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Critique of Intelligent Design

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Mark Perakh's Web Site

Something rotten in Denmark?

By Andrea Bottaro

Posted June 20, 2006

Never underestimate the ID advocates' propensity for wishful thinking. Bill Dembski has just informed his acolytes that "International interest in ID is growing." (bold in the original). The reason? Well, according to Dembski, Australians search for "intelligent design" via the Google engine at 6 times the rate per person of their American counterparts. The Danes, a whopping 20 times as much!

Before you start thinking that something is rotten in Denmark, and planning a moral boycott of delicious jelly-filled pastries by relabeling them "Darwin rolls" or something, think again. The only rotten thing here is Dembski's understanding of how the comparative Google searches are tabulated, despite the fact that the information is clearly shown on the Google site.

Dembski says:

Google trends for searching on "intelligent design"
The following Google graph shows trends for searches on "intelligent design": http://www.google.com/trends?q=Intelligent+Desig.... Click on the "regions" tab. It shows that Australia has about half the searches for ID that the US does. Given that Australia's population is about 20 million, that means that if the US population is 250 million, Australia searches for ID on average 6 times more per person than does the US. And given that Denmark has only a quarter of the population of Australia, Danes must be searching for ID >20 times more than Americans. International interest in ID is growing.

Now, if you follow that link, and click on the "Regions" tab in the lower panel, indeed you will see that the US is the top region for Google searches on ID, followed by Australia, Denmark, Canada, etc. However, you will also see a link, right next to the "Top regions" label that says "normalized". If you are a PhD mathematician, like Dembski, or even if you just have completed high school, you should know what that means. It means that the values shown are not absolute numbers of searches, but are ratios of the searches versus some other variable. If you follow that link, you find that in fact

Google Trends calculates the ratio of searches for your term coming from each city divided by total Google searches coming from the same city....
The Regions and Languages tabs work just like the Cities tab.

In other words, relatively to all the local Google searches (which of course corrects for population size, as well as use of internet and of the Google search engine in particular), Australians search for ID just about half as often as Americans, and Danes about a third as much. Luckily, Andorra does not appear in the list of top regions, because Dembski would have probably concluded that Pyrenean mountaineers spend all their time obsessively Googling for ID info.

But going back to the Google Trends page, there is in fact some interesting info there. If you look at the graph at the top, which represents the actual trend in the search volume, you will see that Google searches for ID peaked dramatically during the Kitzmiller trial, especially around the verdict, but have been steadily declining since, and have returned to values comparable to pre-Kitzmiller levels. So, global "interest in ID" (as crudely measured by Google search ratios), has not grown discernibly despite the enormous publicity afforded by the Kitzmiller trial. Indeed, it seems that most web surfers read about Judge Jones's ruling that ID is just "creation science" repackaged, and went on ignoring the topic, just as they did before. But hey, who knows, a few more resounding legal defeats, and people may indeed take notice.

Originally posted at The Panda's Thumb.