Times Online Source Denies Google Teakettle Comparison

    January 14, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

Remember all that hype about a pair of Google searches being equivalent to heating a teakettle to boiling? Yeah, never mind. It seems the Times Online did a little fuzzy math and the Harvard source credited with providing that little tidbit says they didn’t hear that from him.

Google already disputed the report that circulated across all media channels internationally, noting that the carbon footprint of a search query is equivalent to driving about three feet. The Times Online article claimed one search produced 7 grams of carbon dioxide, while Google lowers that number—while touting its own data center efficiency—to 0.2 grams.

But Google disputing the claims of a researcher isn’t the same as the researcher disputing his own claims.  The article doesn’t directly quote Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross or directly cite his study about the environmental impact of Web searches for support of the teakettle example. But it does sort of imply the information came from Wissner-Gross.

The excerpt in question:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

 While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”



 Only, as TechNewsWorld discovered, Wissman-Gross never said anything about heating a teakettle, nor is Google mentioned in his research. From that report:

"Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site."

 And the example involving tea kettles? "They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said.

 The good news for Wissner-Gross is that the publicity is generating awareness for his CO2stats.com site, which grants “green certification” to websites that qualify. The bad news for Times Online that this is a serious blow to their credibility. No update or correction appears to have been issued.