Google Cliche

I’m glad someone has taken Magnus Linklater to task over his cavallier use of Google:

Sir, Magnus Linklater quotes 1.5 million Google entries matching “I hate Gordon Brown”. But to reach this number of hits requires the words to be entered without the quotation marks. When you add them Gordon attracts only 143 entries. It may be some comfort to the Prime Minister that “I hate Tony Blair” retrieves 836 and “I hate Thatcher” 525. They all pale into insignificance against the 22,900 for “I hate George Bush”.
Cyril Berkeley
Kuala Lumpur

As I have said before, typing something into Google and reporting how many hits it receives is not evidence of everything. I repeat, let us do away with this cliche, please.

6 thoughts on “Google Cliche

  1. Well, I’m not sure this is strictly true. It tells you plenty, it just doesn’t tell you what a lot of people say or imply that it tells you. As this post points out, you just have to take into account various features of the search, and contrast the results within some sort of context to make them meaningful. If you do that, where’s the problem? To say this cliche tells you nothing makes me think of the words “baby” and “bathwater”.

    It’s akin to saying null hypothesis significance testing should be done away with on the grounds that it is so often misapplied or misinterpreted.

    Or, as Nelson Goodman said (1977) that similarity doesn’t explain representation. It may not be sufficient, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary.

  2. I think this is the problem of trying to apply quantiative measurement to qualitative information.

    When I was an undergrad google (scholar) hits were taken as an indication of which areas of research are the most active. It is obviously a crude indicator, but was, at least in that context , consistent with other data.

    How good it is at measuring the more qualititative aspects of the zeitgeist is questionable.

    I still hate Gordon Brown though, if that helps.

  3. Well I love Gordon Brown, and that brings up 329 results with quotation marks. Still, I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on him winning the next general election. Market research can be so misleading…

    A x

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