Search Engines are Confirmation Bias Generators

Why no debate can be settled by a Google search

July 27, 2021

So I was listening to Scott Adams and he said something that was so obviously right that I was surprised that I'd never heard it said or discussed before, something that I'd never realized which now that I see I feel should be common knowledge so I'm writing about it here so that we can all recognize and spread this truth. And I guess to be fair Scott was at first quoting another guy's tweet which said "Google search = confirmation bias generator" let me explain.

If you were to google* something like "Does God exist?" you will more than likely be presented with a wide list of webpages, some of these pages will support the fact that God exists and others will claim that He doesn't. If you believe in God you will simply ignore all of the pages that claim that He doesn't exist and if you don't believe in God you will simply ignore all of the pages that testify that God is in fact real. Assuming nothing is being suppressed this will be the case with every topic you could ever think of debating. No debate can be settled with a Google search because the results of the search will contain arguments for both sides, nobody enters the internet a believer in something then leaves a skeptic. (And skeptics rarely leave believers but that's another topic)

We all need to recognize that we all cherrypick search results to find the stuff that fits our narrative so that we can support our points, I know I've done it and I can sometimes tell when other people do it as well. I'm not asking anyone to stop doing this, since everyone has a right to find support for their opinions as long as they've already fulfilled their responsibility to become familiar with the other side's point of view.

I wish I had realized the fact that search engines exist as confirmation bias generators much sooner, I'm sure all of us have at some point been in a conversation (or at least observed a conversation) where someone will attempt use the logical fallacy of appealing to authority by saying that a simple Google search proves their point, I found myself in one of these conversations within the last month. Now that you are equipped with this wisdom, next time this happens to you you will be able to discredit your opponent's lazy attempt at an argument by stating that Google is nothing more than a confirmation bias generator and if necessary you can even demonstrate it by pulling out your phone, typing in the topic of your debate, showing the person that it does have results which support their claim then scrolling down to show them results that support your claim.

As Scott Adams would likely say, search engines exist to give people the illusion that they can do their own research when in reality they are just used to find support for positions you already hold. True research requires humility, something that is nowhere to be found within a debate.

The fact that search engines are confirmation bias generators should be common knowledge, kids should be taught this in schools just like they are taught not to use Wikipedia as a source. Of course we shouldn't teach people that only one type of source is credible, but we should equip people to be able to judge for themselves the credibility of all kinds of sources so that they can properly use confirmation bias generators without looking like a fool.

* When I (or any other normal person) say "google" in this context it does not mean one has to use, it applies to all search engines.