Using Web Searches to Understand What We’re Really Thinking

Large-scale data research tools, writes author Michael Shermer, may be able to provide greater insight into people's attitudes toward topics like racism.

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Jun 13, 2018
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When a pollster calls a registered voter and asks whether he or she is racist, there is no way of knowing whether the person is giving an honest response. However, using large-scale data research tools enables people to intuit, based on web search history, whether that prospective voter appears to be telling the truth. In a blog post published this week on Scientific American, author Michael Shermer examines how societal attitudes toward racism can be gleaned from web searches. Shermer examines the 2008 U.S. presidential election: Barack Obama received fewer votes than expected in Democratic strongholds, and Google Trends analysis found that on his election night one in every 100 Google searches with “Obama” included “kkk” or the N-word. Implicit racism, therefore, could have been a factor in the fewer than expected votes Obama received in Democratic areas.  

By Michael Shermer


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Maya Miller

Intern, Scientific American

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