Does Google push the most popular content rather than act as a neutral tool?

Search engines and the production of academic knowledge


From
International Journal of Cultural Studies

Surveys prove that students performing topic searches for scholarly papers overwhelmingly choose search engines, rather than library-based research discovery networks, as their preferred starting-point. Are they getting the best and most relevant information? This article argues that search engines in general, and Google Scholar in particular, have become significant co-producers of academic knowledge. Academic users therefore need to raise their awareness of exactly how search engines operate, to ensure it is quality and not just popularity that drive their selection of sources.

 

Abstract            

This article argues that search engines in general, and Google Scholar in particular, have become significant co-producers of academic knowledge. Knowledge is not simply conveyed to users, but is co-produced by search engines’ ranking systems and profiling systems, none of which are open to the rules of transparency, relevance and privacy in a manner known from library scholarship in the public domain. Inexperienced users tend to trust proprietary engines as neutral mediators of knowledge and are commonly ignorant of how meta-data enable engine operators to interpret collective profiles of groups of searchers. Theorizing search engines as nodal points in networks of distributed power, based on the notions of Manuel Castells, this article urges for an enriched form of information literacy to include a basic understanding of the economic, political and socio-cultural dimensions of search engines. Without a basic understanding of network architecture, the dynamics of network connections and their intersections, it is hard to grasp the social, legal, cultural and economic implications of search engines.

 

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Article details

van Dijck, J. (2010). Search engines and the production of academic knowledge International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13 (6), 574-592 DOI: 10.1177/1367877910376582

     
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