Google Is Serving Bad Statistics About Adult Performers' Life Expectancy

To answer the question “what’s the average life expectancy of a porn star,” Google returns questionable results from heavily biased sources.

May 3 2021, 1:00pm

Google is giving users incorrect information to the question "how long do porn stars live?" by citing faulty statistics from a Reverend who believes that working in the adult industry will bring down God's wrath on you. 

When searching for "how long do porn stars live?" or "what is the life expectancy of a porn star?" Google's Featured Snippet, the box at the top of the page of results which pulls the answer from another website, says it's "37.43 years." Similarly phrased questions give the same result, and the full text of the Featured Snippet is "when the death ages of these porn stars were averaged it was discovered that the average life expectancy of a porn star is only 37.43 years whereas the average life expectancy of an American is 78.1 years."

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The snippet was first spotted by Mike Stabile, communications director for the adult industry organization Free Speech Coalition:

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

“It looks like that featured snippet is pointing at a page with a critical examination of those stats that I gather have circulated in the past,” Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search, said in a reply to Stabile’s tweet. “That's probably helpful; highlighting the particular figure, not really. Passing this on for review....”

Google is pulling this answer from a StackExchange thread asking the question, "Is the average life expectancy of a pornographic actor significantly lower than the rest of the population?"  That StackExchange threat is attempting to fact-check a "report" from Reverend Daniel Jennings, who thought he was really doing something by making a chart of 129 porn performers alongside their stage names, legal names, causes of death, and ages at the time they died. 

"Becoming involved with pornography will bring God’s judgment upon you," Jennings wrote beneath the chart. "Learn from the mistake of these men and women and do not allow their fate to become yours." 

Jennings' list, obviously, will not give you anything resembling the average life expectancy of an adult performer because the list is extremely limited, it's not clear how the names on the list were chosen, and it doesn't include any of the majority of performers who are still alive.

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The StackExchange thread Google is pulling from notes this as well. "He has simply calculated the average age at death of those unfortunate 129 persons and presented it as 'average life expectancy of people working in the porn industry," a user answering that question wrote. "This is an error in statistical sampling. Life expectancy is not the average age at death of a subset of a group that has died." 

"Using this method, one of the most dangerous jobs would be choir boy; their life expectancy must be around 12," another user wrote. "It's really ridiculous to calculate the average age of death of a predominantly young industry, and to ignore those that age out."

The Outline investigated Google snippets' false information problem in 2017, and found that it pulled up obvious misinformation from biased sources, including answering "what is antifa" with a response from a white nationalist Facebook group, "why are firetrucks red" with a Monty Python joke, and "who is the king of the United States" with Barack Obama.

For this particular question, there are a lot of bad data analyses—and Google's floating them all to the top. The first result for "porn star lifespan" brought up a Quora thread for the question "What is the average life expectancy of a pornstar?" where the top answer is from someone who lists their qualifications as being an "avid follower of [the] adult industry and keenly interested in psychology." Their profile says they "know about" pornography, movies, and attractive women, and are an "armchair scientist." They wrote that they have "a list of over 3000 female pornstars," and out of those, "at least 22 are deceased and I have their dates of death. I just calculated their ages at the times of their death and calculated their average. It turned out to be a little over 36 years," they said. This isn't even how one could calculate average life expectancy, anyway; this math would only give you the average age of death of a small subset of deceased performers, from an already small subset of performers, total. 

The top search result for "how long do porn performers live" is a blog post by anti-pornography organization Fight the New Drug, which likens porn to an addictive drug (a concept that's been debated and largely debunked). The second result is a blog post on a website called pornographyfaq.com—which sounds like it could be an unbiased source, but pushed an anti-pornography stance—and also cited Jennings. Quora, which Google offers as another top result to questions about adult performer life expectancy, also offers the wrong answer citing Jennings.

In 2018, Google's snippet feature incorrectly called Warren Buffet the "CEO of Bitcoin," and in 2019, it listed Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai's personal cell phone number as Facebook's customer service line (Lorenzo does not, in fact, work for Facebook). Sometimes these errors are funny, but other times, they're dangerous: the Featured Snippet once listed "Nazism" as one of the Republican party's ideals, stoking theories that Big Tech is biased against conservatives. And in the question of porn performers' average lifespan, it's actively spreading stigmatizing misinformation about the adult industry and the people in it as exploited and in need of salvation. Sex workers do face increased precarity and risk, but it's because of this type of stigma—and the harmful legislation, difficulty speaking up and being heard about abuses, and dangerously bigoted ideologies that feed off of it.

Tagged:

porn, sex work

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