Education and the art of swallowing pigeons

Image: GoogleFurther proof of the parlous state of education in the so-called information age comes from Crooked Timber blog (“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”). Someone who teaches a college information science course relays a student’s class presentation about Google.

The student had searched -- on Google, of course -- “How does Google work?” and clicked on the first link that came up -- an old April Fools Day hoax perpetrated by Google itself, describing how it uses an algorithm called PigeonRank to rank search results. We are not talking metaphor here but real, live grey pigeons. Here’s a quote:

When a search query is submitted to Google, it is routed to a data coop where monitors flash result pages at blazing speeds... When a relevant result is observed by one of the pigeons in the cluster, it strikes a rubber-coated steel bar with its beak, which assigns the page a PigeonRank value of one. For each peck, the PigeonRank increases. Those pages receiving the most pecks, are returned at the top of the user’s results page with the other results displayed in pecking order.

The student swallowed the lot and regurgitated it in class. I mean, not even in my most techno-innocent days on the Web would I have fallen for that. I think…

Someone involved with the course comments:

“The most interesting aspect of this whole episode is that it happened while my colleagues and I are pushing for “information literacy” as a general education requirement on campus….”

Enough said.


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