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Not-so-subtle Influences – Search Engine Bias

By:
Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Nov 28, 2017  at  at 6:04 AM
Category
Climate Change

Google and other search engines are our modern-day paths to knowledge on an extremely broad range of subjects. However, at least on the topic of climate science and climate scientists, they are a not-so-subtly guided path toward information consistent with the current climate consensus.

Searches for information on Dr. Roy Spencer, Dr. Judith Curry, Dr. Richard Lindzen, Dr. John Christy and Dr. David Legates all begin with links to their individual websites, followed by a link to a Wikipedia page. However, these are immediately followed by one or two links to websites such as skepticalscience.com, desmogblog.com, thinkprogress.org and facingsouth.org., typically referring to them as climate “deniers” or climate “misinformers”, or linking them to conservative or industry funding sources.

Searches for information on Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Dr. Michael Mann, Dr. Kevin Trenberth and other members of the consensed climate science community follow a similar pattern initially, but contain no links to opposition websites. Rather, they typically contain links to recent studies they have completed or recent public comments they have made.

The companies which operate search engines use several criteria to determine the material to which they provide links; and, the order in which those links appear. The consistent “first list” provision of links to opposition websites in response to searches for information regarding skeptical climate scientists and the complete absence of such links in the case of searches for information on members of the consensed climate science community suggests several possible explanations:

  • the operator of the search engine prefers or supports one position over another;
  • the early-listed website owners somehow influence their positioning in the lists; or,
  • there are no opposition websites taking positions against the climate consensus and the members of the consensed climate science community.

Regardless, the effect is to include negative references to the scientists or their work prior to providing links to their work or to positions they take regarding climate issues. This makes finding links to their work more difficult, while not-so-subtly suggesting that their work might be of poor quality, or of little value, or inaccurate.

Similarly, searches for recent climate change research typically return very few links to skeptical research and skeptical scientists. Much of this is the result of the massive disparity between the funding levels for research supporting the global and national government climate consensus and the funding levels available for skeptical research. The first lists provided by such searches typically contain multiple links to NASA and EPA webpages and references to government-funded research.

Searches for skeptical climate change research typically contain multiple links to sites critical of the skeptical position; and, few if any links to actual skeptical research results.

Success in finding skeptical research results and commentary essentially requires that you know where to look for such information, since the most used search engines will not make the search easy or very productive. Even searches for skeptical climate change websites return first lists containing links to opposition websites, including skepticalscience.com and the Union of Concerned Scientists.