Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't be evil

Here's an interesting story - How Google is helping the gas lobby support fracking. Imagine you are a scientist at a respected institution working on the impacts of global climate change, and interaction of energy systems and the environment.

Every time someone does a Google search on your name your website is the number one hit, not surprising and well done Google. But appearing above it in the links, and looking like the number one search term is an ad from an industry group that links to their own page attacking you.

That's exactly what has happened to Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell because the industry group America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) did not like the conclusions of his paper Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Instead of taking him on in the scientific literature though they have bought adwords from Google so that their ads always appear when his name is Googled.

Doesn't sound like a big deal? Well consider these points from the Tuthout article

Many younger scientists, Howarth said, have expressed trepidation at researching the fracking issue for fear of a rebuttal from the industry. "That is incredibly damaging in the long run."

He also has noticed an impact on media coverage of the issue. "Any reporter who wants to interview me will see the ANGA ad. As a result, their questions tend to focus on having me respond to the criticisms, rather than objectively present our research," he said. "It turns our research into a 'he said-he said' framework, where everything is controversial and questioned … even basic facts become controversial because of the ad. Our research is diminished, the public is misled."

My prediction is that we'll see a lot more of this type of thing in the future. Let's face it, it has worked very well for the anti-climate change lobby so far...

Oh, and in case you don't know, Don't be Evil was the unofficial Google Motto. Moving ads above the search results makes them more prominent but it also makes them more likely to be confused with the actual search results.

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