Google AI overviews on stem cells are a bust so far & endanger public health

I’ve been wondering how the new Google AI overviews feature on its search platform would turn out for various stem cell searches. Frankly, I had a bad feeling that Google was going to blow this.

Unfortunately, it seems even worse than I anticipated.

Let’s go through three examples and talk about why this is so risky for the public.

stem cells for cerebral palsy
A Google search for “stem cells for cerebral palsy” gives us a terrible AI Overview. It seems to source an obscure clinic as its supposed expert.

Google search problems on stem cells now extend to AI overviews

First, for background, Google has shaken up its search platform to roll out AI overviews of key content related to some searches.

This AI move seems to be at least in part a reaction to ChatGPT and other online AI platforms. Google may be worrying that it could lose market share to other AI-based search firms. Google has a near-monopoly on internet search, but a verdict on a big anti-trust case against it should drop sometime soon. Too often, Google promotes its financial interests and those of big companies. Independent, expert voices lose out and so does the public.

What makes Google’s control of internet search even riskier is that in the healthcare arena, its search results just aren’t that good anymore. They often aren’t reliable. For instance, check out my recent piece on why I don’t trust Google on stem cell and other healthcare searches. I’ve been writing for a few years now about how Google Search is off the mark on stem cell searches. The biggest problem over all these years is that Google wrongly views unproven, for-profit stem cell clinics as the experts.

As a result, Google Search often puts these clinic websites on par or above true expert sources like the NIH, universities, and others. They’ve known about this problem for years and have chosen not to fix it. It’s unclear why.

Now in the new and still unfolding AI overview era, Google is more often than not using the websites of unproven stem cell clinics as the sources for the AI overviews. The results are sometimes highly inaccurate.

Let’s go through three examples of what I see as faulty Google AI overviews related to stem cell searches.

Example 1: Google AI overview on stem cells for cerebral palsy

The first relates to using unproven stem cells in vulnerable kids.

One reason I’m still blogging here on The Niche is to combat the selling of unproven stem cells for pediatric conditions. This really gets to me as I think about families and kids being put at risk by clinics. Autism and cerebral palsy are two areas where stem cell clinics are quite active.

When I now search Google for stem cells for cerebral palsy, the AI overview is largely wrong. It also seems to source a for-profit clinic in the Ukraine for some of the overview material.  See the screenshot above. Why does Google consider this clinic as the expert? Beats me.

stem cells for knees
A Google search for “stem cells knees” pops out a terrible AI Overview.

Example 2: Google AI Overview on stem cells for knees

The AI overview for a search for “stem cells knees” is also a mess. It’s inaccurate, uses unproven clinics as its supposed experts, and in effect promotes those clinics.

stem cells COPD
A Google search for “stem cells COPD” yields an awful AI Overview.

Example 3: Google AI overview on stem cells for COPD

The AI overview for a “stem cells COPD” search also has many issues. The overview says stem cells can do certain positive things in the lungs that are just not proven to be true.

Google here seems to use a Caribbean stem cell clinic DVC Stem as a key, supposed stem cell expert for the AI overview. In the last few years, DVC Stem has taken over control of a large chunk of the entire stem cell search arena on Google. The search engine giant loves the DVC Stem website. It’s a mystery to me as to why Google is so enamored of this once-fairly obscure stem cell clinic website. It probably has something to do with SEO, but Google is supposed to take into consideration if sites promote unproven healthcare. That should be a big negative SEO factor, but with stem cell searches it doesn’t seem to be.

Overall take home: Google AI overviews on stem cell searches are a bust so far

I just cited three examples above of harmful stem cell search-related AI overviews, but out of ten such searches I did, only one AI overview on stem cells was good. That’s just 10%.

Overall, Google has made things much worse so far with its AI approach to search. This seems to extend well beyond stem cells or even healthcare.

To be fair, this whole new AI overview thing is very new and is an experiment.

We can hope that Google’s AI overviews will improve and use more authoritative sources with strictly factual information. However, since Google doesn’t seem to listen to feedback and has appeared unwilling to make changes to stem cell search, even when its status quo puts public health at risk, how much hope can we realistically have?

I tweeted these three examples of worrisome AI overviews yesterday and got a lot of responses with additional concerns.  See one such tweet above.

Let’s see how this AI experiment goes.

8 thoughts on “Google AI overviews on stem cells are a bust so far & endanger public health”

  1. Wow, looks like you should not use AI for anything, All the entire worlds knowledge has gone into AI, on every topic, but rest assured seemingly it’s all in your head as well, including application of the most Regenerative healing cell (MSC)ever created, 2000 plus years ago, and it’s not a drug that some phd formulated for huge profits, I’m pretty sure God didn’t get it wrong.

  2. I look upon this “death of truth” as a serious, inflammatory condition plaguing America and perhaps the world. It is a generalized diminution of the value of truth and accuracy in reporting, as well as a sort of “capitalist-imperialist” attitude toward disseminating misleading information to enhance corporate goals of acquisition and accumulation worldwide. Scientists themselves are complicit in this goal of profit as the primary motivation. Prof. Knoepfler has been diligent about pointing out where all of this fails to serve the interests of the commons. I hope he will be able to continue to warn us to be cautious: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

  3. Dear Admin:

    I have commented earlier on this pervasive problem that you highlight now to my LinkedIn groups. The greatly concerning thing is that, if we who are knowledgeable about the grossly wrong and misleading information that AI summaries are presenting for stem cell science and medicine, which we know, then we must also realize that the same thing is also happening in all other fields of human knowledge and experience as well. AI is corrupting knowledge for everyone who is not sufficiently informed to recognize, or at least suspect, the many erroneous statements that are being generated and propagated. This corruption of knowledge will occur of all of humanity who consume AI vomit and who re-vomit AI vomit.

    James @ Asymmetrex®

  4. Nice job highlighting this issue. As a test, I did a Google search on, “can stem cells effectively treat cerebral palsy?” I got an answer like yours stating, “stem cell therapy can offer unique benefits and potentially reduce the extent of physical disability in people living with CP.” Bad job Google!

    I also did 2 other tests. One was the question, “Is covid vaccine good to get?” The answer was, “COVID vaccines are safe and effective.” Good job Google.

    Next was, “can we cure cancer by good diet?” The answer was also encouraging, “The bottom line: There is no scientific evidence that any special diet can cure cancer.”

    So, this AI issue seems more related to all the false info and hype around stem cells, rather than a general AI issue. Obviously, AI can only repeat info that is found. Due to the many stem cell clinic scams out there, this just reflects the bad information. It is presumably hard to weigh the strength of evidence, etc.

    I know you are working on this, but is there any way to get Google to highlight “good information” in this field? Prioritize ISSCR info, academic programs, etc? Probably not, but would be nice.

    1. @Dan, I’m not sure it’s just stem cell-specific, but I’ll also do more healthcare searches of other types to check this out. I did find that the overview for supportive oligonucleotide therapy (an unproven RNA therapy) is faulty too, which is worrisome.

  5. StemCellSciGuy

    This is scary and horrifying. Beyond that there are NO clinically testing and approved cell therapy drugs of this sort, the information given is not based in any real scientific fact. Sadly, people will use this AI and get answers that are completely incorrect, and won’t know better, and many will point to the AI answers as ‘proof’.

    Amusingly, ask the AI about its accuracy and risks of medical information and the AI will give a copious warning and/or disclaimer. That should be noted.

    1. @Guy,
      Beyond the new AI stuff, which is spectacularly bad so far, the Google folks just don’t seem to care if their search results direct people to risky, unproven medical care. They are 100% aware of the problem but have done nothing for years.

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