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Google is apparently a creationist organization, and thinks dinosaurs are used to indoctrinate children into believing that earth is millions of years old.

No, they didn’t put out a statement saying so. But if you Googled the term “What happened to the dinosaurs?” earlier today, you’d have seen some “information” from Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis that contradicts the overwhelming scientific consensus.

The Quick Answers Box is one of the core parts of Google and a tool you can’t live without A Guide to Google Tools - Tips & Tricks You Can't Live Without A Guide to Google Tools - Tips & Tricks You Can't Live Without In this comprehensive guide, you'll find tips, tricks and hacks that'll help you make better use of Google services you already use. Whether novice or an expert, you'll easily increase your productivity. Read More . So it’s important for this information to not only be accurate, but scientifically accurate. And yet…

It Started With a Tweet

Twitter user Sharon Hill was the first to notice this and immediately called Google out:

The search result is taking its data from Ham, who calls himself a creationist. In his arguments, he uses the Bible as context to claim that God created the dinosaurs and they lived at the same time as man. In fact, he doesn’t even cede that dinosaurs are extinct, as he says, “One cannot prove an organism is extinct without having knowledge of every part of the earth’s surface simultaneously. It certainly would be no embarrassment to a creationist if someone discovered a dinosaur living in a jungle. However, this should embarrass evolutionists.”

Ads by Google

We’ll let that quote speak for itself. Google, though, has some explaining to do. By backing Ham’s claim in its Quick Answers box, Google is propagating creationism to millions of users. The Internet has already done its part in spreading common myths that are actually false 4 Common Myths You'll Be Surprised to Know Are False 4 Common Myths You'll Be Surprised to Know Are False Throughout human history, rumors and stories started and spread like wildfire. The Internet has only magnified this strange phenomenon. Read More . There’s only one problem here. Ask Google what it thinks of creationism…

Google-creationism

And then ask Google what it thinks about evolution.

Google-what-happened-to-the-dinosaurs-evolution

Even though the first link in the results is a debate about evolution’s scientific veracity, the Answers Box clearly calls it a scientific theory. In both cases, and algorithm – not a human working for Google – posted the excerpt.

So What Happened, Google?

Google has not released finer details of how it gathers data about its Answers Box, but enough details are available for a fair idea of how it works. In fact, we have taken an in-depth look at Google’s Knowledge Graph An In-Depth Look At Google's New Knowledge Graph An In-Depth Look At Google's New Knowledge Graph Read More , and found that while it isn’t always accurate, it usually gets the job.

The Answers Box isn’t a manually curated selection of the best response for any query. Google is still using algorithms to figure out the best possible answer, and with the dinosaur query, that’s probably what happened. In fact, a few people responded to Sharon Hill saying just that:

The Answers Box is supposed to be an exercise in semantic search. By that, Google means it tries to understand what you are saying, as a human, and deliver the right information. However, in this instance, Google is failing at its semantic understanding. This becomes even more clear when the same question, when framed in a different way, draws a different answer:

Google-what-killed-the-dinosaurs

The use of the word “killed” instead of “happened to” makes Google give you a scientific answer, although both questions are essentially asking the same thing. Not that Ham would agree, since he thinks dinosaurs aren’t definitively dead.

Trust and Google

Google-dinosaurs-trust

There is no Answer Box when you ask Google, “Should I trust Google?” However, Google search results do influence how adults perceive information, according to a recent study by the University of Washington. While the study specifically looked at adults, it does seems to indicate that children would be just as easily, if not more, influenced.

“I’m not sure what impact this would have on kids who grow up using Google,” study co-author Sean Munson told Deseret News. “But people should question how much they want to rely on these tools for knowledge.”

The accuracy of Google’s Answers Box becomes more important when taking into account the findings of The Google Generation, one of the most-cited studies on the effect of the Internet in the younger generation. Information Week summarizes a key point of the report:

Young people also have difficulty in developing an effective search strategy. As a result, they have a strong preference for using natural language in searching, rather than analyzing which keywords might be more effective.

