back to article Dutch twaddle-prof lambasts Google Scholar

A Dutch prof says that search engines - in particular Google's academic-paper search function, Google Scholar - have become "significant co-producers of academic knowledge", and that this is a Bad Thing because nobody knows how they work. "Automated search systems developed by commercial Internet giants like Google tap into …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Google Scholar

    I tried Googling for her paper but I couldn't find it.

  2. James O'Shea

    if she doesn't like it

    build her own search engine and teach her students how it works. Problem done.

    1. DZ-Jay

      Are you dense?

      This is not a complaint about Google's search engine directly, it's a cry against the degradation of knowledge and scientific progress by their use as the de facto method for research.

      Libraries are open and public institutions, where knowledge and information is curated and catalogued by skilled people and organisations based on known and tested criteria. However, search engines are closed systems run by commercial enterprises that have an economic interest in their outcome.

      The professor is not asking to have Google tailored to her whims, or saying that search engines are evil; she is merely suggesting that if search engines are to replace libraries, then they should be regarded in the same light, and this includes being subject to the same scrutiny.


      1. Carlo Graziani

        This is imbecilic

        Look, anyone who pays attention to the Google Scholar's rankings is not using the service the way actual scientists use the service. They are using it to bullshit, just like van Dijck is doing.

        The incredible value of Google Scholar to an actual working scientist is the ability to do full-text searches across a broad expanse of scholarly literature, as opposed to merely searching classification keywords or abstracts or titles or authors, which were the only real possibilities just a few years ago. You can actually bring yourself up to speed in an unfamiliar field quickly and efficiently this way. Compared to working with index services, even through a major academic library, this changes everything.

        Van Dijck's complaint appears to be about Google's popularity rankings. If she really cares about that, she's an idiot, and doesn't understand why the service is useful.

        1. James O'Shea


          "Look, anyone who pays attention to the Google Scholar's rankings is not using the service the way actual scientists use the service. They are using it to bullshit, just like van Dijck is doing."


          "Van Dijck's complaint appears to be about Google's popularity rankings. If she really cares about that, she's an idiot, and doesn't understand why the service is useful."

          And again, exactly. She's complaining about the form, not the function.

      2. James O'Shea

        actually... not

        She doesn't like the way that certain results appear. Google does things the way that they do for their own reasons, including <gasp><shock><horror>their desire to make a profit</horror></shock></gasp>. if the good prof doesn't like the way that things work, she is at liberty to build her own search engine which does things her way and to require her students to use that engine. Or she is at liberty to attempt to ban the use of search engines in her classes. (Good luck with that last one, BTW.) What she cannot do is attempt to change the way existing search engines, including Google, which do not belong to her, operate.

        She no like? Google no care.

  3. PhilipN Silver badge

    Changed my mind

    I was about to make a razor sharp comment about Lewis straying from his usual fiefdom but then realised this article raises important issues about the totality of knowledge and the decision-making mechanism. Chaos theory even. Then I realised I was even boring myself to death.

    I decided long ago, by way of reaction to a debate about Artifical Intelligence, that all intelligence is artificial.

    Very comforting,


  4. Anonymous Coward

    Never mind the issue at hand

    Is "José" a common female name in Holland?

    1. Pavlov's obedient mutt


      on where you are. Don't be fooled into thinking the name of a person is any clue to their gender, race, nationality etc here in Amsterdam...

    2. Wim Ton


      Yes. The J is pronounced as the J in joke, not like g as in Spanish.

      1. Noons


        "Yes. The J is pronounced as the J in joke, not like g as in Spanish."

        I can see the J in joke, but there's no G in spanish...

        Or is it a case of ghoti?

      2. iMark


        Actually her name is pronounced (almost) as 'yozay' in Dutch.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    SIS .... Cyber Security Patrols. ...... Special Event Protocols Led

    "The production of scientific knowledge is way too important to leave to companies and intelligent machines."

    Which is why there is developed an Internetworking Phormation Machine and Smarter Virtual Operating Systems with Advanced Intellectual Property Machine Drive and Flash Drivers for Embedding into Future Prefect, Perfect Future Master Pilot Programs.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    What's the difference between a twaddle-prof and a boffin?

    Just asking.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Google Scholar is doing a great job

      If the world is to have a future, then science needs to regain its egalitarian roots. The editor of "Nature Medicine" once rejected one of my papers saying "no Nature Publishing Group journal could publish that - it is too controversial." Luckily, Google Scholar ranks papers based on a collective perceived worth, and not on the whims and prejudices of individual editors and conservative for-profit publishers.

