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Googling the Dinosaurs' Demise

Have you heard what happened to the dinosaurs? It's pretty big news, the latest cause célèbre among science educators and advocacy groups. Google "what happened to the dinosaurs" and you'll see a lot of results like these:

They're all reacting to the fact that when they searched that same phrase, the top result was this one from Answers in Genesis (AiG).

At the time of this writing, AiG's page titled "What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?" is no longer featured nor the top result, but it's still second among 2.5 million web sites. AiG's page asserts:

Dinosaurs are used more than almost anything else to indoctrinate children and adults in the idea of millions of years of earth history. However, the Bible gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of thousands of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them.

Earlier this year, Google announced a plan to display results based on facts, not links, in an attempt to improve the trustworthiness of information found via Google searches. But if this search is typical, they've got a long way to go. Science blogger Greg Laden is not surprised:

I’ve never, for one moment, gone along with the idea that Google can pull off a better, more reliable search based on the Google view of what sites are more reliable. My position on this has annoyed many of my colleagues. The promise of the Internet being less bogus and more educational is attractive. But it is a siren call.

Although most of the science proponents commenting on this are concerned about the influence of AiG on impressionable young minds, Laden points to a deeper issue: the influence of Google. The presence of an AiG article at the top of Google rankings for "what happened to the dinosaurs" would not be a cause for concern but for Google's own reputation of reliability. And if Google does manage to improve the factuality of its results, the stakes will be that much higher for creationists--as well as other anti-science groups, like climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers--to attempt to con their way to a top ranking. It's an arms race with no clear solution.

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