Discussion: A fascinating discussion about Google Correlate, which correlates search terms with others.
This is really interesting- I enjoyed it. I just wish NPR had made more use of the sociologist, Phil Cohen! Cohen’s research finds that there is a relationship between liberal voters doing Google searches about liberal candidates whilst also searching for vegetarian recipes and issues. Similarly, there is a relationship between republican voters searching for republican candidates and also doing searches for weight-loss information.Cohen’s brief feature in this story is used to make the point that political interests are influenced by culture, but this issue is not taken further. Instead, Shankar Vedantam, the NPR science correspondent, then argues that Google Correlate is an excellent data mining tool that facilitates political campaigning.
Ending on the idea that political campaigners are ‘irresponsible’ if they don’t use Google Correlate is a lost opportunity. Vedantam might have used this story make a significant scientific argument about the relationship between class, use and access to technology, technical literacy and political consciousness. What about the validity of what this tool is actually measuring? What do these spurious correlations between search terms actually mean? So liberal voters do Google searches about liberal candidates and vegetarian recipes – what does this actually say about the relationship between politics, technology and lifestyle? What does this say about the way people seek out information? What are the educational and socio-economic differences in the way different groups use Google search and how does this influence their political engagement? What about the ethics of this research tool being used for political campaigning? A sociologist could have spoken to these themes and made a better concluding comment than Vedantam, who simply celebrates the fact that Google Correlate facilitates political marketing. I want to think about all of this some more. Thanks for sharing, sociologizer – thought provoking stuff.