As we have noted above, the use of the word “killed” drew a different answer from the phrase “happened to”. “Happened to” is just as strong an example of natural language, if not stronger than “killed”.

This isn’t the first time that the Answers Box has come under fire. Search Engine Land has chronicled some weird issues with the Answers Box, such as the query “What is a virtual office” giving the answer to a private firm which provides virtual office solutions. And Small Business Trends recently alleged that the Google Answer Box can seemingly be bought by companies, who want to advertise their products, but it doesn’t come with a “Sponsored” tag or any other indication that it’s a commercially sold link or space.

How You Can Help Change Google’s Mind

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, cognitive psychologist and marketing analyst at Moz, has written extensively on the subject of Google’s Answers Box and the Knowledge Graph. He found that Google does update its Answers Box from time to time, either scraping updated data from the same link or using a new link altogether.

Google-what-happened-to-the-dinosaurs-feedback

While we were writing this story Google took down the dinosaur box mentioned, but if you see a similar problem you can give Google feedback. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Google.com
  2. Search for whatever brings up the incorrect Knowledge Box (eg., “what happened to the dinosaurs”, without the quotation marks)
  3. Under the Answers box, click the “Feedback” button
  4. Tell Google whether its answer is Incorrect or Not Useful, and state your reason.

If enough people write in to Google and ask it to change its mind, it should hopefully pressure the company into taking action. After all:

Google-dont-be-evil

Do You Trust Google Search?

This entire episode raises an important question. How much do you trust Google’s search results? How accurate do you usually find them? Let’s talk this all through in the comments below.

Image credits: HebiPics / Pixabay, tinabel / MorgueFile

  1. Philip Bates
    May 29, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I'm pretty shocked about the negativity here, because I think Mihir has done a fantastic job explaining the Google Answers box (and what that means to, for instance, students) but grounding the piece in something that's been in the news recently. This was very clever. I'm sure this article got more views because it was examining something that's trending over an article called "How Google Answers Works" or whatever. Oh, and for what it's worth, I'm a Christian, and am not at all offended by this. Google should rely on science, at least to my mind. Religion, like it or not, is speculative and hopeful. Granted, a lot of science is speculative too, but this example is based on more evidence.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks Philip :) I appreciate that!

  2. Frank McCauley
    May 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Dinosaurs were never mentioned in the bible. There is zero evidence of creation. There is a preponderance of evidence for evolution. As the old saying goes... Prove me wrong.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 1, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks, Frank. While I'm on your side, I'd like to keep this discussion to the merits of Google Answers Box, if you don't mind :) I do appreciate you weighing in though!

  3. Francis Fish
    May 28, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Please stop with the "evolution is only a theory and has no more been scientifically proved that creationism" lie. Just stop - everything in science is a theory and is replaced when evidence shows that the existing theory needs more work - our current understanding of Evolution has 150 years of refinement and new evidence that still support it from thousands of working scientists behind it. Creationism implies a creator, a designer, and can't be tested, therefore calling it a theory is doing the very concept of testable, scientific approach a disservice. Believe what you like, but don't call it science or put it on the same footing. Gravity is also a theory on the same basis as evolution.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      Thanks, Francis. You're right, the concept of "scientific theory" vs "theory" is crucial to this debate. However, while I'm on your side, I'd like to keep this discussion to the merits of Google Answers Box, if you don't mind :) I do appreciate you weighing in though!

    • Francis Fish
      June 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      For sure Mihir. I was responding to some of the other comments here. It's interesting to see how an algorithm that's designed to please people rather than get to a scientific truth has gone in this direction. I think there's another problem too, which is less off topic. The other thing these algorithms do is remove surprise and create a kind of group think. Given that your presence on the net is has been hit with a blizzard of retargeting cookies it's quite likely that a hard-line fundamentalist will still see stuff that doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny and get the impression that there isn't much evidence contrary to their view. I also find myself wondering if the retargeting cookies affect the results in the answers box - showing the things it thinks you would like rather than the things that are held to be true.

