So that list of suggestions you get when typing search terms into Google can subtly nudge the direction your research takes? That is, if you click on one of those suggested terms when you meant to search for something slightly different. Well, I’ve certainly done that on occasion and I’m not alone according to this news item on Nanowerk,
Begin typing a word in the search box at google.com, and the Google Suggest feature starts kicking in ideas — “tiger” begets “tiger woods,” “tea” draws “tea party movement” and “craig” will summon “craigslist.”
“It is meant to be helpful, but from a public discourse perspective it is worrisome,” says Dominique Brossard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison life science communication professor.
Brossard was part of a research team including Dietram Scheufele and Bret Shaw and graduate students Peter Ladwig (lead author) and Ashley Anderson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Part of this team published a related research paper (Nano online sites and blogs, best information sources according to research) that I blogged about in April 2010. (Idle thought: I wonder how many research papers this team will produce from that one research project.)
From the Nanowerk news item,
In a study published in the May issue of Materials Today, the researchers found a reversal in the top 10 nano search terms, with economic impact (word such as “stocks,” “jobs” and “companies”) searches giving way to health (“medicine” and “cancer”) searches over the course of a year.
By the time August 2009 arrived, users who typed “nanotechnology” into the Google search box were getting a list of suggestions topped by “nanotechnology in medicine” despite the phrase’s standing as the sixth-most popular nano search term. [emphasis mine]
Two things come to mind for me. First, someone who’s just idly searching is likely to be drawn to top suggestions such as “nanotechnology in medicine” and could mistakenly assume it’s the primary (or only) application. Second, reporters researching nanotechnology may come to similar conclusions and write accordingly about the technology.
Dietram Scheufele, member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s research team, posted more about this newest paper on his nanopublic blog (May 7, 2010—I’ve tried to provide the link to the individual posting but if this doesn’t work, you have the date). For anyone interested in reading the team’s paper (Narrowing the nano discourse?), Scheufele provides a link for seamless guest access (click on the post’s title) to the paper on the Science Direct website.
One last bit, as the researchers note, there are implications for all the topics, not just nanotechnology, searched on Google.