Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guy with funny nickname running for mayor!

I'm a day late on this (due to laziness), but there's big news in Fitchburg politics!

According to the Sentinel, here's the deal:
Local sandwich shop owner Michael "Fuzzy" Voisine has pulled papers to run for mayor against incumbent Lisa Wong.

Voisine, 43, a Maverick Street resident, said he's running on a campaign of "change" and that he's fed up with the "good old boys" network that permeates city politics.

"I'm going to give it a shot," Voisine said.
I like that winning attitude, Fuzzy!

So, besides giving Mayor Wong something to do during the run-up to the election, what's Fuzzy all about? Besides sandwiches, I mean.
He's known widely around the city as "Fuzzy," a nickname he said he's had since junior high school.
I'm sure there's an interesting and/or humiliating story behind that nickname. Sadly, we don't get the backstory. I'm going to assume Fuzzy was either remarkably hirsute in junior high, had an unfortunate haircut, or maybe it was something to do with pubic hair (kids that age are crazy about pubic hair!).

What else do we know about Fuzzy?
He's worked on Main Street in Fitchburg for most of his life, first at Domino's Pizza, then managing Espresso Pizza for 14 years.

He left Espresso almost five years ago to start his own sub shop, Premier Subs, at 500 Main St.

"No one thought I would last a year, and I've been here for four and a half," he said.
Well, now I'm a little embarrassed. I drive by that place fairly often and had no idea it was still operational. My mistake! (Hey commenters, is the food any good?)

Anyway, it's nice to know that in addition to sandwiches, Fuzzy also enjoys pizza. He's a man of the people! Except maybe the people who think that sugary-sweet sauce they use at Espresso Pizza is incredibly disgusting, like me.

Maybe it's time to get into the part that's actually relevant to politics, though. Knowing his culinary habits is fine and all, but doesn't really say much about his qualifications.
Voisine said has been considering a run for public office for a few weeks.

He got frustrated during the Civic Days celebration when, he said, some city officials would not allow him to have a band or a vendor's tent during the city's block party celebration on July 3.

"I've had some tough runnings with certain people in the mayor's office and I don't like to be talked down to," Voisine said.

Running for mayor after minimal consideration, based on some petty frustration, is not really the best way to get into things. Remember what happened with Rachel, who ran essentially the same way and then had to drop out due to shame health problems?

Also, dude, your name is "Fuzzy." If you don't like to be talked down to, you might want to choose a different nickname. I suggest "Admiral Ignatius." That would get you much more respect.

Perhaps it's part of a larger problem?
Voisine said that points to a larger issue of city officials not being receptive to local residents and business owners.

"It seems like they don't care about existing businesses," he said. "Whoever is in office needs to listen to everyone."
Well, those are some... pretty vague charges, actually. I mean, I agree that officeholders need to listen to everyone (within reason, anyway), but do you really think your one little difficulty means that the city government is ignoring huge constituencies? I'd like some more examples, please.

So, what are Fuzzy's plans for improving things?
He said after two decades of working on Main Street in Fitchburg, he would like to see more change.

"Downtown is dying with all the empty storefronts," he said.

One idea, he said, is to make parking more accessible and he likes Wong's idea of angled parking on Main Street.

He also said he would like to continue and expand Wong's First Thursday initiative, which encouraged residents to visit downtown shops on the first Thursday of each month.
Okay, those are really the current Mayor's plans for improving things. But they are good ideas, and there's nothing wrong with supporting them. They're just not really new.

Indeed, Fuzzy thinks Mayor Wong is doing a pretty good job:
Voisine does not have many criticisms of Wong.

He said "given the hand she's been dealt," she is, "doing as good of a job she can."
Oh no, Fuzzy! You're dangerously close to losing the crazy "I hate Mayor Wong no matter what she does" voters!

Actually, that's fine. There aren't very many of those, they're just disproportionately loud.

I have, however, detected another problem:
Voisine said he's not sure he can do better than Wong in terms of managing the city finances, but he would bring a different "mind frame."

Okay, I know that Fuzzy hasn't run for office before, but I'm pretty sure that saying you won't actually do a better job with city finances (by far the single most important issue) than your opponent seems like a way to make sure nobody will bother to vote for you.

