When YEC Flood the Internet with Webpages (or win at SEO)

There is one assignment that I give regularly to a class of mine which just has them research some dating method that we don’t cover in class. We generally cover relative dating with geological principles and then absolute dating methods like radiometric dating and then we bring in tree rings, varves and ice cores. I then give them a prompt that looks something like this:

Please pick one of the following methods of absolute dating methods:

Thermoluminescence
Electron Spin Resonance
Amino Acid Dating
Fission Track Dating
Gyrochronology
White dwarf cooling

For this discussion post you should do a literature search for the particular method and will address the following:

How is the technique performed?
What kinds of age ranges can it potentially measure?
What are some uncertainties involved in the technique? What are ways scientists have limited such uncertainties?
Are there ways to cross-check results with other techniques based upon different underlying phenomena?
What is one important result (this can be your own take unless there's an obvious answer) that we've learned about the past using your technique of choice?

There is one of these possible topics that nearly 100% of will use at least one YEC website as their source. Can you guess which one it is? I had this idea where I would search for various YEC sites and see which ones they write the most about (abbreviating the various methods above):

\begin{array}{|c|c|c|} \hline Website & TL & ESR & AA & FT & GC & WDC \\ \hline ICR & 2 & 5 & 6 & 15 & 1 & 0 \\ \hline CMI & 14 & 12 & 13 & 34 & 6 & 0 \\ \hline AiG & 4 & 8 & 4 & 4 & 1 & 0\\ \hline Total &20 &25 &23 &43 &8 &0\\ \hline \end{array}

Interestingly enough, I tend to get zero people who cite YEC for gyrochronology and white dwarf cooling. Out of all of these, I actually get the highest percentage who cite YEC sources for amino acid dating followed by thermoluminescence dating. From the number of webpages I would have thought fission track dating would have the most YEC sources. So then I wondered how students seem to be grabbing a lot of YEC pages on different topics and I decided to do a ‘Google’ search on a clean browser with no cookies or past memory to see if any YEC pages pop up first and this is what I found:

\begin{array}{|c|c|c|} \hline Method & TL & ESR & AA & FT & GC & WDC \\ \hline inTop5 & 0 & 0 &2 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\ \hline inTop10 &1 &0 &2 &-1 &0 &0 \\ \hline \end{array}

It looks like somehow YEC sites are at the top of a clean Google search, specifically with regards to Amino Acid Racemization and that’s probably why students cite them the most. You might notice I put a -1 for fission track dating because there is a website that debunks YEC claims in the top 10 Google sites. I’m not sure how the order is determined but I wish Google searches didn’t put pseudoscience sites close to the top. Has anyone else come across something like this?

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If / when Google starts demoting a certain class of search results in favor of another (and with a religious issue involved, no less!) the public screams foul! (It’s okay if that happens for paid ad stuff because that’s capitalism and gets a ‘free pass’ … or… I guess a paid pass as the case may be.) But aside from that, I think Google’s algorithms just bring the most popular stuff to the foreground. So it says more about our population and who the most fanatic investigators / motivated acolytes are who are busy searching all this stuff out - and more tellingly, making it a point to look for rebuttals to it. Aren’t we all guilty in our own turns of such searches?

I don’t know how much Google in recent years may have tweaked their processes around such things, but you can bet they walked on eggshells as they did so. Any perception of disfavor that has even a whiff of ideology about it leads to screaming editorials that I’m sure tech companies would just as soon do without, even as liberal as they might tend to already be.

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I have not paid attention lately as I have retired and dropped my practice website, but in the past I got offers from companies that would promise to move your site to the top of web searches, so I am sure that some sort of gaming the system goes on. It is obvious with some searches when multiple pages are set up by the same entities and probably there is an effort to get them clicked on either by robots or summer interns to move them up the list when searched.

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You did some good work there. YEC mimics the form of science well enough that search algorithms may have a hard time distinguishing real science from the cargo cult - unless the site itself is flagged as pseudo science.

Google may use popularity of sites as a predictor of results to show first, allowing YECs to intentionally or unintentionally “Google Bomb” YEC sites to the top of the search.

Google regularly changes it’s algorithm to stymie the gamers. It’s a Red Queen race.

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I don’t understand. Why are your students searching Google instead of Google Scholar?

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