you know who Eric Barron is (http://www.joss.ucar.edu/cwg/jun08/bios/barron.html)?

    “Barron went to Pennsylvania State University (PSU) in 1986 to direct the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ newly formed Earth System Science Center (ESSC). In 1989, he was promoted to professor of Geosciences. Under Barron’s leadership, the growth of ESSC resulted in the establishment of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Environment Institute, which included ESSC and a group of other research centers. Barron became the Director of this new Institute in 1998. He earned the title of distinguished professor in 1999. In 2002, he was named Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. ”

    Lastly a general climate change knowledge quiz question to a fellow CA ‘lifer’ Willis? Who is the current Director of PSU ESSC (founded by Eric Barron). Here is a clue (http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~mann/Mann/index.html). Could PSC ESSU’s latest director be the next Eric Barron? Could this be a case of the student following in the footsteps of his mentor/master? Does Eric baby sit? For those non-CA ‘lifers’ wondering aboutthe relevance of that last question, it’s a insider joke. I’ll leave it to Willis to explain why I asked it.

  11. Pingback: When Amy met NOAA (and JPMorgan Chase and WWF and …) | Digging in the Clay

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