May 21, 2012

A Trend In Aberrations

I was fiddling around with Google trends today and noticed something weird. The trend for 'science' showed a clear pattern. I didn't do much other than note the oddity before moving on. But then I noticed something weird. Their was a striking similarity between the two trend lines of 'science' and 'religion', unsettling as if someone just repeated themselves without realizing it. Both trends seem fairly stable through the first part of the year, usually hanging out above 1. Near the middle of the year there is a noticeable drop in searches for both terms, with a rise back to above 1 by the end of  the year. Upon closer examination, there is a mysterious double dip in both trends, one in November and one in December. What could explain this correlation? Could it just be coincidence?

During the winter you're not out and about as much, and so are spending more time indoors doing more stationary hobbies, and you are more likely to be reading up on thoughtful subjects like science or religion. But there are still odd things happening. Sure, 'religion' sometimes gets a boost around Easter (especially in the U.S.) But what about the double dip at the end of the year? Each November there is a drop in both terms, followed by a rise through the middle of December, with another fall to the end of the year. Why such synchronicity? I like to think it is caused by holidays and travel arrangements. Looking at the graphs for "holiday travel" one can certainly see upswings right at the same time that 'science' and 'religion' nose dive. And there does seem to be a minor upsurge in searches for 'travel' during the summer, right along with the drops in the other two terms. I would also note that the summer plunge for 'religion' and 'science' coincides with the middle of May and the middle of August, right when school gets back in. There is a discrepancy between 'travel'-related searches and 'science/religion' searches, namely there is a big upsurge in 'travel' searches during January, but without a corresponding drop for the first two terms. But that may well be explained by people writing about their holiday travels, rather than actually leaving their house.

So I think I can, tentatively at least, conclude that the similar patterns exhibited by peoples search behavior in regards to 'religion' and 'science' (Specifically, a drop during the summer months, a rise during the winter, with a double dip in that rise occurring in November and December) is due to seasonal variability: When it is cold and snowy outside, people stay inside more. This means they spend more time on the computer, as well as having more time to engage in stationary pursuits, leading to a rise in searches for those two terms.

Further research is certainly required to completely answer this question. What effect does school have on the searches? The average number of searches for the two terms during the summer is half what it is during the winter, while searches related to 'travel' only upswing marginally during the summer. Are school age people doing most of the investigation of these two terms? What other terms have similar trends? What's up with science between 2003 and 2004?*

It was right around that point when I noticed there was another weird trend. Each year, right at January, there would be a huge spike in both trends. More specifically, the trend is always less on December 31st than it is for January 1st the following year. Why the sudden rise? There was usually a slight rise right at the end of December, but January would always start significantly higher than December ended. My first thought was that the new year had a part to play in this. But since the change is so rapid (overnight), and the trends after January 1st are fairly consistent, I'm lead to assume that Google trends averages for each year at max, and thus has to readjust each year in order to display on a multi-year graph. But then that implies that we are consistently seeking out these two terms less and less each and every year. This also is occurring with 'dentist', 'travel', 'home', and 'abroad'. Are we truly becoming less and less interested with the world, or is this some graphing problem with Google Trends?

Damn you random internet research!

I see your answer, and raise you another question! 

*Hypothetically (more accurate than theoretically) I could try and do the research necessary to answer these questions, but I'm not gonna. I think if I go any further I will start to verge into actual science or obsession. More likely the latter, but if the former than I am woefully inadequate for the task.

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