  4. David Strube
    May 28, 2015 at 6:24 am

    I'm reminded of this observation I made about a year and a half ago: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DavidStrube/posts/Cs8WWgWmhzA And, oh look (as of right now), it's still broken: https://www.google.com/search?q=abide

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 29, 2015 at 9:48 am

      The link isn't working, David, could you try linking again to your post please? I'd love to read it :)

  5. its.michael.myers
    May 27, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Hello Mihir, As I didn't just show up to troll, I'll try to make this as polite as possible. You opened your post saying that Google needs to be accurate, and in so doing it's difficult to take it as anything but an attack on the idea of Creationism, and perhaps even challenging the idea that the Bible mentions the existence of Dinosaurs. Since Evolution is a theory, and has no more been scientifically proven than Creationism, making any claims of inaccuracy makes no sense. I'm not standing up for either one in this response, but as much as you are defending the idea that you're only trying to prove that Google was bringing up incorrect responses, you are in turn stating an opinion about Creationism. Whether or not the article is 100% factual, Google brings up Wikipedia as well and a large portion of Wikipedia entries are not 100% factual. Yes, the Bible mentions dinosaurs, no they weren't alive when human beings were, but opinions are just as much a part of research as facts. Do I trust Google? Yes. Why? Because asking that question is as logical as asking if I trust the freeway. It may not be going where I want to go, but it offers thousands of options for me to turn off wherever I want. I echo another poster's question. Whatever happened to the MakeUseOf that posts about the use of tips, tricks, technology, software, etc.? What is the relevance of this article on MakeUseOf other than showing people how to complain that Google brought up information you didn't agree with? I am still a fan of this site, and again this post is not meant to troll or insult, but as this one has received more responses than any of the others I've recently read here, you have to wonder what you're true purpose is.

    • Mihir Patkar
      June 1, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks Michael, I really appreciate the tone with which you responded. It's readers like you that make it a pleasure to engage in discussions after writing the article :) "Since Evolution is a theory, and has no more been scientifically proven than Creationism, making any claims of inaccuracy makes no sense." -- This is the central point where your argument doesn't hold up. Evolution has been more scientifically proven than Creationism, which is why it is accorded the status of "scientific theory" and not just "theory". Here's one explanation of "Scientific Theory" vs. "Theory": http://oregonstate.edu/instruction/bb317/scientifictheories.html Here's another slightly more detailed explanation: http://thinking-critically.com/2010/07/08/theory-scientific-vs-laymans-definition/ The "Theory Of Evolution" uses the word in the scientific sense, that is, it is "scientific theory". That's the main distinguishing point here. Hence, I argued against Google's representation of a creationist answer, which is not science nor scientific theory. The purpose of the article was to also represent how much Google influences readers, with the use of past studies. As a parent or an educator, this is important information to have. I'm not saying "people are going to take Google for its word all the time", however, knowing what a student might read on Google can help in better education, among other things. It also draws into focus the issue of how much you can rely on the Google Answers Box in particular. The purpose of the Answers Box is to be a quick answer for someone; if that answer can't be trusted, it loses the purpose of the Answers Box. I believe these are all things that the MakeUseOf reader is interested in. Google is a huge part of how we use the Internet every day of our lives. When it doesn't give the most scientifically accepted data possible for a question, it matters.

  6. David Stark
    May 27, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Google's answer relied on a common misinterpretation of the Genesis account, specifically the creation of the world in "six days." It also misses the point, as do many participants on both sides of the evolution-vs-creation debate, that the Bible itself gives NO age for the Earth or the Universe. Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." There is nothing in the Bible that can be used to nail down how far back "the beginning" was. We only know how long God spent to prepare the Earth for human habitation and how long we've been here.

  7. Alex “KingOGreen2.0” Downs
    May 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Why does it matter? We know what happened ot the dinosaurs. They were rude so Lord Beerus wiped them all out.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      I had to look up who Lord Beerus is and Google Answers didn't have a summary for me :( :( :(

    • Alex “KingOGreen2.0” Downs
      May 27, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      He's the antagonist from Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods. He explicitly said he'd been to Earth once before and wiped out the Dinosaurs.

