Google and Psychological Reality
I was inspired by John Rhodes' excellent post about netchecking [Link removed 03/25/2004 - Sadly, John is apparently NOT keeping his archives online] to think about what Google really does.
Google does not find the most authoritative source. It finds what people believe to be the most authoritative source. It is a good meter of what people believe something to mean. This is the psychological definition of reality: someone can have an intense belief that seems to them as real as anything else, but only they see. For some things, the only physical manifestation the rest of us can see is chemical level in the person afflicted.
To be more social about it, this gets into one of my favorite areas: linguistics. Much to the distress of grammatical puritans, language evolves. To someone my age (30), saying "The data are suspect." rings about as oddly as "The sand are wet." I am aware of its plural usage in scientific circles, but it still strikes me as silly. The only people using the word datum, the alleged singular, are surveyors.
This linguistic oddity stemmed from the fact that educated people used to learn Latin. This is no longer the case. In Latin, data is the plural, and datum is the singular. So it sort of bled over. I was delighted when reading early Roman texts that they considered Etruscan a "better" language and used it for religious purposes for quite some time. Sound familar? Apparently, "Roman Numerals" were borrowed from the Etruscans as well.