Google vision

Unless you’ve spent the last couple of years on the moon, you know that Google is now the world’s most important research tool. Students use it to research their papers, jilted lovers use it to stalk their exes — and journalists use it for just about everything.

That latter class may be a bit of problem, if you believe Lionel Beeher. He wrote a hilarious rant on the MediaBistro site pointing out that journalists have begun to cite Google results as evidence of a subject’s importance. The more hits something comes up with, the more culturally significant it must be, right? Beeher cites hilarious examples of this journalistic logic:

Take the February 2 issue of The New Yorker, for example, which features not just one but two examples of reportorial Googling to gauge a story subject’s popularity. First, TV critic Nancy Franklin cites Google in her article “L.A. Love” for, of all things, comparing the relative popularity of naked men and women. “A Google search for ‘naked men’,” she writes, “yields about six hundred thousand results; ‘naked women’ yields more than a million.” Ergo, the female body must be more desirous than the male’s. Case closed. Why? Well, because Google said so.

Franklin’s colleague Michael Specter couldn’t disagree. After all, he relies on a similar gambit in his story “Miracle in a Bottle” to gauge the popularity of the diet drug Zantrex. “If you type ‘Zantrex’ into Google,” he writes, “more than a hundred thousand citations will appear.” Though he preceded the sentence with evidence and statistics of the drug’s increased use, Specter seemed worried that in this dot-com age, Internet-savvy readers would be left unconvinced without hard search-engine evidence. Scientific studies as proof? Eh. Web searches? Now you’ve convinced me.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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