  8. Howard A Pearce
    May 27, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    What we don't need is some authority or Make Use Of determining for others how to think or interpret things, or search for things. Opinions, yes but they stop there " By backing Ham’s claim in its Quick Answers box, Google is propagating creationism to millions of users." Backing his claim and propagating creationism ? Is that any answer/result that might point to a result that is not satisfactory to Make Use Of ? Now they are attributing to google goals and motives for their search engine. Which one is the real nut ?

  9. hildyblog
    May 27, 2015 at 2:04 am

    First, now that this is news, you no longer get the Answer Box for evolution but you still get fundamentalist answers for such questions as "is the earth 6000 years old?" or "does god exist?" As far as why this has a place on MUO, if Google's algorithms are resulting in incorrect answers, Google should be taken to task. Presenting multiple sites with differing opinions is good. Designating one site as the correct "answer", especially when the "answer" has been shown by science, the courts, and common sense to be wrong - not debatable, just wrong - is doing evil.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:36 am

      Thanks Hildy, couldn't have put it better myself :)

  10. Ken Goode
    May 27, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Has anyone out there heard of a christian scientist? You can believe in creationism and still dig into the science part of it. ALL of this dinosaur stuff is theory anyway. We have bones, eggs, a partial mammoth, and such. But, we make educated guesses about all this. But, I get tired of every time there is a mention of God, then everyone jumps on the anti-religion kick. Scientists cannot prove there isn't a creator, or there is one. That part is not science. The earth and all that is and was IS science. So, let us enjoy the creations, and study them. And if all this is theory, and the bulk of people are supposed to be open-minded, then why do they get hostile when we mention God. If He is a theory on equal ground with Darwinism, then why don't the intellectuals get equally pissed about Darwin. I believe in God, and have always commended our scientist's work my whole life. There is so much to enjoy out there. Believing in God doesn't take away from any science. Grow up about things, people.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

      No one is suggesting believing in God takes away from science. However, the creationist response to evolution isn't science. Dismissing all dinosaur stuff as "theory anyway" fails to account for the difference between a scientific theory and an unscientific theory. The term "theory" isn't used in science the same way you and I would use it in regular speech. The reason evolution is granted the status of a "scientific theory" is because it is based on tested hypotheses, which are drawn from existing data, facts and inference thereof.

    • Justin Pot
      May 27, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      If you think God created the world, and that God wouldn't lie to us, you have to take science seriously – it's the process of examining and discovering God's world. People, including many people of faith, are working hard to develop these theories, and the evidence shows that the world is very, very old and that evolution is the process by which life arose. If this isn't the case, then God worked very hard to make it appear as though this is the case – which means he's a liar. I refuse to believe that a loving God would deceive us on such a fundamental level, so as a Christian I have to accept what many scientists (including my wife, also a Christian) are telling me. Please don't confuse creationism with religion. There are many religious people who accept the evolutionary theory. This isn't a question of evolution versus God, this is a question of how Christians contemplate what God's world is showing us.

    • Alan J. Meunier
      May 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      You are mis-using the term "Theory". Scientific "theory" is actually verifiable fact. This is why they are considering changing the term "theory" to something else because too many people automatically assume it means "just an idea" when relating to science it does NO such thing!

  11. Chris Rivera
    May 27, 2015 at 12:31 am

    I've been noticing this site has been more and more inclined lately to make sociopolitical statements, which really seems to eat away at the whole purpose of making use of anything. Now, I'm not against people having political views, and read plenty of blogs and websites concerning politics. But when I come here, I am hoping to simply find useful information regarding tech and our daily lives outside of the partisan issues. The amount of feeds I subscribe to always seems a bit bloated, so I'd say on this that now is a good time for me to remove this site from it, as it clearly does not serve its stated purpose anymore. For the sake of everyone else who will still frequent this site, I hope this changes in the future.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Thanks Chris, we will take that feedback on board. This wasn't a sociopolitical statement though. This article was about the Google Answer Box, how it works, and why it matters that it delivers information which is based on facts. I hope it came across as that, rather than a witch-hunt.

