Scientists call out Google for showing contents that deny climate change in Discover

Several members of the scientific community are calling for Google to change its algorithms that are currently showing off contents that deny climate change and challenges the scientific consensus on the climate problem. Specifically, they are referring to the new app Google launched called Discover where curated contents are served to users based on their previous searches. 

A professor focusing on environmental science at Drexel University and Brown University said that Google is abetting the proliferation of misinformation and should take responsibility for the act. 

“Google is aiding and abetting the promulgation of climate science misinformation,” said Professor Robert Brulle. “They are unwittingly spreading misinformation, and they have to take responsibility for that.”

The call came after a climate activist, named Tommaso Boggia, revealed that the curated content that is specifically curated for his own Discover tab includes headlines that are denying the scientific consensus about climate change. The activist said he was shocked that Google algorithmically selected climate change denial website for his own tab. 

One of the said headlines that Boggia was served within his Discover tab was a news link that opens up a blog post entitled “Bipartisan Panel of Scientists Confirms Humans are NOT Responsible for Past 20,000 Years of Global Warming.”

Google’s Discover tab is a feature that algorithmically selects pages, news articles, videos, and other content based on the user behavior and past Google searches in order to “surface relevant content to you.” The Discover tab can be accessed as a dedicated tab on Google phones, on the Google search app, and on the Google mobile homepage.

In an investigation conducted by Buzzfeed on the claims of Boggia, the journalists have found at least eight environmentalists and science professionals who agreed that Google is indeed showing them articles that outrightly deny the scientific consensus on climate change. 

The reporters were also able to find different websites and blogs that proliferate climate change denialism and appear on Google’s Discover tab. Among them was leading climate change denial blog Watts Up With That? and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK-based lobbying organization that has repeatedly contested with the idea that climate change is fueled by human activity, a consensus in the scientific community since the 1950s. 

“They’re basically telling people when they put stuff into their feed, ‘This is from us, and we thought you’d be interested in it,'” said Brulle. “It’s not fact-checked or validated, but we’re placing it into your feed anyways.”

Google has also been in the center of calls to stand up against scientific misinformation that has become rampant in recent years. The tech giant has already set forth several policies to demonetize anti-vaccination contents and burry misinforming content in Google search. It comes as a shocker for members of the scientific community that Google is still serving articles that capitalize on climate change denialism. 

In July, a scientist has similarly called for Google to change its Youtube algorithms to prioritize video contents that support the scientific consensus on global warming and climate change. 

Dr. Joachim Allgaier of RWTH Aachen University in Germany revealed that Youtube is showing climate denialist video contents on top of the search results for several climate-related keywords. The researcher said that a majority of the content on Youtube about the climate crisis oppose the consensus belief and they “hijack” technical keywords to appear credible.  

“Effectively, this would be censorship, and YouTube says they are against censorship,” Allgaier said. “Perhaps they could change their algorithms to prioritize factual information, especially for health and medicine.”

When asked to comment regarding why Google Discover is serving misinformed climate change-related content to users, a Google spokesperson refused to provide any information on how their algorithms work, but he notes that the content shown to users are curated “via algorithm.” The spokesperson also said, after he was alerted of the existence of a climate denial blog, that they will “take action against the site” for violating Google’s “transparency” policies. It is still unclear whether the tech giant is going to take action against the pervasiveness of misinformed climate content in their platform or just the said website alone. 

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