Google Knowledge Graph benefits from skeptic Wikipedia efforts

Last week Google introduced a new feature to their flagship search product, which is called Google Knowledge Graph. I believe it has only rolled out for users in the United States so far, so you may not see it if you live elsewhere, yet.

There are several interesting aspects of Knowledge Graph, and I encourage you to read more about it. The technology behind modern search engines is surprisingly complex, and this is the latest advancement.

But one of the main user-visible features of this product is a panel that you will see on the right side of many search results. This panel shows a summary of what Google believes you are looking for.  The aim is that many times the answer you seek will be right there on the results page.

Because this new feature draws a great deal of information from Wikipedia, all the great effort by Susan Gerbic and the other skeptics who work on her skeptic Wikipedia project is now paying off in yet another big way.

Let’s look at a few quick examples…

As part of Susan’s “We Got Your Wiki Back” program of enhancing the biographies of notable skeptics, Lei Pinter recently rewrote the page for Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier.  Here’s what you see now in the U.S. if you search on his name in Google:

You can click to embiggen that. The left side looks just like the Google results we’ve all seen before. Indeed outside the US the left half is all you see right now for this search.

But the entire right side is a new Knowledge Graph display.  Notice the nice biographical summary and links to other prominent skeptics.  This is fantastic visibility for skepticism.  Similar results occur if you search on the names of other prominent skeptics.

But what happens if you search on the name of one of our “cultural competitors”, for instance the bogus spirit medium John Edward? Let’s look.

No, I didn’t include this to show how Knowledge Graph is smart enough to suggest you may have meant John Edwards instead of John Edward, though that is a cool feature.

Look there on the right, our old friend and adversary to all psychics, James Randi. That is fantastic stuff right there. James Randi also pops his head up on searches for Uri Geller, John Edward, Sylvia Browne, James Hydrick and of course Peter Popoff. I’m sure they’re all extremely pleased.

One of my favorites is this display, which appears if you search on the single word Burzynski:

Look who is there, third from left on the bottom. Our young skeptic friend Rhys Morgan, whose Wikipedia page was just created by skeptic editors this past December.

Congratulations to Susan Gerbic, Lei Pinter and the rest of the Guerilla Skeptics on doing such a great job with Wikipedia. This is just yet another payoff of your work.

Keep it up, and keep creating those cross-article links. You can see how important they are!

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About Tim Farley
Focused on online misinformation, Tim Farley is a software engineer, computer security expert and scientific skeptic who created the site What's The Harm. He is a Past Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

18 Responses to Google Knowledge Graph benefits from skeptic Wikipedia efforts

  1. sgerbic says:

    Wow! I’m really excited.

    Working this very moment on the re-write of an amazing man Ray Hyman. Wonder what is going to pull up on his “people also search for”? Will it be names mentioned most often on Hyman’s page, or closest to the top or what? Or are these suggestions from somewhere else?

    Also noticed that only the very first part of the lede is summarized here. We must make sure we are making those first couple sentences are carefully written.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Wikipedia is definitely not the only source for this, for instance at least one of those people below Kendrick Frazier is not actually mentioned in his bio. But I’m sure the Wikipedia inter-article links figure prominently in the data they gather to build this.

  3. sgerbic says:

    Oh this is too cool. Can’t stop playing with it. So we don’t know how Google selects the main image or the persons it suggests?

    The We Got Your Wiki Back project just got a lot more important!

    Actually all of the Wikipedia writing got more important. If we didn’t have a lot of info about Randi on Sylvia Browne’s page it would not show his image, right?

  4. Tim Farley says:

    HAHA! I just found another one. If you search for Sally Morgan, you get not only James Randi’s picture but also Simon Singh. Love that.

    • sgerbic says:

      Still playing with it, haven’t found anything weird yet. Anderson Cooper should be grateful that John Edward does not come up on his suggestions.

  5. Lei Pinter says:

    It looks like the pics and (for some pages) the birth/death and educational data are not sourced from Wikipedia. But I do agree that their use of the Wiki page’s lede is colossally important.

  6. agiptek says:

    I live in Indonesia and I have not seen this Google Knowledge Graph
    I hope that will later appear in Indonesia

  7. Tim Farley says:

    I also wrote a follow up to this that explores how James Randi benefits from Knowledge Graph over at the JREF’s blog. He pops up on a bunch of interesting searches.

    In related news, Google told the Wall Street Journal that this new feature is causing increased search activity. I.e. people are seeing these boxes and exploring them, leading them to places they wouldn’t have gone before. That’s good for skepticism.

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