Google Is Lying to You About Onions and Blaming Tom Scocca

Tom Scocca, Gizmodo:

A little under five years ago, I got angry about a piece of fake information, and I decided to do something about it. I was reading a recipe in the New York Times, and the recipe told me, as many, many recipes had told me before, that it would take about 10 minutes of cooking to caramelize onions.

I knew from personal experience that this was a lie. Recipes always said it took 5 or 10 minutes to caramelize onions, and when you followed the recipes, you either got slightly cooked onions or you ended up 40 minutes behind schedule. So I caramelized some onions and recorded how long it really took — 28 minutes if you cooked them as hot as possible and constantly stirred them, 45 minutes if you were sane about it — and I published those results on Slate, along with a denunciation of the false five-to-10 minute standard.


Not only does Google, the world’s preeminent index of information, tell its users that caramelizing onions takes “about 5 minutes” — it pulls that information from an article whose entire point was to tell people exactly the opposite. A block of text from the Times that I had published as a quote, to illustrate how it was a lie, had been extracted by the algorithm as the authoritative truth on the subject.

Google has spent nearly two decades building a reputation as a broadly-trustworthy place where the chaos of the web becomes organized. Users who don’t know any better are trusting Google to vet the information they’re presented, and it’s frequently wrong. But, to those who are more alert, Google is throwing the trust they’ve built down the toilet with features like this one.