Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Google CEO Sundar Pichai swearing in at the House Judiciary Committee. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee referenced studies whose accuracy has been disputed, as well as their own impromptu experiments, to press Google CEO Sundar Pichai Wednesday about bias against conservatives in its search algorithms.

Why it matters: Republican lawmakers cited less-than-authoritative sources to back their charges of political bias by Google. To date, no credible evidence has been presented that suggests Google engineers program the company's search, video or news algorithms to favor one political ideology over another.

Point from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.): Goodlatte cited one study conducted by psychologist Robert Epstein that sought to show that election results can be swayed by search rankings, since those rankings "have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results."

  • Counterpoint: Google has disputed the study and insists that it does not rank search results in order to influence election outcomes.
  • 3 of the 12 academics cited that publicly backed the study told the Washington Post "they were uncertain about the sources of bias but favored creating a group for studying the issue because search engines had become dominant sources of online information."
  • One academic quoted by the Post suggested that some of the bias the study found could be coming from users themselves, not Google. (For reference, search results vary by person based on many signals, including search history, user data and more.)

Point from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas): Smith cited a finding from PJ Media published in August that left-leaning sites comprised 96% of the total search results in Google News results about President Trump.

  • Counterpoint: The figure Smith cited came from PJ Media, a conservative-leaning outlet, and the article's author later published an opinion piece in the Washington Post explaining that she had conducted a single Google search and never intended her work to be viewed as a "study."
  • The finding has been debunked by third-party fact-checking website PolitiFact and by tech news outlets like CNN, The Verge, Techcrunch and others.

Point from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio): Chabot said that after writing a blog post on a GOP bill to repeal Obamacare, "virtually every article" he found on Google search "was an attack on our bill" and that he couldn't find any search results that were "remotely positive" about the bill until he got to the third or fourth page.

  • Counterpoint: Search results vary by person based on many signals, including search history, user data, etc. It's likely that Chabot's results were unique to him based on those individual signals and are not representative of ways that Google's algorithms on a whole rank information in search results.

The big picture: While some Republicans on the committee asked questions about bias against conservative viewpoints on Google using questionable evidence, others asked more practical questions. Questions included:

  • How can Google ensure that employees who are programming algorithms aren't injecting their own bias into algorithms?
  • And how can the American people prove that Google is not biased if they don't know who is moderating content and they can't see Google's algorithms?

Be smart: Google is reluctant to reveal those details about its algorithms because doing so could empower bad actors to manipulate them.

The bottom line: Software developers are human beings with a range of biases and opinions. But problems with search results and algorithms are much less likely to come from overt manipulation by programmers than from the biases of the world that Google's data reflects.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional detail in the section on Rep. Lamar Smith and PJ Media.

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases hit a seven-month low

Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus infections in the U.S. are now at their lowest levels in seven months, thanks to the vaccines.

The big picture: The vaccines are turning the tide in America's battle with the coronavirus. Deaths and serious illnesses have dropped significantly, and now cases are falling too — an important piece of protection for the future, if we can keep it up.

2 hours ago - World

India sets new COVID world record as oxygen demand jumps seven-fold

COVID-19 patients being treated with free oxygen at a makeshift clinic in Indirapuram, Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

India has seen demand for oxygen jump "seven-fold" as the country set a new world record for daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, per AP.

By the numbers: India's health ministry reported 412,262 new infections, taking the official tally past 21 million, and 3,980 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. The official death toll now stands at 230,168. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

4 hours ago - World

U.K. sends patrol ships to British island amid fishing dispute with France

The HMS Tamar, one of the two ships deployed to Jersey. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it has deployed two Royal Navy patrol vessels to the island of Jersey "as a precautionary measure," as tensions over fishing rights escalate with France.

Why it matters: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement the government took the action to protect Jersey against potential threats of "a blockade" of French fishing boats at the island, which is off the coast of northwest France.