Health Search Engine Blocks 'Abortion' As A Search Term In Order To Keep Federal Funding

from the you-can't-be-serious dept

Search engines, by their nature, are agnostic to the content that they're searching. They're merely tools to help find information, and they take no position on the information they find. That's why we've always found it troubling when, say, the recording industry sues a music search engine for helping people find music (infringing or not). And the same argument stands in a new situation on an even more controversial subject. A health search engine, run by Johns Hopkins University, has felt that it needed to purposely show zero results for the search term "abortion" in order to keep receiving federal funding. At issue is a federal law that denies federal funds to any organizations that "actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations." So the team at Hopkins feared that having any results on the search term "abortion" might disqualify them from receiving funding. No matter what your opinion on the topic of abortion may be (and please, don't turn the comments into an argument on that), a search engine is just a tool, and it's rather ridiculous for it to completely ban one search term. Update: The decision has apparently been reversed.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Ferin, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

    Hardly ridiculous with these freaks

    With this administration I'm hardly surprised. They've pushed abstinence only education here and we've seen teen pregnancy rates soar. They push it to be preached in Africa and AIDs infection rates skyrocket. This administration has continually defied logic and good science in favor of an idiotic idealogy. These are the people that would rather watch a woman die than let he terminate a potentially fatal pregnancy. Hopefully Hopkins will push back on this and a court can remind the administration that simply providing info on abortion does not cause abortion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Michael Wood, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

    I think in this would indeed be a bad position to be taken for a public-domain search engine such as Google or... (what were those others?) where providing a search engine is the primary role of the company. But Johns Hopkins is first and foremost a hospital, and they are running this search engine as a marketing tool, and as such they can do with it as they wish. Anyone choosing to use it should fully expect it to be bias towards the owners services and their values. You similarly wouldn't expect a search engine run by the Catholic Church to provide results to the Adolf Hitler fan club.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Michael Wood, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:25pm

    I think in this would indeed be a bad position to be taken for a public-domain search engine such as Google or... (what were those others?) where providing a search engine is the primary role of the company. But Johns Hopkins is first and foremost a hospital, and they are running this search engine as a marketing tool, and as such they can do with it as they wish. Anyone choosing to use it should fully expect it to be bias towards the owners services and their values. You similarly wouldn't expect a search engine run by the Catholic Church to provide results to the Adolf Hitler fan club.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Hellsvilla, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:25pm

    hrmm....

    So its voluntary censorship then? Welcome to 1984!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    **CENSORED**, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:30pm

    Censorship is great because ** ***** ***.

    The worst part of this little pro-life word ban is that it prevents any discourse on the topic from either side. Give the people the best information available and let them make the life(or death) choices for themselves.

    Some parents play this same game with children- just don't talk about the evils of the world and maybe, just maybe, the will go away... Hey, it has worked well so far, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    KL, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Search Engines

    So what is the difference then when a search engine, say like Google or Yahoo, will allow a search to return higher on a list if someone pays them to do so?? Is there a difference as essentially this university has said they want to keep getting paid and to do so they took this step. Censorship, whether direct or indirect is still the same.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:37pm

    Would terms like fetal termination still work ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Jim, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Hardly ridiculous with these freaks

    Have teen pregnancy rates soared? Do you have a source for that? I have seen reports to the contrary [Medical News Today].

    I agree that the current administration is a bit bass ackwards on this topic, but spreading around lies is no way to make it better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    MLW, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    You are overlooking the fact that Google and Yahoo came to be as a sort of Internet Yellow Pages. Grab your nearest phone book and take a look at the Yellow Pages in them. Don't you see larger ads for companies that pay more? Google and Yahoo are, above all, businesses. They are not paid to be non-bias. They can choose to do so, but you should have no requirements or expectations for them to do so.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    James, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Agreed

    Full disclosure: I've worked for many years with many different organizations towards the goal of eliminating abortion as an option.

    Having said that, I agree with Mike - censoring one or two terms in a search engine is not the way to go if you want to keep your federal funding. I really doubt that this was prompted by anyone with a pro-life or pro-abortion agenda - it may have come instead from someone wishing to look as though they are attempting to comply with this policy in as cheap and effective a manner as possible.

    Think about it - if they'd taken any other action to do this, such as removing Planned Parenthood literature or removing from their positions doctors and nurses who have a blatant bent in favor of abortion, it would've been either seen as too much or too little. This way, they get publicity, support from those on the right who don't read into it and eventual support on the left from those who want the search term put back. Cheap publicity from blocking one word - you've got to hand it to them, no matter what you think, they've really got a fabulous PR strategy here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Marchelo, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

    Re: marketing tool

    No doubt that the database will serve some promotional purpose as you claim (though now it is negative press...), but JHU can NOT call it "the world's largest database on reproductive health" and exclude search topics.
    I get the feeling that their hands are tied on the ban because the database received federal funding, so until we have an administration that supports science over religious dogma I see little chance of any action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Doug B., Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    This helps no one.

    That's quite a stretch to go from returning search hits to active support of abortion in other countries. Active, to me, would require Johns Hopkins to also endorse particular articles. Plus, it's circumventable. According to the link, abortion articles are still returned if other search phrases are used. In the end, this doesn't prevent abortions, it only encourages ignorance about abortions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    MLW, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:47pm

    Perhaps a better way to go on this that would satisfy everyone, would be to make sure to include results that returned information on abortion alternatives, as well as information on abortion as a crime against humanity. (You may not agree, but it is definately a valid opinion, and one I hold dear as an adoptee.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Deuce, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    hmm

    I tried searching for "abortion" on the jhu.edu site and received 11679 results. Why would they block the search on their health search engine?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    LBD, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Micheal

    bad comparison. I certainly WOULD expect a catholic church engine to provide results about the controversial part of the bible as well as the tame ones that are directly involved with the catholic church.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    LBD, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    Here it is

    Full disclosure: I support abortion for life of the mother, and rape situations... though I believe the morning after is better in rape situations. I dislike the thought of abortions for other reasons, but think that they should be legal because otherwise it's back to back ally abortions, and the good old coathanger.