    • Howard A Pearce
      May 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      I'm afraid it came across to me as someone who wants the results and facts presented to them to be "politically correct". This to me is shown by the really ignorant attempt to attribute goals and motives to Google or their search engine for the results that don't satisfy the intellectually elite at Make Use Of.

  12. Read and Share
    May 27, 2015 at 12:22 am

    I don't really buy Creationism. But I think it is idiotic for Patkar to pick a fight here on MUO. What next? Anti-abortion results from Google Search that he also doesn't like?? I really hope MUO doesn't become a cesspool for these sorts of never-ending debates. Please set your soapbox somewhere else!

    • hildyblog
      May 27, 2015 at 2:14 am

      The point is not the results, it's the Answer Box. Anti-abortion is a good example - if you Google ask Google if a fetus is a person or if abortion is murder, the Answer Box says no in both cases.

    • Read and Share
      May 27, 2015 at 2:30 am

      My point isn't about Google at all. My point is that MUO isn't the place to debate stuff like this. Read Ken Goode's response up above. Not agreeing or disagreeing with him -- but I did not come to MUO to read discussions on whether or how Science should coexist with Relgion -- and back and forth and back and forth -- which is what articles like this inevitably lead to.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:45 am

      It's not about creationism, it's about the Google Answers Box. This isn't the first time that the Answers Box has been controversial, it's just that it's the latest instance. Like you, I'm not interested in debating creationism vs. evolution. What I am interested in is how trustworthy Google's Answers are, and how much people are willing to take Google at its word, which is the question put forth for the discussion here.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Hildy nails what I wanted to say, R&S. Sorry if it didn't come across as that to you, but the intention wasn't a debate about creationism, it was about Google.

  13. Phid ippides
    May 27, 2015 at 12:10 am

    The big issue isn't really whether there's a danger in something like creationist views being broadcast on Google, since kids will find evolutionism reading widespread in other scientific texts. The real issue is if certain socio-political views are broadcast by Google as fact. I'm thinking of issues in particular where there's open debate about the facts. It certainly benefits one side politically to push its version as "factual". As much as certain people want to feel "outraged" over a creationist version of events, it's not really an issue that many people debate over these days.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 8:49 am

      I agree, Phidippidies, the issue here is socio-political views. Whether creationism vs. evolution is a part of that or not, well, enough people were outraged about it across the internet for me to feel it warranted an article.

  14. Samuel P
    May 26, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    While I am not deeming one side or another correct (although I may if MakeUseOf publishes such an article), I would like to question the need to publish an article based upon an answer that may or may not be correct, that was generated by a search algorithm, to be offensive or inappropriate. This us not a question of the scientific validity of either sides, but rather of one that has more to do with the society and how it can deem such a knowledge box offensive. If l, however, I was completely and totally wrong and there was absolutely every right to be offended, should creationists not have the same stance, and claim that every knowledge box that contained an evolutionary viewpoint be offensive and ridiculous? Creationism and evolutionism are both simply opinions that have much weight to them, but to deem every comment and result, even when generated by a search engine, to be insulting, offensive, and inappropriate is simply no argument.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 27, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Thanks for commenting, Samuel, this is exactly the discussion I would prefer having :) "What should the Google Answers Box have?" is the question here

      I thought this article was worth writing about because the Answers Box should, ideally, represent fact or science, unless you are asking it a purely theological question. Case in point, if the question here was "What happened to the dinosaurs according to the Bible?" and Google gave the above response in its Answers Box, I would clap enthusiastically for Google being smart enough to understand the question. It's not only taking the question, it's taking the context as well.

      However, as it currently stands, Google is giving an answer which isn't rooted in science. The purpose of this article was to argue that increasingly, students rely more on the internet to find out information, and the way the information is presented as well as where it is presented has a direct impact on how readily they believe it. The content of a Google Answers Box matters, almost as much as what is taught in schools, is my point. If there is to be a debate about teaching Creationism in schools, then there should be a debate about Google Answers Box containing creationist ideas as well. It matters, it's not a small thing.

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