Friday, December 1, 2006

Google Answers bites the dust

I must have been one of the very last people to use Google Answers, the service through which freelance researchers answered tough questions for those who couldn't find what they were looking for with Google on their own.

Four days ago, I needed to find a document that my keyword searching wasn't turning up, and so I offered $10 on Google Answers to anyone who could find it for me -- and a fine fellow named Rainbow found it, very, very quickly. I'm a good online researcher, but I thought this was a good service (and much-touted when it first came out). But I noticed today that the service is "retired," with a notice saying:

Google Answers is no longer accepting questions.

We're sorry, but Google Answers has been retired, and is no longer accepting new questions.

I'm sorry to see it go. For the curious, here are the question I asked over the years:

Subject: Suicide illegal
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $25.00 Posted: 14 Dec 2003
Question ID: 287230
[Research for MINDSCAN]

Is it true that successfully committing suicide is illegal in the United States? Is this a federal law, or something that's set individually by each state, and, if the latter, in which states is killing oneself actually illegal? Are there any penalties for killing oneself (I personally can't see how there could be, but laws often have strange provisions)? Note of reassurance: I'm not depressed or planning to kill myself; I'm a novelist, and this is a point I need to pin down for a book I'm currently writing.

How late in pregnancy can conjoined twins form through refusion?
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
Price: $10.00 Posted: 17 Jan 2004
Question ID: 297395
[Research for MINDSCAN]

Recent research (see below) indicates that conjoined twins are not formed by the arrested fission of monozygotic twins, but rather by the re-fusion of already separated monozygotic twins.

My question: how late into a human pregnancy can this re-fusion occur? That is, what is the latest that a pregnancy that seems to be going normally toward producing separate identical twins can end up producing fused conjoined twins?

As a reference, here's the study that said re-fusion is in fact how conjoined twins are formed (note Dr. Spencer is now retired, but a Google search showed that she had impeccable credentials):


From: Clinical Anatomy (Volume 13, Issue 1 , Pages 36 - 53, year 2000)

Title: "Theoretical and analytical embryology of conjoined twins:
Part I: Embryogenesis"

by Rowena Spencer *
Louisiana State University School of Medicine and Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana


A review of over 1,800 publications concerning the embryology and pathologic anatomy of conjoined twins provides convincing evidence that they all result from the secondary union of two originally separate monovular embryonic discs. This fusion theory seems to be confirmed by the adjustments to union and the pattern and incidence of specific anomalies at the proposed sites of conjunction in more than 1,200 cases, all of which can be arranged in two uninterrupted series of cases, the one united dorsally (in the neural tube) and the other, ventrally (over a shared a yolk sac). No theoretical fission of the vertebrate embryo at any stage of development, in any plane, in any direction can explain (1) the selection of the observed sites of fusion, (2) the details of the union, or (3) the limitation to the specific areas in which the twins are found to be joined.

Subject: Dolphin experiments disproves sophisticated dolphin Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 10 Nov 2005
Question ID: 591500
[Research for ROLLBACK]

In 1964, Jarvis Bastian did an experiment in dolphin communications, described here:

I believe I read in the last year or so of a recent, more decisive follow-up to this work, in which the premise that dolphins do not have a sophisticated language was shown by essentially replicating Bastian's experiment with more mature dolphins. But I can't find the citation or a discussion of the work anywhere (I probably read about it in NEW SCIENTIST or SCIENCE NEWS, but can't find the article). So, I'm looking for follow-ups to Bastian's work, done in the last decade, that reached a definitive conclusion. Thanks!

Subject: Literary executor or agent for French science-fiction writer Rene Barjavel
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 23 Jan 2006
Question ID: 436814

I'm interested in contacting the holder of English-language rights for the out-of-print French science-fiction novel called THE ICE PEOPLE (in its last English-language edition) and LA NUIT DE TEMPS (in the original French) by Rene Barjavel (note that Rene is properly rendered with an accent over the second E; not sure how that affects Google searching). Barjavel died in 1985, and I need to find either a postal or email address for his literary agent or the executor of his literary estate. Help, please!

Subject: Identifying that a signal contains language information
Category: Science
Asked by: rjsawyer-ga
List Price: $10.00 Posted: 27 Nov 2006
Question ID: 786044
[Research for WAKE]

I'm trying to find an article I read online sometime in the last two years. It was a report, perhaps in a popular-interest science magazine (and the one I read the most online is NEW SCIENTIST) about language having a distinctive pattern that enables it to be distinguished from noise in signal processing, even if you don't recognize the language. I can't remember if the article made a specific parallel with SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), but I think it did: the notion was that we should be able to recognize that a signal contains language (because of the distinctive statistical skew caused by repetition of common words, or something like that) even if we don't know and can't decode the language. One of the key words, I imagine, would be "information," as in information content. Thanks!



At December 01, 2006 10:04 PM , Blogger Shky said...

I never had use for Google Answers, but I found it a fascinating service that seemed entirely useful for many people. It is certainly a shame that it's gone. Though, Google is indeed an advertising company at its core, so if there's no money to be made, there's little incentive to keep it running. A shame, though, despite.

At December 02, 2006 11:47 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

I see there's a petition now to keep Google Answers going:

I signed it.

This whole thing raises an interesting question about what I guess we could call electronic genocide: a viable community existed at Google Answers. There was lots of chat about the questions in addition to the official answers, and lots of people who made their electronic homes there. And, by fiat and without consultation, they're simply wiped out. As we see more and more consolidation of ownership in online media, it raises an interesting question about what responsibilities those who allow communities to grow have to those communities. Storage and bandwidth are so darn cheap these days, it's hard to understand shutting down anything that doesn't actively lose money.

At December 03, 2006 3:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re-fusion sounds ripe with possibilities for stories... and mad scientists. (*COUGH* "The Fly" *COUGH)


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