At this point I'm having a hard time figuring out just why anyone should vote for Fuzzy. He supports ideas Lisa Wong proposed, and he doesn't know if he could do a better job than her on city finances (which suggests he probably couldn't). Given that, why not just vote for Wong?

Give us something fresh, Fuzzy!
Voisine said he would be a down-to-earth, receptive mayor, and would rely on a group of trusted advisers.

He said during his campaign and if he gets elected, he hopes to surround himself with "the best people I can."
That's not fresh! Tom Donnelly said pretty much the same stuff in the last mayoral election, and now he spends every day shining shoes for nickels down at the bus station [Citation needed].

But what's this?
Voisine said he hopes to run a clean and inexpensive campaign.

"Throwing dirt does no good," he said.

He said he may hold fundraisers and looks forward to researching city policies in the coming weeks in preparation for the election.

"Once I get going, if I surround myself with the right people, I think I can make it work," he said. "For my own peace of mind, I need to give it a shot."
Well, that's admirable. Ron Dionne did largely the same thing last election (sans fundraising), and Ron Dionne is awesome! He's not the mayor, obviously, but he's still very likable!

It's much too early to say with any certainty, but I suspect that's what we're going to get with Fuzzy too. A well-meaning guy who figures he might as well give running for mayor a shot. Because why not? I, for one, welcome him!

Unfortunately, so far he comes off as sane, reasonable, and unqualified to run the city. This all adds up to "sorta boring." As such, I have some unsolicited advice for Fuzzy.

Dear Fuzzy,

You seem like an okay enough guy, but from what I've seen so far you're probably not going to win this election. You probably already know this.

So, what to do? I have two options you may wish to explore.

The "Respectable" Option: While you're researching city policies, try to come up with some original policies of your own. They don't have to be great, but they should at least be new and interesting. Armed with these interesting new ideas, you can present them to the public and the current mayor as things to consider. Even if you lose the election, if your ideas are good enough they may get adopted by the winner.

Then you can sleep comfortably, knowing you ran a clean and respectable campaign and through the
power of your ideas, you will have made an impact on the city, win or lose.

The "Batshit Insane" Option: Look at the past mayoral campaigns of Ted DeSalvatore and Rachel Rosenfeld, and try to be like them. Say lots of things that make no sense, and back them up with bluster and lies. Get personally offended by broad societal trends, and make bombastic, threatening gestures for no apparent reason. You can easily pull in the crazy asshole vote this way.

This option won't win you the election. It also won't make you look respectable, or even sane. However, it would be entertaining and make for some easy blog posts in which I'd be very mean to you.

Either way, good luck.
Pope Unicow

PS The second option will more easily allow you to start calling yourself "Admiral Ignatius," and is clearly the better choice!


Friday, July 24, 2009

Racism maybe not actually gone?

Thanks to another of those terrible "local leaders weigh in on _____" articles, today we get to learn what local officials think about the arrest of Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr., a situation that you're probably already aware of.

For this we will turn to the Sentinel's catchily-named article: Gates' arrest draws variety of views.

This is probably going to hurt.
The controversial arrest of renowned Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. has sparked a conversation throughout the country, including in North Central Massachusetts, where leaders are offering diverse views about the incident.

Police arrested Gates in his Cambridge home after he allegedly berated them and told them they didn't know "who they were messing with," when they came to his home to investigate a possible break-in.
Well that's not a very complete description of events! You get no context, you get only the officer's side of the story, and Gates is immediately portrayed as the bad guy.

Never mind that this whole incident should have ended the moment that Gates showed ID proving that he was in his own house. The guy was rude!

Apparently we're supposed to believe that it's a crime to be rude on your own property. I have no idea how I've stayed out of jail so long.*
Gates believes his arrest was motivated by race, while some, including Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested Gates, maintain the professor's belligerent tone, not his skin color, got him arrested.
This part of the tale is actually somewhat annoying to me. I don't know if the arrest was racially motivated or not (though I suspect it was to some degree). But really, it doesn't matter. It's not a crime to be a dick. We also don't know if Gates actually was a dick or not, but for the purposes of argument let's just assume he was.

Okay, enough of the setup, what do local leaders think?
Adrian Ford, the executive director of local community advocate group Three Pyramids, said the answer may lie somewhere in between.

