Noth­ing nice to say? Check out Google

Modern Healthcare - - OUT LIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

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.

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