Friday, July 2, 2010

Google Ads Strike (out) Again!

I was going to do another "vent" piece about those determined to maintain the irreconcilability of differences between Israelis and Palestinians; but the layout of my home page this morning was too good to resist. While I have yet to see any revenue from my AdSense account, the Google "logic" for placing ads on my posts has become a source of at least minor amusement. Yesterday I had a lot of fun writing my post about a Chutzpah of the Week award for Marci Kaptur and the reliability with which she tries to hold to her progressive line. While her award was for her failure to support the current financial reform bill on the grounds that it was too weak to do any good, I reflected on her past resistance to health care reform legislation on similar grounds. This retrospective view seemed appropriate, not only because she had shared a previous Chutzpah of the Week award for taking her stand but also because the chickens she feared had just come home to roost in the form of news of the latest proposal by Anthem Blue Cross to raise their premiums for individual policies by an average of fourteen percent.

Thus, before getting into Kaptur's reasoning about financial reform, I felt it a good idea to point out that, whatever rhetoric of reform for health care may be coming out of the White House, here in California the insurance industry is still a major impediment when it comes to ordinary citizens getting satisfactory health care; and my case in point was WellPoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross. Ironically, it would appear that someone in Anthem marketing won the keyword auction for the Anthem brand. As a result, AdSense assigned the following ad to my post:

As I said above, I have never been particularly annoyed by these artifacts. Instead I look for elements of amusement; and in this case I think I have found two of them.

The more theoretical of the two has to do with the fact that I am currently reading Friedrich Hayek's "Scientism and the Study of Society," which has been a real pleasure, even if the polemic is nowhere near as entertaining as it was in "The Counter-Revolution of Science." One of the great joys in the "Scientism" paper is how Hayek takes on the inadequacies of the methods of statistical inference when they are applied to social theory:

Far from dealing with structures of relationships, statistics deliberately and systematically disregard the relationships between the individual elements. It is, to repeat, concerned with the properties of the elements of the "collective", though not with the properties of particular elements, but with the frequency with which elements with certain properties occur among the total. And, what is more, it assumes that these properties are not systematically connected with the different ways in which the elements are related to each other.

Those words were published in 1943; but the individual Web pages that drive the logic behind AdSense are a perfect example of what Hayek called "elements." Thus, a warning that is now more than half a century old about the dangers of ignoring "properties of particular elements," including the nature of connections among those elements, is now being vigorously reinforced by the algorithms that have made Google such a profitable company. If that does not provide grounds for amusement, I do not know what does!

Well, actually I do, since I have derived a second amusement from this particular situation. Note that Anthem has provided a toll-free telephone number in their ad. I find it at least somewhat entertaining that anyone who read my San Francisco Chronicle excerpt about the proposed rate hike (or followed the hyperlink to the full story) would realize that this toll-free number could be taken as an invitation to give Anthem a piece of his/her mind! Similar reactions have already surfaced through the Comments submitted to the Chronicle Web page for the story, but that telephone number provides a more direct path to the source. True, that number probably will just connect you with a mindless drone (otherwise known as a "knowledge worker"), concerned only with filling out the forms to get you hooked as a customer. It may even be the case that this drone has been prepared to cut you off as soon as it is clear that there is no chance of a deal closing. However, if we assume that all of these calls are being recorded, there is at least some chance that some amateur (at least in Hayek's opinion) statistician will detect a trend and may even have the audacity to report that trend to WellPoint. Unlikely as this scenario may be, it can still serve as a source of amusement at a time when the abundance of bad news over good makes amusement scarce!

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