"What I've found in working on these types of issues for 40 years is that we all have subconscious views and opinions that rise to the surface when we're not aware," Ford said Thursday. "It doesn't mean there's a conscious racism there, but this sort of thing is very common."
Yay, a smart person to start off with! I agree with Ford, and this sort of thing is unquestionably very common.

Now on to the dumbassery.
But Westminster Police Chief Sam Albert said police officers deserve more credit.

"I think trends are changing, the job is changing, and officers are becoming more educated," Albert said Thursday.
Well, that's nice. Those things are probably all true. They just have nothing to do with this case. You can be educated and still be a racist asshole or a power-hungry cop. Education doesn't fix those things.

Then the article gets sidetracked into talking not about the case, but about President Obama's statement that the cop did something stupid. How dare the president say such a thing!
The comments from Obama -- a personal friend of Gates' -- surprised most local leaders.

"It shocked me," Fitchburg community activist Yvette Cooks said. "I didn't expect that."

Cooks, an African American, is a member of the city's Human Rights Commission.
Okay, I guess that's nice too? But it doesn't tell us much. I'm a little surprised he weighed in on this too, but I also absolutely agree with him. And really, he only weighed in because he was asked about it at a press conference.

Who else has something to say? More cops? You know they'll give an unbiased opinion, because who's ever heard of a cop reflexively standing up for another cop even when they're clearly in the wrong?
John Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts State Police Chiefs Association, called attacks on the Cambridge Police Department -- as well as Obama's comments -- "premature."

"It doesn't add anything to the situation, and knowing (the Cambridge Police Department) as I do, I suspect they'll address any issues quietly, and not necessarily in the newspapers," Collins said Thursday.
Oh, that's great. Yes, let's please keep important discussions about race and police misconduct quiet. It's not like we'd actually want to do anything about these issues.

Let's add yet another cop!
Chief Bourgeois, like Chief Albert, shot down Ford's assertion of "subconscious" prejudices.

"We train all our officers regarding any kind of racial profiling," Bourgeois said. "Officers approach every call objectively, no matter race, color or religious preference."
Okay, this is just blatant bullshit. There's no way even Bourgeois could believe this, unless he's the most naive man in the world.

Just because you "train" people not to be assholes doesn't mean they won't be assholes. I don't know what sort of training actually takes place, but does anyone with half a brain believe that it can eliminate the problem?

What's more, you can't just train subconscious prejudices out of people. That's sort of what subconscious means. They're not even aware of their prejudices, so how do you expect to train them out of them?

Also from the Obama part of this story, we had this:
Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said the White House "is too far from the situation" to comment.
Now, let's listen to Pacheco comment, because he is obviously right in the thick of things!
But minorities reported they sympathized with Gates, whether or not they considered Cambridge police racist.

"Profiling definitely happens, and I deal with it even in Lancaster," Pacheco, who is Dominican, said. "And it's not just races. Gays and lesbians, in some ways, are discriminated against even more."

When asked whether she has ever felt profiled by police, Cooks did not hesitate.

"Oh my God, yes," she said. "From police, from everybody. It's common."
Dang, that was actually a good comment. What the hell was his problem with Obama commenting? Also, yay our surprised friend Yvette Cooks is back! She's now relegated to the "minorities say this" part of the article, but at least she said something decent. I guess her surprise from earlier was similar to mine.

We'll also give Adrian Ford a little more to say, what with him being a minority and all:
Ford said profiling occurs regularly, and dismissed as "stupid" the notion that America has overcome racial tension by electing an African-American president.
Holy crap Adrian! Didn't you learn anything from Obama? Now everyone is going to get all mad at you for daring to call a stupid idea stupid.

But Fitchburg Councilor at-large Dean Tran disagrees.

"The majority of people in this country have spoken, and voted for an African American, which means that race doesn't play as big a role," Tran said.
Tran is, of course, an irredeemable idiot.

He's actually using the exact same argument that the racists I profiled back in November were using (and will undoubtedly be using in the comments section of the S&E article).

Others have made this argument too. Here's a quote from an email that was sent to the W.E.B. Dubois Institute this week**:
"you can't possibly claim racism, don't you know we have a nigger in the white house?"

Presumably Tran didn't send that email, but he's making the exact same argument.

Never content to stop at saying one stupid thing when there's an opportunity to get even stupider, Tran continues:
Tran, who is Vietnamese, said he has never experienced profiling.

