[iDC] Search engines and the politics of code

ndrw a at ndrw.net
Wed May 9 01:12:54 EDT 2007

Wish to diverge a little bit from this in terms of a technical note:

This is an unfortunate side effect of something that has been irking  
me more and more recently.  To be more specific, at some point in  
recent history google decided to "refine" its algorithms to be more  
inclusive in its queries.  From what I can tell it aims to gain more  
mass appeal by "correcting" searches for what it thinks are  
incomplete or ill-defined requests.  The result is google's terms get  
softer and softer.  This might be fine for someone who occasionally  
wants to look something up, but for people who enjoy google as a  
competent info-retrieval scalpel it is worse than useless.

as to specifics, I'm not sure that the search engine "assumes that an  
inventor is always he."  The correction algorithm google ranks more  
commonly mispelled terms against similar, correctly spelled terms.   
Since "he invented" is a more common search (or result) than "she  
invented," it steps in.  Worse, google only appears to inject the  
spell-correction feature in proportion to how few search results it  
finds..  I've often been searching for some obscure linux command and  
get the most outrageous "suggested" suppositions of what I was trying  
to find.  It's almost like google is apologizing more and more  
fervently for being unable to find what I want.  As counterpoint,  
searches for "lolz" or "funner," while incorrect, offer no spell  
correction feature.

I guess my only point here is that this one can be chalked up to a  
male-dominated, english speaking internet, rather than a sexist and  
soft search engine.

By the way my name is Andrew, long time lurker, technocratic killjoy,  
highly enjoy this list.


On May 8, 2007, at 11:21 PM, Sullivan wrote:

> Hi all,
>    I've been silently participating in this list for a little  
> while, and
> wanted to see what people though of this. I came across this post on
> the feminist news blog feministing.com
> -sullivan
> What did 'she' invent?
> According to a post left on Digg, when you search Google for 'she
> invented,' it asks you, did you mean 'he invented.' Not shocking I
> suppose, but no doubt one of the many ways that cultural and social  
> norms
> get embedded in language. Adding 'she' confused the search engine,  
> because
> it is assumed that an inventor is always he. According to the post and
> many of Digg's thoughtful comments from mini-misogynist D&D playing
> teenagers it must be because women don't invent things and never have.
> So our task here is double, first what did she invent? And if SHE  
> didn't
> then what are the historical, social, racial, economic and gendered
> reasons for that?
> And second, how do we resist sexist language? How about, don't call  
> me a
> woman blogger, I would never call you a man blogger. Asking where  
> women
> are in any number of settings (including but not limited to blogger,
> inventor, scientist, engineer or doctor) reestablishes that the normal
> archetype of these folks is gendered male. It is similar to saying  
> male
> nurse. Certain work is assumed to be done by a certain genders so it
> surprises us when the wrong gender is doing the wrong work and it  
> must be
> named, with he, she, male or female.
> Now what this says about Google, well I leave that to you. . .
> the digg post:
> http://www.digg.com/offbeat_news/ 
> Google_She_invented_Result_Did_you_mean_He_invented/who
> also, some historic women communications inventors: Nora Blatch,  
> Hedy Lamar
> -- 
> "People are in a very depressed state because they see things as  
> bad and
> getting worse," he said. "The antidote is joyful, constructive  
> activity.
> Oh, there are pills, also. Unfortunately, after a certain period of  
> time
> they seem to stop working."-Steve Stollman
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