For years, Wikipedia has been a prime source of misinformation (or perhaps disinformation) about natural health. Now we worry about what Google is up to. Action Alert!
Our reading of Wikipedia coverage of natural health is that at some point it was captured by interests very hostile to it, as we discussed in depth five years ago. The result is material about integrative doctors and therapies that strikes us not only as highly inaccurate but in some cases libelous. Much of this commentary presents itself as “science.” But as is often the case, people adopting a thoroughly unscientific attitude of mockery and dismissal may try to cloak themselves with the respectability of real scientists.
Wikipedia seems to us to be already a major source of misinformation in our field. Could Google be heading in the same direction? Currently, Google’s search engine uses the number of incoming links to a page to determine where it appears in a search. Now, the company is working on a new ranking system based on “truthfulness.” A site with more “incorrect” facts would rank lower than a site that is deemed more credible or trustworthy.
This could be quite dangerous. Who at Google decides what is true? Google bias could affect all kinds of issues—from GMO labeling, and integrative approaches to medicine and supplement use, to any stance that challenges mainstream orthodoxies, even when the challenge is thoroughly grounded in the most recent or the most solid science.
The software works by tapping into the Knowledge Vault, a database of “facts” that Google has pulled off the Internet. Apparently, if a significant majority of Internet sites agree on a statement, it is considered a reasonable proxy for the truth. Pages that contain contradictory information are bumped down the rankings—which means that anything “alternative” will, by definition, be ranked lower.
Google’s ranking system is its own business, but it currently enjoys a virtual monopoly in the field, and needs to stick to a system that is transparently objective. Otherwise, searchers should beware of the gatekeepers who make behind-the-scenes decisions about what information we have access to. New strategies and methods for searching the web would be needed if Google becomes a source of misinformation in our field the way Wikipedia already is.
Action Alert! Write to Google and explain how its Knowledge Vault will inadvertently censor research and approaches that are at variance with the mainstream, even if it is supported by the most recent or the most solid science—anything new or challenging will be automatically ranked lower. Please send your message today!