Often, when I’m performing my self-appointed ombudsman duties around town, people ask, “Will, what do you think of the Post‘s Metro columnists?” Or they would, if anyone talked about the Post‘s Metro columnists.
That’s the problem with the Metro roster: It’s boring. Just about the only times their columns are any good are when they give readers an opportunity to feel persecuted—-think Courtland Milloy‘s occasional grenade-lobbing over gentrification, or the recent feeding frenzy over the Pigskins’ name. Slide into that category a column last week by Petula Dvorak, about how delighted the rest of the country is for D.C.’s rich to get knocked around by sequestration.
Dvorak opts for the usual signifiers of boomtown Washington: the pricey restaurants, the ubiquitous construction cranes, the Tysons Corner Spanx store. But one of her claims caught my eye, because it cannot possibly be true: “A Google search for ‘doggie day care, Washington D.C.’ gives you as many results as a search for ‘day care, Washington, D.C.'”
Leaving aside that Dvorak’s search terms suggest a bizarre way of using a search engine, her results aren’t reproducible. A search for Washington doggy day cares versus regular, human day care using the search terms Dvorak provided, with quotes around them, produces 7,820 and 423,000 results, respectively. A search without the quotes creates an even bigger disparity: 156,000 and 588,000,000.
Now, due to the vagaries of Google and search engine optimization, this isn’t the best way to prove whether or not Washington really has as many doggy day cares as it does day cares. In an email, Dvorak says she meant that she used Google Maps for both searches, and was given the same number of map “pins” for each term (ellipses in the original):
If I repeat the search on my phone I get a similar result for places..’doggie day care washington d.c.’ pinpointed on google map gives me spots A-J,” she writes. “‘Day care …’ gives me spots on google map, A-J.
What a strange way to use Google. If I search for “restaurant” on Google Maps, I get 10 “pins” around the city. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Washington has only 10 restaurants.
Pointing to the usual trappings of gentrification can get old—-Dvorak, to her credit, doesn’t mention the area Tesla car dealership. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start making misleading claims. Ombudsman disapproves.
Washington Post Ombudsman is a service provided by Washington City Paper. Concerns or complaints about the Washington Post? Contact ombudsman Will Sommer via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the phone at 703-594-9142.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery