Need a second medical opinion? Try the Controversy Discovery Engine.

A better way to search for analytic web content??

This post offers a way of searching for more diverse and analytic results using a simple web form interface to Google. This approach is especially useful when you are looking for a second opinion, evidence, or authorities on topics like we sometimes face with vision loss. It can also make querying and searching more efficient for our weary fingers by slicing off less useful results from searches. Please give it a try and let me know if it improves your searching.

Searching for better information on ‘myopic degeneration’

First, some background. My recent Retinal Specialist appointment provoked my curiosity as my Myopic Macular Degeneration (MMD) seems to have stabilized. I have been wondering about origins and distributions of this condition, as I have only met other MMD people on the more comprehensive Macular Degeneration earlier post. There’s always a sliver of hope for improvement, possibly from research driven out of the U.S. by stem cell policies. And, always, looms the now effective intervention of repair surgery or injections for retinal detachments or so-called “wet” conditions.

Time to update myself, so I go to Google and find the usual results for the query "myopic macular degeneration". Top results are mostly generic overviews "MMD is related to AMD", but I also find a lengthy Myopic Manual.

Embellishing searches with controversy-related terminology

Fourteen years of searching has taught me I might need to go quite fa r down the Google results list to get into more in-depth discussions. I really wanted to know about the controversies, debates, arguments, and even spats in the related field of ophthalmology, genetics, nutrition etc. So, why not just add the word "controversy" to the query. Indeed, I see different results, but why stop there? Speaking linguistically, and assuming Google is fairly literal, I might want to use variations such as "controversial" or "controversies". Then the thesaurus adds synonyms such as "debate", "argument", "disagreement", and many more, each with variants. Now, I also want supporting material so I might ask for "evidence”, “proof”, “hypotheses”, “opinion” and all these variants. This is a lot of decision making on synonyms and support and variant, typing each and saving for reading those interesting results.

A simple form customizes controversy-related content

Primarily, I am getting deeper and faster into the subject matter. Is there a better way to query Google to achieve these goals? Well, yes, as I tried 5 years ago and dubbed the Controversy Discovery Engine. Go ahead and try it. Type your query into the search box, choose a controversy synonym, optionally select a kind of support, and hit the button. Your embellished query will be sent to Google, asking for 50 results. That’s all there is to it. You might or might not get better results than your hand-crafted queries but at least you now have a lot of packaged queries with just a few extra clicks.

An experiment on ‘Do search engines suppress controversy?’

Why do I claim this approach often works better? Well, driven by curiosity, I performed an empirical study on "Do Search Engines Suppress Controversy?" that was published in First Monday January 2004 online. Now, it’s not that search engines or search engineers have political agendas, but rather just an effect of the link popularity strategy that makes Google search work so well. The web splits into an Organizational web which links the promoters, explainers, and associations for a topic apart from the Analytic Web that includes scholarly papers, blogs, white papers, individuals, etc. The Organizations link among each other and people link to organizations more than the Analytic Web pages are linked to from the Organizational Web or within the Analytic Web. This pushes controversies down the list of search results. Usually controversies are hard to name in queries and you need to know the controversy exists by some name to query for it.

For example, one controversial aspect of Albert Einstein was whether the first wife he dumped had contributed rather more to his research career than was acknowledged. Query for "Albert Einstein AND Mileva Maric" and, voila, the controversy is revealed in various levels of details and with arguments on both sides of the story. Bet you didn’t know that! Using a synonym for controversy raises pages that discuss his personal life and produce the names, like Serbian physicist Mileva Maric, for additional searches. This particular revelation ebbs and flows with the tide of publications on his work and life. So, our approach is to use the language of human endeavors that involve research and the give-and-take of the intellectual marketplace to morph our searches more into the Analytic Web.

More seriously, for medical conditions, people facing surgical decisions want all and the most authoritative information they can get as fast as it can be found. So we offer the Controversy Discovery Engine as a kind of “second opinion” information seeker. Please provide feedback and suggestions to This web page may also be modified for similar uses with appropriate link and acknowledgement. If you’re intrigued with this topic, which won me the proverbial 15 minutes of fame in the blogosphere, read the paper and its five examples: St. John’s Wort, female astronauts, Albert Einstein, Belize, and distance learning. For the real search gurus, the software instrument used in this experiment, dubbed twURL, is available for licensing.

For visually impaired readers, here is a bit more advice. The web page has four form elements with the search query edit box at the top and submit button at the bottom and two list boxes with multi-selection in between for synonyms and support. You can multi-select from the list or select NONE as the last list item. Remember to turn on the virtual buffer in a screen reader to type in the query and select from the lists. Using sight, you might want to pump up the text size using your browser, e.g. Control + in Firefox. If you use this page a lot and know how to edit HTML, save the page and customize its style to your taste.

Try searching more diversely and deeply into the Analytic Web

So, nothing to lose and possibly lots to gain, check out the Controversy Discovery Engine at and let me know how it works for you.

Author: slger

Susan L. Gerhart (slger) is a retired computer scientist. Her professional specialities included software engineering research, technology transfer management, and computer science education, see SLGer's Research Autobiography. Susan is active in a lifelong learning institute (OLLI) at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona. She has facilitated courses on podcasts, Twitter, the Singularity, and climate fiction. "As Your World Changes" blog describes her journey with vision loss into the spectacular world of assistive technology and the frustrating practices of accessibility. She writes with the NVDA screen reader, reads books from Bookshare on a BookSense, and listens to podcasts on an iPhone. slger123 on Twitter records her favorite articles and occasional comments on life and politics. Creative writing courses led her to undertake "A Chip On Her Shoulder", a novel asking the questions: "how did we get into the privacy mess of modern social media?" and "Are we now just 'packets of data formerly known as people'?" She's enduring the 2020 Pandemic era and autocracy challenge by analyzing changes in progress, promising, and unknown. Times sure are changing! Contact: slger123 at

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