Currently popularity is crucial to the way things are ranked on Google. The more people link to something, the more important Google's search algorithm thinks it is.
The problem is that the current method leads to a lot of bad information being rated really highly. A successful hoax will get linked to by people who believe it and people who are trying to debunk it. Also, as Fox News knows, telling people what they want to hear is more popular than telling them the truth.
On many topics, such as genetically modified foods or "alternative" medicines, a Google search will lead you to conspiracy theories, bad science and highly questionable "experts" but very little valid information unless you dig several pages deep.
In general looking for science, medical, health or even historical and economic information on Google is a roll of the dice. In order to get good information out you have to know enough about the topic going in to filter the information appropriately.
But, things might be about to change. In an ArXiv paper published in February, some Google researchers made the case and laid out some of the mechanics for a ranking system based on the accuracy of the information on the page.
"The Google research team wants to revise the current system to look for inaccuracies instead of links. The strategy isn’t being implemented yet, but the paper presented a method for adapting algorithms such that they would generate a “Knowledge-Based Trust” score for every page. To do this, the algorithm would pick out statements and compare them with Google’s Knowledge Vault, a database of facts. It would also attempt to assess the trustworthiness of the source—for example, a reputable news site versus a newly created Wordpress blog. Another component of the strategy involves looking at “topic relevance.” The algorithm scans the name of the site and its “about” section for information on its goals," said Lily Hay Newman at Slate:
Contrary to the impression that might be left by network news the world is a safer and more prosperous place than it has ever been. Globally speaking, people are healthier, and are living longer with a higher standard of living and quality of life. While we hear more about violence on television, it is actually at or approaching historic lows both in terms of crime and war.
At the same time, important decisions lie ahead of us that require a solid understanding of complex scientific, medical, economic and political issues. Since Google has become the leading information provider in the information age it would be great if the company started ranking accuracy above popularity.
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