Using Google For Evidence

from the interesting... dept

We’ve written about reporters who use Google search result numbers as “evidence” of something, but it seems a bit more serious to realize that judges are doing the same thing. For example, a judge who ordered a mother not to smoke near her daughter cited “a Google search that lists 60,000-plus links for ‘secondhand smoke’ and 30,000-plus links for ‘secondhand smoke children.'” Now, I have nothing against protecting people from second-hand smoke, but the number of results on a Google search doesn’t seem like something that should be relied on as an indicator of facts. Others have noted the lack of Google search results as an indicator of proof as well. The article lists a large number of cases where judges have relied on Google “evidence” to back up their decision, which seems a bit scary – though, perhaps it’s the new “community standard.” Since certain laws rely on “community standards,” perhaps judges are using Google results as an indicator of what the internet community feels.

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Comments on “Using Google For Evidence”

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Beck says:

No Subject Given

I did a Google search for Ignorant Judge and came up with over 140,000 results. I don’t know how many judges there are in this country, but it looks like a great deal of them are ignorant.

The key quote:

“The evidentiary requirements are very important. If a judge goes off in his chambers and does a Google search and issues an opinion, the parties have not had a chance to argue about what 40,000 hits means. That’s an important safeguard.”

Edwin (user link) says:

Google ignorance

The problem both with the stats in the original article and with the example posted in the reply is that they’re not showing what people automatically expect them to.

If on Google you search for…
ignorant judges
… then the results you see are for pages with the word “ignorant” and the word “judges” ANYWHERE on the page.

If on the other hand you search for…
“ignorant judges”
… [note the quotes] then you get just a handful of results, because not many pages contain that phrase.

In the secondhand smoke example, the “real” numbers are 406,000 and 557 respectively.

This is perhaps the most common search-related mistake I see in print – just about every major news outlet has made it at one time or another.

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