When he finds out about regexps he’s going to totally freak

Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times:

 To the contrary, there will surely be a new secretary of state visiting you next year with the umpteenth road map for “confidence-building measures” between Israelis and Palestinians. He or she may even tell you that “this is the year of decision.” Be careful. We’ve been there before. If you Google “Year of decision in the Middle East,” you’ll get more than 100,000,000 links.

Can this really be true?  Nope.  In fact if you Google that phrase you get fewer than 12,000 links.

The problem here is that Thomas Friedman apparently doesn’t know that when you search Google for a phrase you need to put quotes around it.  Without the quotes, you do indeed get more than 100,000,000 results.  That’s because a lot of web pages mention years, decisions, and things located either in the middle or to the east.

It seems plausible that long-time New York Times columnists might not know how to use Google, but it’s appalling if the people who edit and fact-check the columns don’t know how to use Google.

So that this post has some content and is not pure snark, here’s a relevant article by my friend Eszter Hargittai, whose research has taught us a lot about how people use search engines in the real world.

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9 thoughts on “When he finds out about regexps he’s going to totally freak

  1. Your last link is broken, but google fixes it for you.

  2. JSE says:

    Ha! Fixed.

  3. 8,120 for me, with the top link to National Review’s blog, and then to Friedman’s own column, and then to… you! I think that’s because Google knows I read you, but it’s cool anyway.

  4. Mark Meckes says:

    I was appalled by that as well. For what it’s worth, I get about 30,000 hits when searching for the two phrases “year of decision” and “Middle East”, which seems to me to be the most reasonable search.

  5. nichole says:

    To me, “If you Google X” sounds lazy, in the same way that “Webster’s defines X as” does.

  6. David Speyer says:

    I often run into the question of how the NYT should have typeset Friedman’s sentence to indicate the true statement. Logic dictates:

    If you Google “ ‘Year of decision in the Middle East’ ”, you’ll get 12,000 hits.

    I have to admit that this looks terrible, though. I usually resort to a block quote (as I did above) or rephrasing the sentence.

  7. anon says:

    It isn’t just about not knowing Teh Googulz… it betrays a deep misunderstanding of not just the internet but of the world itself. If we assume there are really 100,000,000 results, and if those are all by distinct people, that would mean over 1% of the *entire world population* had posted something using that phrase. Ridiculous!

  8. Richard says:

    As it so happens, I use the awesome power of regexps (OK, string search) to make Iraq War crime inciter and fact-estranged blowhard Friedman disappear altogether:

    @namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);
    @-moz-document domain("nytimes.com") {
       a[href*="/opinion/"][href*="friedman"] {display: none !important;}
  9. A.T. says:

    Tom Friedman talking (un-ironically) about slippery timelines (“Year of decision in the Middle East,”) is especially funny in light of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedman_Unit (abbreviated F.U.; see also: http://www.eschatonblog.com/2012/04/one-true-wanker-of-decade.html).

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