Back to All Events

Mar. 2 Experimental Design Workshop | Making ‘Sense’ through Search: How Language Choice Imbues Ideology into Search Queries

  • 501D Knox Hall | Columbia University 606 West 122nd Street New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)

WHEN: Friday, March 2nd, 2018, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.

WHERE: Knox Hall 501D, 606 W 122nd Street

Language choice can imbue politics into an interaction, and the popularization of certain language, despite whether intentional, encodes and structures the public sphere with those politics beyond semantics. Take, for example, the starkly different verbiage of ‘illegal aliens’ vs. ‘undocumented immigrants.’ Though they are meant to reference the same group of people, their language choice reveals and introduces a ‘sense’ for its meaning. These different phrases imbue specific politics into the context in which they are employed.

Search algorithms are instrumental in making ‘sense’ of information, by design. They are information gatekeepers, intermediaries between users and their understandings of the world, but also critical actors in the co-production of meaning. Search engines use language as inputs to process and complete the query, reflecting back results that are relevant to the language used. But if language can be imbued with political significance, how do different word choices structure the query itself as well as its yield, thereby setting users on a path to pursuing (and perhaps confirming?) different ideologies? This project employs experimental design to test whether semantic variations result in different and divergent search results.

Kiran Samuel is a Ph.D student in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on understanding how technology shapes material conditions for marginalized communities.  


This event is free and open to the public. Lunch and light refreshments will be provided. All are welcome!

Through the Experimental Design Workshop, social scientists at Columbia have the opportunity to workshop the design of an experiment they have not yet fielded. Presenters will receive specific, actionable feedback on that design from other workshop participants. For inquires about the Experimental Design Workshop Series, please contact Maria Abascal (

Funding support for the Experimental Design Workshop is provided by the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series, administered by INCITE, which features events and programming that embody and honor Lazarsfeld’s commitment to the improvement of methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.