• Tue. Jun 14th, 2022

The Omniscient Search Engine Is Flawed – The Oracle

ByVirginia D. Bannon

Mar 30, 2022

While search engines are more powerful than ever, they are still susceptible to bias.

Hi all.

I’m Leo, the guy who creates the puzzle page every week. I don’t like to talk or share my opinions, but I feel we need to talk about a very big issue. In our March 2 issue, I had done a word search titled “Influential Scientists You’ve Never Heard Of,” highlighting self-identifying female scientists. Googling “unknown women scientists” I noticed that the top ten results showed a total of 108 women, but only 13 of the people listed were women of color. Four of the 13 were the same person.

But wait, how could Google, which has 85.55% market share in the search engine market, let such a thing happen? Well, when Google recommends a website to you, it mainly looks at two things: HTTPS (that thing that starts almost every URL) and keywords. I won’t go into too much detail about HTTPS, but it’s basically proof of connection security. Keywords are when you search for words like “dream” and get a Minecraft YouTuber or websites about what your dreams may mean. Everything that appears for each keyword depends on what other people who searched for the same word clicked on. The more clicks a URL gets, the higher it goes up the Google results page.

The point of explaining how Google works is to make it easier to understand how implicit bias affects your search results. If there is a large enough group of like-minded people, it can drastically change what you see from Google. In my case, most people searching for “unknown women scientists” clicked on articles featuring white women, perhaps without realizing there was a bias.

It’s important to be aware of your sources and watch for biases to get unbiased information. Google is not designed to detect bias for you, and you cannot rely on it as an unbiased tool. I ask you to please keep in mind that just because something is the top result on Google or is a household name, does not mean that it can include unconscious bias in posts. Bias is inevitable no matter what search engine you use, and being able to spot it is an important skill to have.