"For me, all this situation does is make me very fearful that police will be hesitant in responding to incidents that involve people of color because they will be afraid of something like this happening," Tran said.
Yeah, I'm sure that minorities (who are of course fully and respectfully served by the police now) will now suffer with sub-par police service because Skip Gates was arrested for being loud at his own home.

Talking about police abuse of power will make the cops scared of doing their job? Only if they're abusive cops.

Dean, you seriously need to take your own Twitter advice and look up "clueless."

Okay, enough of dumbass Tran. Perhaps there's someone out there who's not stupid?
Christina Gonzalez, youth development supervisor at the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, said electing Obama doesn't mean a society has overcome its racial history.

"That's like when someone tells a racist joke and then qualifies it by saying, 'It's okay, I have a black friend,'" Gonzalez said. "You still feel a certain way about those people. It still shows in your facial expression."
Thank you, Christina Gonzalez! What you've said is totally honest and self-evident to all thinking people. Sadly, we seem to be lacking in thinking people right now.

Let's wrap this up:
Ford questioned Gates' vocal reaction and his call for an apology.

"This is an opportunity to create a learning experience, and a leader's job is to influence other people," Ford said. "(Gates) needs to step back, make this issue less about him, and approach it from a less emotional standpoint as a chance for everyone to learn. That's not happening. All we're doing is perpetuating divisions."
Adrian, I think you've got your wires crossed somewhere.

Here's what Gates said in an interview (emphasis mine):
I've received thousands of e-mails and Facebook messages; the blogs are going crazy; my colleagues at Harvard are outraged. Allen Counter called me from the Nobel Institute in Stockholm to express his outrage. But really it's not about me-it's that anybody black can be treated this way, just arbitrarily arrested out of spite.

Now, you could argue that he's making it about him despite saying that, but in the end it really isn't about Gates no matter what he does.

In fact, I'm not even sure that the arrest itself is the really interesting part here. The arrest was absolutely stupid, but whether it was racially-motivated or not is hard to know for sure. Personally, I see it more as another authoritarian cop (and there are lots of those) arresting someone for "contempt of cop" than as a pure racial issue. Of course, minorities are arrested with those sorts of charges at a disproportionately high rate, so there's no reason it can't be both.

Rather, the part that's revealing when it comes to race is not the arrest, it's the reactions. It's the guys sitting behind their keyboards screaming about "reverse racism" and utterly denying that the real problems exist.

It's the total failure of people to appreciate that if they had just come home after a 20-hour trip back from China and a cop started treating them like a criminal in their own home, then maybe they'd get pretty pissed off too.

It's the inability of people to realize that yes, there are cops out there who will arrest you for things that aren't illegal, and will justify those arrests however they feel they need to.

We shouldn't be asking ourselves "was the cop right" or "was Gates a jerk"? We should be asking ourselves what we'd do in Gates' situation. Whether we'd feel that we were being protected and served, or intimidated and harrassed.

More importantly, we should realize that for every Henry Louis Gates, Jr. who gets arrested for no reason, there are a few thousand normal, everyday people (of all races) who suffer the same treatment, but don't have the means or influence to draw attention to it.

Whatever you think of this particular case, it's unquestionably true that people do get arrested for the crime of being black. It's unquestionably true that some cops are keen on showing how "tough" they are by mistreating those they are meant to serve.

If nothing else, Gates' arrest should be a wake up call. Like Adrian Ford desires, and like Skip Gates has said, it's not about Gates. It's about all of us.

* That's a lie. Of course I know how I've stayed out of jail: I'm white and I'm scared of arguing with people who could shoot me.
** Check it out, I have a contact! Take that, journalists!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thanks, Fox News!

The following clip from Fox News is about the Netherlands, and I'm pretty sure viewers are supposed to find it terribly disturbing. Their intended effect isn't exactly what I got out of it.

Happy stoners? Uncontroversial same-sex marriage? Lots of sex? An aversion to religion?

Sounds good to me. Let's all go to Holland!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Compromise is a jerk!

Oh, crazy letter to the editor-writers, why must you tempt me so? I always feel a little guilty for mocking you, as if I were picking on the kids on the short bus. On the other hand, this particular crazy person is advocating imposing his religious beliefs on everyone, so he deserves it.

I am referring to this letter published in today's Sentinel with the headline of "Compromised values hurt America close to home." Damn dirty compromise!

