Your Search Engine Doesn’t Love You Back

Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

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    Written by Eric Olson
    April 18, 2024 6 min read

    Search engines are one of the greatest modern technology innovations. They are an invaluable, totally flexible, completely free tool that every single person with an internet connection is familiar with.

    Search engines are something out of a 1960s sci-fi flick: endless information conjured up from the ether and delivered instantly with the click of a button. They make boatloads of money for their operators while remaining free for their users.

    Pretty freaking cool, right?

    Short answer: yes, very cool. But like most things, there is always a price to pay when something appears to be too good to be true.

    You may love your search engine, but your search engine doesn’t love you back.

    If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product

    Search engines and other social media platforms are free because of their advertisement-based business model.

    Search engines drive remarkable levels of intimate engagement from their users. Because of this, they have such precise data on their users that the ad-space they sell can be targeted to a previously unthinkable degree, making them invaluable for bidding organizations.

    Google didn’t show you that ad because it is recording your conversations; it showed you that ad because it already knew those things about you.

    The implications of this are complex. But, one thing is almost certainly true: the search engines we use today do not optimize for delivering you factual information; they optimize for engagement.

    More engagement means more data; more data means more valuable ad space to sell.

    Take this quote from ​​Ex-Google exec and Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein:

    “When you go to Google and type in “Climate change is,” you’re going to see different results depending on where you live… And that’s a function not of what the truth is about climate change, but about where you happen to be Googling from and the particular things Google knows about your interests.”

    “Show me the incentives, and I will show you the outcome”

    This isn’t some back-channel conspiracy, and it’s not Google purposely misinforming you on certain topics. It’s simply a business, like every business before them, following their incentives.

    Many big players in the tech world have publicly announced initiatives to try to clean up their platforms. After considerable pressure, Google even recently announced that they would restrict targeted advertisements for jobs, housing, and credit to reduce downstream redlining.

    However, the same organizations who created these problems due to incentive pressure will never be the ones who begin to solve them if their incentives remain the same. The innovation will come from the outside.

    The rise of companies like Neeva, an ad-free, user-curated, subscription search engine started by Ex-Google Execs, and DuckDuckGo, a completely private search engine that anonymizes all of its user data, points to the idea that premium, privacy-forward, subscription search will be a part of the future of tech.

    As companies continue to improve the offering of premium search engines, while more people learn about the targeted-ad-filter that the information they consume passes through, the willingness to pay a small price to use a specialized, private product will increase.

    How Consensus fits

    Consensus is a new breed of academic search engine, powered by AI, grounded in science. At Consensus, we believe that science is particularly ripe for innovation in the premium search space for a few key reasons:

    First, unlike most domains, there actually is a “best” source of data that a search product can be pulling information from: peer-reviewed academic literature. This does not mean scientific research is perfect, far from it. But even critics would agree that the solution to problems within research is more experimentation, more analysis, and more eyeballs on the data, not less. All things an innovative search product can help deliver.

    Secondly, scientific research is written in a uniquely structured way. This relatively uniform structure means that it is possible to develop machine learning systems that effectively “read” and analyze the papers for a user. This is precisely the type of value proposition that would need to exist for a product to be worth paying for.

    Lastly, questions on scientific subjects only continue to grow in importance and popularity.

    This can be observed on a small scale with personal health questions like the efficacy of the latest supplement craze or diet fad but also seen on a large scale with society-altering questions on subjects like COVID, climate change, or artificial intelligence.

    If there is a single domain that needs a search product that prioritizes factual information, science is at the top of the list.

    At Consensus, our goal is to make the best science accessible to all. We’re part of the future landscape of premium dedicated search products.

    Who we help with our evidence-based search

    Consensus makes it easier for everyone to find the best science: it’s an academic search engine with AI powers. Find the best papers while getting instant insights and topic synthesis. Consensus unlocks the insights held within scientific literature. Search over 200M research papers, and Consensus synthesizes the science for you while surfacing exactly which papers have been referenced. Quickly gain context in a new topic or area of research, visualize the current scientific consensus, and see the most relevant papers related to your search.

    • Researchers & scientists – Streamline your literature review process. Quickly see the direction of current findings, and surface the best papers.
    • Students – Find supporting evidence for your paper, and search without having to know the right keywords already.
    • Clinicians – Get answers to patients’ questions that you can trust, share information they can digest, and easily cite your references.
    • Content Creators – Source evidence-based insights on your topic, understand connected fields and see related suggested searches.
    • Health and fitness enthusiasts – Easily check out the science regarding diet approaches, supplement safety, and exercise science outcomes.
    • Analysts – Explore and understand a topic, find expert quotes and statistics, and reference the highest quality sources.

    How to get started with a Consensus search

    Try Consensus for free today, simply enter a new search (or click on one of the search links here below to start) and then let your curiosity guide you!

    Want to know more? Check out our guide on how to search. Or learn more about why our search engine is unique, here.

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    Have a question about science, health, fitness, or diet? Get cited, evidence-based insights with Consensus.

    Try for free