NetBase Thinks You Can Get Rid Of Jews With Alcohol And Salt

This morning I wrote about NetBase Solutions’ healthBase, a semantic search engine that aggregates medical content from millions of authoritative health sites including WebMD, Wikipedia, and PubMed. But is it a semantic engine or an anti-semitic search engine?

Several of our readers tested out the site and found that healthBase’s semantic search engine has some major glitches (see the comments). One of the most unfortunate examples is when you type in a search for “AIDS,” one of the listed causes of the disease is “Jew.” Really.

The ridiculousness continues. When you click on Jew, you can see proper “Treatments” for Jews, “Drugs And Medications” for Jews and “Complications” for Jews. Apparently, “alcohol” and “coarse salt” are treatments to get rid of Jews, as is Dr. Pepper! Who knew? I’ve included the screenshots of the results below if you don’t believe me. Now, I don’t think that healthBase is being intentionally anti-semitic, but for a technology which is supposed to understand the nuances of human language, this is about a big a fail as you can get. It is plainly obvious that its technology needs to be fixed before it is parsed out to other companies and media corporations.

I emailed NetBase to figure out exactly how this could appear and this is the response I received:

This is an unfortunate example of homonymy, i.e. words that have different meanings.
The showcase was not configured to distinguish between the disease “AIDS” and the verb “aids” (as in aiding someone). If you click on the result “Jew” you see a sentence from a Wikipedia page about 7th Century history: “Hispano-Visigothic king Egica accuses the Jews of aiding the Muslims, and sentences all Jews to slavery. ” Although Wikipedia contains a lot of great health information it also contains non-health related information (like this one) that is hard to filter out.

Personally, I think such basic distinctions should have been ironed out before launching the site. This is just the most flagrant example of site giving non-health answers to health-related questions. If you look at the pros of AIDS (yes, it thinks here are pros to having AIDS), it comically lists the “Spanish Civil War.” One of the causes of hemorrhoids is “Bronco” (I don’t even want to know).

HealthBase is touted to be a showcase for NetBase’s semantic technology, which can supposedly understand language. Clearly, it doesn’t understand language well enough. And if the technology is going to be peddled to other companies to be used to power additional search engines, it needs to be improved immediately.

UPDATE: Here’s a more detailed response from NetBase:

Yesterday, we launched a microsite – – intended
to publicly demonstrate a new kind of semantic search technology that
actually reads web content and delivers more relevant answers to
health-related queries. HealthBase is built on our Content Intelligence
Platform that has been deployed successfully in different domains by
Fortune 1000 companies, global publishers, and the federal government
over the last few years for a variety of strategic applications. A
ready-for-primetime consumer search engine it is not.

It is a powerful and automated technology, that when applied to
something as messy as the Web, will produce some amazing results, but
also some strange, funny and irrelevant ones. Our first release of
healthBase yesterday surfaced a few embarrassing and offensive bugs.
These were far in the minority of results but enough to keep us up late
improving the site. We sincerely regret and apologize in particular for
any offense caused.

We’ve learned a lot in the last 24 hours and are fully committed to do
better in providing an effective and accurate demonstration of our
technology. This morning, we are a little tired and humbled, but even
more determined than ever to showcase the power of this new technology.
You will see improvements in the next hours days, and weeks, including
the addition of user feedback mechanisms. We appreciate the feedback and
please keep telling us what you think.


Jens Tellefsen, VP of marketing and product strategy & The Netbase Team