Slate ran a contest called Google Suggest where they asked readers to type in a bit of text into Google’s search engine and see what suggestions the search box gave. Since the suggestions Google offers reflect popular searches from a timeframe specified only as “recent”, the suggested ways to finish sentences that start with the phrase you gave give clues into what is on people’s minds or what their attitudes are, etc. Slate’s contest did not just ask you to type in a phrase and see the most popular ways that people end sentences beginning with that phrase but instead took it a step further and asked for contrasting submissions that reflected “dumb” vs. “intelligent” ways of seeking the same basic information.
For example, they typed “how 2″ and got sentence completion suggestions like “how 2 kiss,” “how 2 get pregnant, ” “how 2 grow weed,” and then typed “how might one” and got sentence completion suggestions like “how might one account for the rise of andrew jackson to victory in the election of 1828″ and “how might one expand upon an argument.”
So the contest was to send in the best example of a contrast between the results from a “dumb” search and those from an “intelligent” one. And among the winners, this one struck my curiosity the most:
It doesn’t neatly divide into “less intelligent” and “more intelligent,” but it’s the best example I received of how one word can make all the difference. Wrong involves love affairs, God, and younger men. Ethics puts us on the plane of animal research, privacy concerns, and cooking the books.
What do you think epitomizes, and then what do you think explains, the contrast between the “Is it wrong” searches and the “Is it ethical” ones? Do you think it’s a hint to something important about moral psychology and moral intuitions?