The Quiet Revolution: Critical Thinking Goes Mainstream (Or, How Google Will Change the World… Again)

This week the world changed for the better. A seemingly small thing happened that will undoubtedly have massive consequences for the way the world works. And so many people missed it: Google is considering ranking pages and sites according to the reliability of their facts rather than how many links they contain.

Just how Google might do this is fascinating in many respects, but their proposed use of Google Knowledge Graph and Knowledge Vault in order to distinguish more reliable sites from the bum-fluff has to be chief among them.

Here's why I think Google's intended move to factual ranking over link-based ranking will be such a revolution:

Facts Are The New Default Option

The bulk of Internet searches are conducted on a casual or ad hoc basis. Very few searchers make use of operators such as the 'site' function to narrow their searches down to more reliable urls. Fewer still make use of specialized search engines such as Google Scholar. With fact-based ranking, the default option will be more reliable sites, and thus a whole lot less misinformation will be accessed and shared. Granted, this doesn't do much for the actual skill of active critical analysis, but it does make it so much less likely that bullshit will propagate in the first place. With over 3.5 billion searches a day, most of which end on page one of the displayed results, it just became a whole lot easier to spot and critique the nonsense that does slip through. Critical thinking can now also be taken to the level of proper critique where instead of merely identifying faulty sites, we can now analyze and compare in a more refined manner to find the best information.

Facts Are The New Currency

The lifespan of sites which share content that is intentionally shocking / controversial / mindlessly titillating (in order to attract page clicks so that they can sell advertising) has just been cut short. Many advertisers will no doubt move to factual sites and take their money with them. This is will be a much needed boost and a much deserved validation for the many organisations who are careful about the content they publish. Also, content developers will need to research their facts before publishing if they want good page ranks instead of seeing how many links they can weave in to their content or trying to game the system with SEO. This means that journalists in particular will need to return to a more deliberate and careful weighing of sources and information. We might actually end up with more real investigative journalism than the wave of yellow sensationalist rubbish we are bombarded with these days.

Facts are the New Facts

What are the anti-vaccination fools, the anti-GMOs loonies, the conspiracists, the 'alternative medicine' whackos, the '20 Facts You Won't Believe' crowd and the religious nuts going to do once their pages are relegated? Fade away into oblivion, hopefully, and stop infecting the world with their stupidity.

Facts Go Social

Much of what Google is doing to make searches more reliable is an open secret. I have no doubt that their methodology will spread – and hopefully even make it to social media. Facebook is doing some work to weed out the massive amounts of rubbish and hoaxes that are shared on its platform. But most other social media services do not. Hopefully now they will.

Facts Are The New Cool

This might be a bit of a stretch, but what if people who are interested in publishing to the net begin to realise that what they produce needs to be carefully researched to stand a chance of being read? Might that make careful research and deliberation cool? Might hipsters start evolving into factsters? Might people start debating facts over their skinny cappuccinos? Might we see a whole new trend in factual clothing and food?

Okay. I probably went too far on that last one.

Read the full paper here: Knowledge Based Trust




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