January 11, 2008

In the funny papers

Today's XKCD uses Google Psycholinguistics to show us that in the deathwish dimension, blogging still lags behind knitting and gardening:

I note in passing that the "died in a ___ accident" frame is apparently not used in some cases where its literal meaning would seem to apply. Thus the phrase "died in a science accident" has apparently not yet occurred anywhere in the billions of pages on the web, although many people over the years have certainly died in accidents connected to scientific research activities.

But my research in this area has turned up some extraordinary google-bait, in the ambulance-chaser division: a page on the site of the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg P.C., offering "Free Legal Services" from a "National Academy Of Science Accident Lawyer". I can only imagine that this page was automatically generated from a list of organizations, some of which someone might conceivably want to sue. (The same firm apparently offers the services of a "National Academy of Science Medical Malpractice Lawyer".)

I briefly considered contacting Weitz and Luxenberg to suggest a class action suit over PNAS embargo policies, on the grounds of negligence causing pain and suffering to bloggers and damage to the body politic. Not.

The Weitz & Luxenberg page, and similar nests of automatically-generated material attempting to connect a firm's services to every imaginable instance of some category of problems, might be considered special cases of what yesterday's Dilbert called "Leadership by Words":

[Update -- Jonathan Weinberg writes:

I think, based on the look of the page and based on the other pages I can get Google to generate for the firm, that the argument before "accident lawyer" is not activity, but location. So, for example, they'll serve a page called "Fort Shaw Accident Lawyer," but not "Elevator [or Skydiving] Accident Lawyer". (Someone else does have a page for "elevator accident lawyer," but that's another matter.) It appears that the NAS has its own zip code (20418), so it's not crazy that it should show up in a list of locations.

Indeed, the first half-dozen American place names that I try in the frame "___ accident lawyer" do turn up pages at www.weitzlux.com. So it's indeed an example of automated "leadership by words", but with respect to locations rather than organizations.]

[Update #2 -- Michael Davies writes:

Using {"died in a lab accident"} gives a much more respectable 488 results, putting scientists squarely between surfers and skateboarders in the high-risk stakes!

A glance at the first couple of pages suggests that the most popular lab-accident victims -- at least in terms of page rank -- are in comic books and similar works of fiction. All the same, it's the concept that counts, I guess.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 11, 2008 08:48 AM