      The current publishing systems have failed to deliver the answers which modern society needs - I hope Google Scholar continues to bring important (but obscure) material to students and the public. Now we just need to educate the professors who will mark those future papers submitted largely based on GS and Wikipedia citations :)

    2. Jimbo 6

      The difference is :

      A boffin knows proper stuff, about technical things, they may even invent a few more technical things. They are the giants on whose shoulders future generations will stand.

      A Prof is just someone who couldn't stop being a student, and got some certificates to show what a great student they were. A Prof of Twaddle ("Media and Culture") was presumably a student of Yadder and Blah, not Things, so she's well below Beaker-level on the Boffin Scale.

      (That's not to decry her conclusion about Google, but my cat could have told me that.)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        We need people like José van Dijck

        @ "but my cat could have told me that" (Jimbo 6) Please post video...

        Have you really ceased being a student? So why read this article? I for one would gladly while away the hours sitting at the feet of prof.dr. J.F.T.M. (José) van Dijck and hanging upon every word she utters.

        Lets not rehash those sad arts/humanities vs. science debates. José van Dijck isn't "well below Beaker-level on the Boffin Scale". She simply isn't on the "boffin" scale. Does she need to be? No.

        Science gives us many things, but it can't answer every important question.

        Life is not merely about survival. We are not simply machines programmed simply to expand and evolve and therefore blindly obey some instinct to explore, create and conquer. When we limit ourselves to that, we become less than human.

        Humans are thinking, conscious beings who who never cease returning to the question, "Why?". Maybe you think it's a distraction to scientific development, but we humans want to understand the bigger picture, including the consequences of technical development. That's why I'm delighted to read about what José van Dijck has to say, especially here in The Register.

        Keep up the good work!

  7. Seanmon

    She got a point though.

    How often does a google search return a wikipedia result in the top 5? Can scholar be considered any more reliable?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Difficult to comment

    There is little to comment because she is right... simple as...

    However in case the Reg judges the value of their articles on the basis of the number of comments they receive (Google style) then here is a comment anyway.

  9. ratfox

    Has never been a problem for me

    Usually, I am looking for a very particular question. Either the Google Scholar results are about the right problem, or they are not. There is no "better" or "worse", just "yes" or "no".

    If I am looking for new papers, I usually find them by searching which papers cite the papers that I already know.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      An okay method but....

      Prone to a spiraling, publication bias trap.

    2. DavCrav

      Try RSS

      Most reasonable journals have an RSS feed, at least in mathematics, and you can just get it straight to your reader. Just like with the arXiv.

  10. heyrick Silver badge

    "it ranks sources on the basis of popularity rather than truth-value or relevance."

    Google is deterministic. A piece of software. It has to use some basis for measuring how to rank things. Popularity might not seem like the best method, but then...

    Relevance. How do you assess and measure relevance? The world is full of trivia. Some is useful, much is rubbish. But from the rubbish could be born the genesis of a revolutionary new idea.

    Truth-value. Please allow me to point you to any document on climate change. So many conflicting opinions. Where do you find the truth in that? Even libraries suffer from this problem. You would expect to find books on biology and evolution. And you'd expect also to find the Bible. More conflicting opinions.

    That said, isn't it part of being a student that you spend hours in the stacks poring through dusty tomes? I can see the utility of Google allowing easy searching and correlation of a wide variety of sources, but if we permit a search engine and devices such as Kindle to *replace* (as opposed to augment) libraries, well, more fool us...

    1. James O'Shea


      that a _good_ student will use search engines _to point the way to where to do detailed research_. in some cases, this 'detailed research' will be available on the Internet, and can be directly accessed. In other cases, it will not be easily available on the Internet (not yet scanned in, or behind a paywall, or otherwise blocked off) and so the student would have to go do things the old-fashioned way. But now s/he knows what to look for or at least has an idea of where to start looking.

      A _bad_ student will just lap up the results of a search engine and will get results that show exactly what s/he did. And, as bad students usually do, get marked accordingly, and never figure out why they got a 'C'. Even when their professor tells them explicitly why.

      the prof with the fake name, assuming that she really exists, likely has only seen bad students. And was one herself.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It is reasonable for ...

    ... a highly skilled academic to question algorithms used, parameters set into said algorithms that give results.

    It seems to be one of the guiding principles behind (good) research and peer group scrutiny.

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