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Family Pet Animal Care - April 2015 - The Nefarious Doctor Google


Family Pet Animal Care - April 2015 - The Nefarious Doctor Google

by Dr. Michael Trapani

Nary a day goes by that I do not find myself contending with the nefarious Dr. Google. He’s insidious! He’s ubiquitous! He’s all-knowing and un-knowable! He’s not even a “he!” He’s cutting edge, completely out of date, ahead of his time and ANYONE can put words in his mouth. He says one thing, then another, can’t seem to make up his mind, and accepts absolutely no responsibility for the advice he gives.

And yet, Google is quoted, again and again, and held up as the absolute authority on every subject.

No one knows where Dr. Google was educated, or whether he was educated at all. We don’t even know his first name. He claims to be a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks at Mystery University with a Ph.E. (Doctorate of Philosophy for Everything – one step above a Ph.D.), but all of his records were destroyed in a mysterious fire (which is mysterious in and of itself), so no one can be sure. All that remains are digital facsimiles. 

Nonetheless, Dr. Google is a prolific author, providing insight and inspiration on myriad topics. Despite Google’s dubious qualifications, his devotees are legion and his pronouncements are accepted as if they were handed down from on high. Then, having been anointed by the wise and wonderful Dr. Google, these pronouncements are effectively carved in stone, implacable and unchanging, impervious to reasoned argument because, “I read it on Google.”

A duck and a goose share numerous characteristics and look very much alike, but they are not at all the same. A detailed description might easily leave us in a position to mistake one for the other. Even a photograph can fail to demonstrate the distinction between a duck and a goose if it lacks the context of comparative scale. How much more difficult is it to tell a drake from a gander? Or a duck from a gander? Or a drake from a goose? Add the confusion of species and breeds to this mix and real confusion sets in. Sometimes the simplest of things are not so simple, and sometimes things that seem simple are the most complex of all — even with a topic as small as “web-footed birds”!

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said George Bernard Shaw (Google it!). We ask Dr. Google a question, and Google answers. We review the first three - or thirty - of the 8.2 million hits retrieved, filtering the information through our dozens of subconscious screens, and fit the information we like best into our personal framework of understanding while we ignore the rest. We believe the information communicated to us by Google is accurate, appropriate, and applicable to the context of our inquiry.

But it ain’t necessarily so. Dr. Google’s knowledge lacks the sense of context needed to parse the hundreds of unspoken circumstances that underly even the simplest of questions. 

“Why is my dog coughing?” seems like a simple enough question, but context is everything: What is your dog’s age? Breed? Body weight? Is it coughing a lot or a little? Is the cough dry? Productive? Honking? How long has your dog been coughing? Is the dog otherwise healthy? Does the dog have bad teeth? A bad heart? Allergies? Recent exposure to irritants? Contact with other animals? 

A better question, a question which includes enough context to allow an accurate answer,  would be, “Why is my ten-year-old overweight female Miniature Schnauzer with bad teeth and a heart murmur, who recently spent three days in the boarding kennel, having a continuous dry honking cough?”

But Dr. Google can’t answer this question (Go ahead, Google it). Google is great at giving simple answers to really simple questions, but that’s all. Complex questions, like those that must be answered in order to understand and manage disease, don’t lend themselves to simple answers no matter how many of the 8.2 million hits you read.

Dr. Google can’t answer the question above, but an experienced veterinarian will tell you that your little doggie may have bacterial bronchitis caused by dental disease, or collapsing airway disease promoted by cardiac enlargement and obesity, or infectious bronchitis picked up at the kennel - and can probable distinguish the difference during the course of a simple physical examination. Sure, there are other possibilities to be considered, and that’s the reason you need the advice of a seasoned professional.

Read all you want, but don’t think for a minute that an Internet search can ever replace genuine expertise.