Let the fisking begin:
America is losing the war, not the war on terrorism, but the war against the very soul of America. This enemy is cunning, highly intelligent and knows very well how to defeat America.

This enemy does not come at us from the outside, but from within directly attacking the core values and principles of this great nation and of its people. The very foundation that built our house and stood as a city on a hill.
Okay, so it sounds like the "enemy" here is Americans who happen to disagree with any of the views of our letter-writer. I guess that would be pretty much everyone who isn't the author of this letter. I'm pretty sure I know who will win this war.
As one who served in the military understands, to defeat one's enemy you attack the core.

This enemy is compromise, and it has been working in this country for at least 50 to 60 years now.
Oh wait, the enemy is "compromise"? How does that work? Compromise is "cunning" and "highly intelligent"? That's pretty good for an abstract concept!

Also, has compromise seriously only existed for 50 or 60 years? Didn't King Solomon propose cutting that baby in half as a compromise? Sure, they didn't go through with it, but clearly the concept was around.

Please explain your theory, sir!
The enemy of compromise could have started with one of the greatest deceptions in promoting separation of church and state. This deception has and continues to affect many Americans to compromise their core values and principles.

We as a people group, society and a nation are slowly giving over our core values and principles that our forefathers fought for and established for this great nation.
Umm... huh. Those sentences don't actually make any sense, but I think he's saying that separation of church and state is a deception? It must be a pretty good deception, since it's smack-dab in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Were the founding fathers deceived? Perhaps!

Or maybe they were the deceivers themselves! They did do an awful lot of compromising.

What else has this evil "compromise" done with its army of compromise-bots?
Compromise has taken prayer out of school.
Well, that's not really true, is it? You can pray in school all you want. You just can't force other people to pray, or to listen to you pray. But hey, if you want to pray in school, go for it!

Still, it wasn't "compromise" that removed official prayer from public schools. It was that pesky First Amendment again. Damn founding fathers!

Maybe compromise is up to no good elsewhere?
Compromise is removing the 10 Commandments from the public forum even though many of our laws are based upon them.
Which laws would those be?

I'm pretty sure having other gods before Yahweh is legal, as are making idols, using God's name in vain, doing things on the Sabbath, dishonoring your parents, committing adultery, bearing false witness (unless you're under oath), and coveting your neighbor's wife and oxen and assorted sundries.

Admittedly, murder and theft are both illegal. So that's two commandments that actually have laws related to them. Of course, murder and theft are illegal everywhere, and prohibitions against them predate the ten commandments by quite a bit. They're just sensible laws.

It's conceivable that our letter-writer is not a legal scholar. Maybe we should just move on.
Compromise gave us aborting innocent life and the acceptance of mercy killing of elders or those who are terminally sick.
Okay, at this point it's pretty clear that Mr. Crazy-Letter-Writer-Guy doesn't actually know what the word "compromise" even means. I suspect he thinks it's a synonym for "anyone I don't like," which it is not. But at least it makes the letter more coherent if we do a little mental substitution.
We have compromised the sanctity of marriage and allow people of the same sex to be married, and who knows what in the near future.
God dammit! Now he's actually using the word correctly. Jerk.

I do like that "who knows what" part. Indeed, who knows? Will fish start marrying televisions? Will clowns be encouraged to have sex on the steps in front of City Hall? Who knows, but it's probably terrible!
Further compromise is occurring within the area of underage drinking, illegal use of drugs, prostitution and gambling.
Fuck it, I don't even know what compromise means anymore. Maybe it's just shorthand for "compromises of my strict authoritarian standards."

Is this stuff still supposed to be related to Jeebus somehow? Because he pretty famously enjoyed hanging out with prostitutes, and didn't really have a lot to say about drugs or gambling.

He was way cooler than the jackass behind this letter, that's for sure!
We now see our government and judges willing to compromise these core values and our constitution as they continue to make laws that are contrary to basic moral and ethical values.
Translation: "Not violating the constitutional separation between church and state is a violation of the Constitution!"

Yep, clearly not a legal scholar.
I could go on and on with many other areas where we are compromising and diluting our values and principles and negating our constitution.
... but I'm far too drunk to do so right now. I need a nap.
Many say simply the times are changing and we should change with them.

However, I challenge you with this. It is not time that changes but people and how they think and what they want changes.
Actually, time does change. It goes forward. People change too, which is sometimes called "growth." How is this a challenge?
This very enemy is causing the American people to become selfish, arrogant and prideful.
Wait, which enemy? Change, compromise, or people you don't like? Maybe the founding fathers? I'm so confused.
As for the sun, it will always rise in the east and set in the west. Likewise with so many of our values and principles and constitution are deep rooted, they should never be compromised.
So because the Earth rotates in a certain direction, nothing should ever change? Hell of a theory you've got there, buddy. Also, you really need to stop throwing the Constitution in with your own personal biases, because I'm pretty sure most of the founding fathers would think you're a clueless asshole.

Finally, the coup de grace!
Many of you who read this may not agree, but then, why should you?
Oh, I get it! It was all just a big joke. He's making fun of people who take this kind of nonsense seriously.

Well done, sir! You had me thinking you were just another whiny theocrat, demanding that everyone follow your personal values system, and using your utter lack of understanding of the Constitution to try to give yourself some credibility.

I'm pleased to see that you are, in fact, merely a joke.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In search of a credible search engine

The internet is obviously a wonderful source of information. Unfortunately, a lot of that information isn't actually true.

The misinformation isn't usually intentionally malicious. It's just the byproduct of every dumbass with a computer having the ability to put their own mistaken beliefs on the web. Some of the resulting misinformation is more widely-believed than the actual truth, and this leads to problems.

Google is really a very good search engine. I use it all the time, and generally the first few results you get from a Google search are decent enough. But not always.

Recently, I've been contemplating how much better searching would be if the results for certain kinds of searches were sorted not by popularity, but by credibility. Far too often have I encountered search results where the misinformation heavily outranked the truth.

Well, as it turns out there are at least two search engines out there who claim to promote credible information on searches related to health care (but nothing much else at this point). Since bad healthcare information dominates the internet, and since that misinformation can actually have pretty severe consequences for people who believe it, health information seems like a great place to start.

Today I'm going to examine these two new search engines and compare their results to Google on a number of health issues. Let's see how they work.

The following search engines will be used:
  • Bing - this is Microsoft's recently-renamed search engine, that they stupidly choose to call a "decision engine." I don't know what that means either. Wikipedia (itself not exactly the most credible source) describes its "Bing Health" search services as follows:
    Bing Health (previously Live Search Health) is a health-related search service as part of Microsoft's Bing search engine. It is a search engine specifically for health-related information through a variety of trusted and credible sources, including Medstory, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus, as well as from Wikipedia.
  • hakia - I just discovered this one last night. It's still in beta, but does make a very concerted effort to provide credible information. As they describe it, hakia gets librarians to submit credible sources, and require a source to be peer-reviewed, lack commercial bias, have current information, and not be controlled by outside parties for it to be considered credible. At this point, their credible search element is limited to health and environmental information.
  • Google - really needs no introduction.

I'll be using a few different health-related search terms to see how these three compare. They are:
  • diabetes - basic, easy one to start with.
  • vaccine ingredients - simple enough, just give me accurate information on what's in vaccines.
  • swine flu - because big stories draw scammers.
I'll submit each of those italicized search terms to the three engines, and let's see what we end up with. I'm only going to deal with the top five results from each, because that's where the vast majority of people are going to end up.

Test #1 - diabetes

Google - The first five results (discarding ads, duplicates from the same domain, and news results) are pretty good. At the top is the American Diabetes Association, with WebMD, a journal of diabetes, and NIH information in the top five.

Unfortunately, this site ranks third, and it's little more than a marketing site for the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Pretty blatant conflict of interest there.

Bing - Bing separates its results out into different categories (like "Diabetes Symptoms," "Diabetes Prevention," etc). I'm just going to use the top-level stuff that doesn't have a subheading, and again ignore the ads at the top.

Bing does okay here. The top results is from the Mayo Clinic, who clearly have partnered with Microsoft here. Second is the ADA. Third is Wikipedia's article on diabetes, which is not exactly what I'd consider a credible source (Wikipedia articles are a great example of popular ideas winning out over true ones). GSK's little propaganda site is up there too.

hakia - A search at the default domain brings up a special diabetes page. All the information seems pretty good, with the ADA, Mayo Clinic, and some other fairly respectable sources of information available. Notably absent are GSK's site and Wikipedia, which is nice.

