This piece of utter retardation just popped up on my radar; and, after a solid round of bashing my head against my keyboard, I was compelled to comment. The short version is, Chris Anderson at Wired is making the argument that the availability ofenormousclouds of data will allow scientists to eschew the scientific method and just pull conclusions from correlations within “the cloud.” His main argument for this, Google doesn’t have a proper model of why PageRank works, but it does so, there you go.
Ars Technica provides a better rebuttal of the scientific points that I feel like writing; so I highly suggest that you read that. But I do have some comments I’d like to make.
To start, why, for the love of Ahura Mazda, must every Web 2.0 dork conflate Google with the rest of the gods damned universe. First, Google is an advertising company, nothing more, nothing less. The sooner you nerds realize that everything that comes out of Google Labs is directed at creating a pool of eyes to view those ads, the less disappointed you’ll be when reality comes crashing down. Second, Google’s success is a result of market forces. Take a good look at the bullshit that most economists spew regarding those and you’ll see, “the market” is about as related to actual science as Intelligent Design. Third, I have never seen a credible piece of research that supports the theory that Google’s algorithms are actually better at providing relevant results that anyone else’s. The fact that Google consistently ranks Wikipedia at or near the top of the results for most searches certainly shows that “accuracy” sure as hell ain’t part of the algorithm.
The second thing about Anderson’s piece that draws my ire is, unfortunately, a phenomenon that is as old as recorded history (which is ironic as we’ll see in a minute). This is the fervent belief of the members of each new social or philosophical movement that their particular philosophy or credo, or technical specialty is a) applicable to the world at large, and b) going tosupersedeall that came before it. You see this all the time in the Web 2.0/Social Media/Free Software communities. Wikipedia will remove the need for traditional, expert compiled, encyclopedias. A crappy laptop with “Free” software will deliver enlightenment to the starving masses of Africa. MySpace/FaceBook/FlavorOfTheMonth will replace the need to meet people in the real world and enable people to connect on an unprecedented global level.
Sorry guys, you’re wrong on all counts. True, there have been moments in history when a new philosophy or technology has actually changed the world. The great experiment in participatory democracy started here in the United States in 1776 is one. The invention of the printing press is another. And, ironically given the piece that started this rant, the elevation of the Scientific Method above superstition during the Enlightenment is another.
Here’s the simple truth for all you nerds out there who think that you’re about to “change the world.” The Internet could be wiped off the face of the planet tomorrow; and the world will trundle along just fine. I know that’s hard to accept, but it’s true. So fucking deal with it.
Well, crap. If I had remembered that this was Chris “The Long Tail Explains Fucking Everything” Anderson I could have stopped there.