Google “stats” are meaningless

Lionel Beehner takes journalists (among them, writers for The New Yorker) to task for citing Google on a subject’s popularity:

True, Google is a handy and smart website, in addition to an excellent starting place to gather background info or to brainstorm for story ideas (or, for that matter, a fun way to spy on friends, exes, et al.). But it’s neither a scientific nor accurate tool to gauge a subject’s popularity. Its data can be faulty, fleeting, and, as any doctoral student or fact checker knows, terribly inaccurate. Not only because the search engine brings up blogs and message boards and Bob Andrews’ freshman term paper on Western Civilization—none of which was probably fact- or spell-checked—but because its hit counts fluctuate faster than poll numbers in Iowa.


Sad to say, plugging Google in a story has become almost a telltale sign of sloppy reporting, a hack’s version of a Rolodex. Journalists, especially ones from highbrow publications like The New Yorker, should be sourcing hard stats, not search-engine evidence, to bolster their stories.

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