Nothing nice to say? Check out Google
How does America feel about its doctors? Those who consult Google for the answer better have a thick skin.
Type the words “doctors are” into the Google search field, and it automatically guesses the rest of the query based on the popularity of past searches. Here’s what Google’s autocomplete function says are the four most common ways to complete the phrase: “doctors are dangerous” “doctors are stupid” “doctors are evil” “doctors are arrogant” Ouch. Perhaps readers could discount the top query because it’s also the title of an anti-doctor website that features products such as a DVD called “Escape the Cancer Mafia.” But Outliers was intrigued. None of the most popular searches describing doctors came back with a positive adjective. Was the same true of other healthcare terms?
We tried asking Google what “nurses are.” Autocomplete came back with these adjectives: “knowledge workers” and “mean.” Another popular search links to a string of results about things that nurses say or resemble, many of which center on gallows humor or sexualized images of female nurses.
Hospitals are? Google says: “evil” “greedy” “not fun to fight through” and “dangerous.”
Drug companies? “Evil” and “allowed to be monopolists.”
Insurance companies: “crooks” “evil” and “examples of service organizations.”
We’re sensing a correlation here with healthcare searches and public perceptions of “evil,” but how accurate is it? Google says its autocomplete predictions are determined by algorithms based on the popularity of search terms. “Just like the Web, the search terms shown may include silly or strange or surprising terms and phrases,” Google’s page about autocomplete says.
Outliers wondered whether a nonhealthcare search could shed light on how well Google predicts public opinion, so we asked it what reporters are: “idiots” “scum” and “annoying.”
Yep, looks accurate.