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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Worst (Mis)Information Site on the Web?

My daughter looked up something on Google tonight, and found an answer at Answer.com. "Oh-oh," I warned. "Let's not trust that answer."

She had asked whether red blood cells have nuclei. The answer she found was:

"One of the often recited rules in Biology is that all living things possess a nucleus. This is generally true but the red blood cell is a significant exception to this rule."

Look at the number of problems here:

First some minor ones: "One of the often recited rules..." Has any one ever head this "rule" "recited" before? Is it even correct to call anything in "Biology" a "rule"? And there's the next problem: Why has "Biology" been capitalized? Someone is posing as an expert on the subject, and isn't even aware that the word should be in lowercase there?

But those are really minor nits compared to the fact that the "exception" cited is, in fact, the rule, not the exception, and overwhelmingly the rule. Far, far more living cells have no nucleus than have one. In our own body, cells without nuclei (intestinal bacteria, etc.) outnumber cells with nuclei ten-to-one.

What would make someone who knows so little about biology decide they have the expertise to "help out" on questions like this?

I see answers like this on this site all the time. Avoid it at all costs.

5 comments:

  1. Yeah, Answer.com answers are truly horrendous. They are so bad that, like you (I think?), I actually think on average their answers are wrong. You could actually learn something by assuming the opposite of what you read there, except really what I mean is that on any given answer, at least one major "fact" will be wrong in it, so that's no help if you have no frame of reference on the subject.

    Does anybody know why this happens? Why does Wikipedia work, but Answer.com is terrible?

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    Replies
    1. My guess is that correction is much easier on Wikipedia. I couldn't even figure out how to comment at Answers.com to say how bad this answer was.

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  2. I'd have to say Yahoo Answers is the worst. However, the "answers" given are usually so comically bad that fewer people are probably fooled.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, there are some really bad answers there and I would be willing to bet that more people go to Yahoo! Answers than Answer.com. The saving grace is that people do indeed use Yahoo! Answers for comedy. I've seen some pretty hilarious answers.

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    2. Beat me to it. Answers can at least point you in the right direction, Yahoo is wrong on every topic where I've known the answer, and gets closed with a high rating for the wrong answer.

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