NPR’s Morning Edition did a story today about my Google Correlate explorations on NPR — focusing on politics and food searches — by Shankar Vedantam, I thought it might be helpful to pull together the correlations posts I’ve done. Someone — probably not me — should get serious about using this kind of data to connect search behavior with demographic trends, politics, culture, and other aggregate patterns of social behavior.
Ideally, we need Google to give up the real data, warts and all, for real research. For example, this disturbing bit of text has appeared on their FAQ page:
In December 2011, we added support for time series correlations on a number of new countries. As part of this change, we reduced our sample size for US states and US time series to match that of the other countries. While this does not have much of an effect on popular queries, it may cause a noticeable increase in variance for queries with lower volumes.
In fact, some of the searches I’ve reported on in the past no longer produce the same results, apparently because of this change. Since they have apparently reduced the sample size, I favor the results I reported, but this is not the kind of thing we’d do if we ran the zoo. If anyone knows Google, you should try to work this out with them, get some grant money, and really wow us.
Here’s where the blog has been:
- Shotgun pistol grip, meet tofu marinade (Merry Christmas!): How “traditional Christmas dinner” and “vegetarian Christmas” searches delineate states.
- MaddowColbert vs. FoxLimbaugh, Google edition: How searches for a range of oddities, from fennel salad and home abortion methods, follow red/blue-state patterns and illustrate the Internet’s political echo chambers.
- What do commuters Google?: Searches that follow the pattern of state average commuting times. Think, “change careers.”
- Google searches foretold Census report of divorce increase?: Google time trends supported the idea of pent up demand for divorces as a result of the recession (reported in this post). Census data show an uptick in divorce for 2010. Discuss.
- Google index of poor mothers’ pain: How time trends for food stamps, Wal-Mart jobs, and “help for single mothers” searches all spike together — along with “help with rent,” “iud side effects,” and other indicators of poor women’s struggles.
- Warning: What do smokers Google?: Nine disease- or symptom-related searches that are highly correlated with state-level smoking rates. Yikes.
- Is fertility ready to rebound?: Searches for terms like “pregnancy growth” and “pregnancy tips” point toward a post-recession rebound in fertility rates.
- Promoting breastfeeding here and there: The high correlation between state breastfeeding report card scores and searches for the Center for Science in the Public Interest newsletters.
- Stuff White people Google: Race/ethnicity, age and education distributions across states all show correlations with searches for related concepts (like “Regina Belle” for Black population, and “fosomax” for population age 65+.
- Divorce, handguns, Obama, Top Chef, Tea Party: Looking at correlations between real data — like state divorce rates and votes for Obama — and Google searches.
- Marriage drop now, divorce drop later?: An anemic seasonal spike in wedding-related searches for 2010. Maybe that’s good news for the current crop of marriages, though.
- Unemployment’s greenjobs porn Google mind?: Tracking searches that follow weekly unemployment claims, including loan modifications, green jobs, and porn.
Wow, that’s a lot of posts. (It reminds of when Maine’s recycling law led Stephen King to start stockpiling beer cans instead of throwing them out, and the size of the pile illustrated the depth of his alcoholism.) Maybe I should cool it for a while.
The story is here, with an audio link.
Here are the foods that appear in the top-100 correlations with searches for “npr” across states:
- no knead
- cooks illustrated
- knead bread
- no knead bread
- flourless chocolate
- creme fraiche
- chard recipes
- wheat allergy
- caster sugar
- bittersweet chocolate