Clicking on the "credible" tab for results gives us several PubMed articles, as well as a couple of top results for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. Which is a decently reality-based page, but probably not what you're actually looking for if you just search for "diabetes."

Verdict! - They're all pretty decent, actually. hakia is maybe a tiny bit ahead for keeping out GSK and Wikipedia, but loses points for relatively useless "credible" results. Let's call this one a tie.

Test #2 - vaccine ingredients

This one is going to be interesting. There's a large antivaccination contingent on the internet, so getting accurate information about what's actually in vaccines is tricky.

Google - It's not pretty. The top two results are both antivacine sites, publishing lists of dubious quality to try to scare people away from vaccines. Lots of talk of thimerosol, which crazy people insist causes autism despite tons of evidence to the contrary.

The third result is the CDC, which is the only credible source in the top five. Then it's back to the antivaccine propaganda. Just below the CDC, we even get One look at that site should be enough to show just how credible their information is.

Bing - Holy crap. Google's results were already horrible, but Bing's are even worse. Rense has moved up to the top spot, with the even more batshit-insane taking up third place. The entire top 10 is utter crap, except for the CDC at number 8. Horrible results.

hakia - Well, the "Web Results" are still incredibly bad. But hakia does put the "Credible Sites" right next to them.

So we have batshit insanity right next to very good stuff. It would be nice if the credible stuff actually showed up in the general "web results" too, but perhaps that's something that will come about at a later stage (note that hakia is still in beta). Additionally, hakia's credible results are poorly-ranked. They skew towards overly-specific when people are looking for general information. Again, this is something that might be worked out later.

Verdict! - They all suck, but hakia sucks slightly less than the others. Bing is actually even worse than Google, despite their claim to provide credible health information.

Test #3 - swine flu

Google - Not too bad. The CDC's excellent swine flu portal is in the top position, with the rest of the top five rounded out by Wikipedia, a mostly-reasonable but ad-heavy medical portal, the World Health Organization, and Medline. Wikipedia's presence is probably okay in this case, because of H1N1's newsworthiness.

Bing - Again we get the Mayo Clinic at the top, with Wikipedia following close after. Then some stuff from the Guardian which is pretty reasonable.

But right after that we get a really stupid blog, which has a lot of bad information (like telling you to disinfect your shoes, which is just dumb) and appears to be a veiled attempt at selling you an herbal supplement. It's a scam site part of a network of identical scam sites, plain and simple.

Overall, the Bing results for swine flu appear to be about 20% credible and 80% scams and bullshit.

hakia - Pretty good! The credible results are indeed very credible, though they once again suffer from not being particularly relevant. The normal results are also pretty credible, and there's nary a scam to be found. The normal results do skew a little newsy at times, but overall not too bad.

Verdict! - Google and hakia both win this round. They avoided nonsense and provided good information. hakia's "credible search" is still giving good, but often irrelevant results, but their normal search made up for it. Bing was fine for two links and then turned to crap.


I had intended to do a couple more test searches, but this is getting lengthy and there's a pretty clear pattern emerging.

Basically, when it comes to health information your best options are either Google or hakia. Google has a lot of bad stuff mixed in, but the top few results are usually decent. hakia has a way to go before it's truly useful, but the credible results it delivers are certainly credible. They're just not necessarily very relevant. If it works out the kinks, maybe by the time it's out of beta it'll be something quite good.

Bing, on the other hand, sucks really hard. I'm not sure how a search engine that goes out of its way to provide credible health information managed to provide worse information than Google (which makes no such attempt), but it did. Avoid this one.

Also notable is that all our engines did pretty badly with the vaccine ingredient search. This was not the least bit surprising, and is actually the reason why I chose that term. Faced with the tons of stupid out there, hakia seemed to do the best. Dealing with these sorts of controversial topics may be the most difficult test of a search engine, so hakia's relatively good performance may signal good things on the way.

Of course, it's necessary with any search engine to use your own critical thinking skills and actually sort out what's true from what's not. Even the most credible and well-respected sites can contain errors, and no search engine is going to be able to make the final call for you.

Hopefully we can reach a point where a simple health-related search can bring back mostly-credible results instead of mostly-nonsense results. There's still a way to go, but it's good to see some people trying.