Field of Science

Androids Run Amok at the New York Times?

I have been reading Steve Pinker's excellent essay in the New York Times about the advent of personal genetics. Reading it, though, I noticed something odd. The Times includes hyperlinks in most of its articles, usually linking to searches for key terms within its own archive. I used to think this linking was done by hand, as I do in my own posts. Lately, I think it's done by an android (and not a very smart one).

Often the links are helpful in the obvious way. Pinker mentions Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Times helpfully links to a list of recent articles that mention him. Presumably this is for the people who don't know who he is (though a link to the Abdul-Jabbar Wikipedia entry might be more useful).

Some links are less obvious. In a sentence that begins "Though health and nutrition can affect stature..." the Time sticks in a hyperlink for articles related to nutrition. I guess that's in case the word stirs me into wondering what else the Times has written about nutrition. That can't explain the following sentence though:

Another kind of headache for geneticists comes from gene variants that do have large effects but that are unique to you or to some tiny fraction of humanity.

There is just no way any human thought that readers would want a list of articles from the medical section about headaches. This suggests that the Times simply has a list of keywords that are automatically tagged in every article...or perhaps it is slightly more sophisticated and the keywords vary based on the section of the paper.

I'm not sure how useful this is even in the best of circumstances. Has anyone ever actually clicked on one of these links and read any of the articles listed? If so, comment away!

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