    Personaly, I think that it's a bit foolish to block abortion in the search results just 'cause it's contrivertial. that reduces the utility of the search engine, and prevents it from being able to take a large market share. You will find that the free market insures that less censored systems will be more used.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    Abortions for all even men now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Joel, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Search Engines

    The big thing that pushed Google to the top of the search engine heap is that they refused to let companies buy higher listings. Ads are separated from search results.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Alimas, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Micheal

    Your very trusting.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:04pm

    If we bury our heads deep enough in the sand abortion doesn't exist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    andy, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 1:05pm

    Ummmm has anyone tried this?

    Its giving some results. Don't have the time to determine the position of these papers.


    Your search found 2889 record(s).
    New Basic Search | New Advanced Search | POPLINE Document Delivery Policy

    1. 283234 [View full record]
    Broen AN; Moum T; Bödtker AS; Ekeberg Ö. Reasons for induced abortion and their relation to women's emotional distress: a prospective, two-year follow-up study. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2005 Jan-Feb; 27 (1) :36-43.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    j, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Hardly ridiculous with these freaks

    Perhaps teen pregnancy rates haven't soared but the number of STD's has risen considerably. MSNBC had a piece on it now 1 in 4 teen girls has an STD. Also it has been shown that abstinence only programs fair far worse than sex ed. programs in preventing teen pregnancy. As for an overall teen pregnancy rate I personally haven't seen anything. On another note it is important to note that something like 60% of abortions are done by women who already have a child. The fact of the matter is that the minority of abortions are done on teen mothers but most people don't like to look at that fact.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    DCX2, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 2:59pm

    It's been fixed

    Wired's Threat Level indicates the ban has been lifted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    red, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 3:05pm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Katie, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 3:50pm

    The loudest group is typically the one in the wrong. For illustration, picture Hitler screaming from his podium, then picture the famous Kennedy speech.

    "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

    Also, salad shooters make terrible impromptu pencil sharpeners.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    TKM, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 4:21pm

    Re:

    GODWIN'S LAW

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Tom Goodman, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 4:25pm

    Not completely unblocked

    The original complaint was about 2 papers that USAID felt were overtly one sided and therefore wanted them removed. These two papers have now been removed.

    I have to applaud the administrators of this database as their actions have made it clear that THERE ARE STILL TWO PAPERS BEING CENSORED. They may well be one sided, but in academic research you want to find all the papers, not just the papers that agree with the current administration.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Sci0N, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 4:31pm

    tsk tsk

    So much for freedom of speech

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 4:33pm

    As the former President of an Abstinence organization...

    I can assure you that in the last decade:

    * Teen sexuality is down
    * Contraceptive use is up
    * Teen pregnancy is down

    And this is because of, not in spite of, the rise in abstinence education.

    The first responder's opinion, while a common complaint against abstinence education, is not based in fact.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    John, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 4:37pm

    What's next?

    What's next? Maybe some government agency will think that searching for the term "breast" will return some porn sites? Oh, no, our children will be scarred for life! Never mind the fact that children probably won't be using the Johns Hopkins search engine to research medical information.

    So, in order to please the government/ keep its grant/ whatever excuse, will Johns Hopkins return zero results for "breast"? I hope to god it's not your doctor using the search engine for ideas on how to treat your mom or sister for breast cancer.

    "Zero results returned for 'breast cancer'. Please try broadening your search terms."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    LBD, Apr 4th, 2008 @ 7:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Micheal

    I'm not 'trusting' I would require/ask that they do so

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    too bad, Apr 5th, 2008 @ 5:26am

    i live just down the road from hopkins. i thought i might go there for an abortion if/when i need to but after all of this, i guess i'll just shove a wire coat hanger in my cooch and do it myself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Triatomic Tortoise, Apr 5th, 2008 @ 2:26pm

    It is a Republican thing, you won't understand

    How about banning all terms on homosexuality?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Historian, Apr 5th, 2008 @ 2:54pm

    Hitler And The Church

    RE: #3 post:
    "You similarly wouldn't expect a search engine run by the Catholic Church to provide results to the Adolf Hitler fan club."

    I suggest a Google search of the terms "catholic church adolf hitler". Do the research yourself, since I don't want to bias you with my sources.

    This is one for the history books, so I'm not passionately arguing with you, but I think you will find an "uncomfortable truth" in the relationship between Hitler and the Catholic church. Hitler was a Catholic, although he seemed at times ambivalent towards his religion. The Church seemed at times ambivalent about racial hatred developments in 1920-40 Germany.

    You're quite rigth that a Catholic Church website today wouldn't link to a Hitler fan club, but it's probably not the best analogy to use - those two were closer than anyone would like to admit.

    Oh Yeah, and Johns Hopkins should not be altering their results based on what the administration says. We need to stand up for our rights in this country. We are such pushovers...and to think we make fun of the French. There's irony in that. They may have surrendered in a bunch of wars, but they NEVER let their government push them around.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2008 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Micheal

    I would expect the full text, even the contrivertial part of their belifes. I might not expect the countervailing veiwpoint to be displayed, but I would expect the contravertail sections to be shown.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This