Tuesday, September 19, 2017

American Inventors

There is sudden irritation, perhaps even outrage at Google because the search term "American Inventors*" shows mostly black inventors, which people are interpreting as propaganda on the part of that search engine. I think that is unlikely.

First, I think Google is capable of skewing the results of things, but they are more clever than that.  They aren't going to do obvious stuff.

Secondly, Bing and Duckduckgo return similar results, perhaps not so bad. It is therefore unlikely that any of them are intentionally skewing the results. What is likely happening is that people do not often search for "American Inventors" as a category, they search for an individual inventor. But people do search for "Black American Inventors," as they are looking for these lists for school papers, self-esteem based programs, whatever. Except for George Washington Carver, those names are not going to come to mind very quickly, unlike Thomas Edison, or Alexander Graham Bell. Those search results will be included the general pile of "American inventors" because the algorithm will see them as a near relative. It's not a put-up job by Google or the others, it is a natural result from a data base where there actually aren't that many black inventors, but people want to find some.

Caveat: As the job of the Assistant Village Idiot is to notice the obvious when everyone else is making things too complicated, I am treading into territory that is not my assigned task.  Adjust your estimate of my credibility on this accordingly. 

*There's something about screwy results for "white couple" and some similar things, but I haven't checked that out and didn't do any of those searches. I'm guessing something similar is occurring.


Christopher B said...

This is kind of in my wheelhouse, and what you're saying makes sense with a large caveat. As you said, Google has been know to jigger with search results in the past, for commercial and non-commercial reasons. While they can't test every possible search, I would expect searches including American but not black would be checked for return of a representative list. I doubt they are unaware that their algorithms produce these kinds of results. This is at least an indication that they consider the list to be acceptable and see no need to modify the algorithm to produce a more ethnically diverse list.

As for the 'white couple' anomalies you are probably right. I would suspect that 'white' is seldom used as an ethnic tag for several reasons but mostly because Caucasians are still the most numerous ethnicity in the US, and it doesn't occur to people to add what is essentially a default setting to a description, making the addition of 'white' ineffective as a search filter. However, that doesn't preclude the possibility that Google's search algorithms are ignoring the use of 'white' as a filter in some cases.

Unknown said...

. . . And remember to open an incognito window or use a seldom-used browser-program for such searches - it is often interesting to compare the results you get when Google knows your previous search history to when they don't.

When someone's facebook post of an article triggers my BS detector, I will often find that the article is not original reporting but merely a restatement of someone else's article that they link. I click through to that, and find that it is not original reporting but merely a restatement of someone else's article that they link. I click through to that, and find that it is not original reporting but merely a restatement of someone else's article that they link. I click through to that, and find that it is not original reporting. . .

When I break down and do a web-search, the top two pages of results are nearly always restatements of the same source, typically an activist newsletter. Original reporting from traditional press or parties on the other "side" of the controversy are buried on the 3rd page or worse.

The political right in my observation tends to have an instapunditian sentence or single paragraph saying "go read this article by Smith on the subject of X where he finds that. . . " rather than a new complete article that buries in the 3rd paragraph the fact that it is merely a restatement of someone else's article. It may append "Hat tip to Y for bringing it to my attention"

I can't help but think based upon observation that the former method, which I find dishonest and frustrating to my efforts to glean the truth of a matter, must tickle the Google ranking algorithm in a way that pleases it much more than the letter. This could be Googlers advising the activists for causes they cherish how to "optimize" for search ranking using methods that are not revealed to their opponents, it could be the activists just paying lots more attention to SEO techniques that everyone knows, or it could be happenstance that the righty culture of linking to the original source is bad SEO. Or it could be that Google is intentionally suppressing opinions that are not left of center, but to me Occam's razor suggests not.

Unknown said...

Blast: "Latter" rather than letter.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Unknown - stay tuned for Oct 1, when I review a book that talks about this extensively.

Roy Lofquist said...

"american inventors -black" gives entirely different results than "american inventors".