Julia Glef on the blog Rationally Speaking has written an interesting essay on confirmation bias and how a Google search can play right into our predispositions and preconceptions. She asks a very interesting question: is google making us less rational?
“Google may be making us all more knowledgable, but could it also be making us less rational? I’ve got a suspicion that online search engines are making us especially susceptible to at least one particular blunder: confirmation bias, the phenomenon by which you’re more likely to seek out, notice, and remember evidence that supports what you already believe.”
She goes on to describe P.C. Wason’s paper describing confirmation bias and how a typical Google search can almost perfectly recreate conditions similar to Wason’s experiment. We forget that Google’s goal is to help us find what we want, not exactly what we need.
When conducting research, scientists are aware of the normal tendencies for humans to make judgements based on personal biases without even realizing such bias exists. In order to combat this, rather then attempting to prove a hypothesis, scientists instead subject their hypothesis to tests in an attempt to falsify them. When looking for information online, it’s necessary to do a bit of this too.
I am personally very excited about the possibilities the internet provides for the exchange of information and development of ideas. Search engines are extremely powerful tools for finding information, but we sometimes forget their limitations. There’s an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer every problem begins to look like a nail. Remember to look through your “tool box” and try some other ways to find the information you need.