Using the Google Ngram Viewer to study culture- science vs. religion
#1
I reviewed the new Google Ngram Viewer here on Nirmukta, and I thought we could use the forums to experiment with the tool and analyze the results. I propose that we use the example of 'science vs religion' I present in the article above. Here are the results, for various time periods:

[Image: googlengramviewer1.png]

[Image: googlengramviewer2.png]

[Image: googlengramviewer3.png]

[Image: googlengramviewer4.png]
(Note, this last search has a smoothing of zero, as opposed to a smoothing of 1 as used on the other searches)

What information can we gain about trends in science and religion from this data? Please remember that there are many factors to be taken into consideration before using this data to determine any significant cultural trends. As pointed out in the article, this article published in Science by the researchers behind the Google tool presents scientific guidelines as to the proper use of the tool (Full article is available if you register on website of the journal Science). Feel free to do additional searches, narrow down or expand the criteria and make any necessary changes to derive meaningful and scientific conclusions.
Are you up to the challenge? Smartass

Edit: These graphs are preliminary observations. What hypotheses can we construct using these observations, and how can we test them?

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#2
In hindsight, here's a hypothesis:

Popularity of science rises due to its ability to explain nature. It attracts a lot of minds who would otherwise have searched for answers in religion. The decline of usage of the word religion and rise of word science can be attributed to that.

Then there is the rise of usage of religion from the 1990's. This may be less due to rise of popularity of religion and more due to increase in literature skeptical of religion and the rebuttals from religious apologists trying to fend off those criticisms.
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#3
(14-Jan-2011, 11:59 PM)Lije Wrote: Then there is the rise of usage of religion from the 1990's. This may be less due to rise of popularity of religion and more due to increase in literature skeptical of religion and the rebuttals from religious apologists trying to fend off those criticisms.

This is the part I find interesting, and I had a similar theory in mind. Religion is taking a lot of heat today, and whereas in the past they were taken for granted as essential and inextricable from culture at large, today there is a huge volume of books that are critical of religion's very reasons for being.


.pdf   Science-2010-Bohannon-1600.pdf (Size: 180 KB / Downloads: 4)


"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
In this TED talk, Nicholas Christakis predicts that massive availability of data from social networks will herald the beginning of Computational Social Science, which can revolutionize social sciences like the telescope did astronomy. The Google Ngram viewer seems to be one of the first tools for such a discipline.

Here are some snippets after playing with the Ngram viewer:

1. While playing off Science vs Philosophy (which some say subsumes Science and some others say is rendered superfluous by it), we find that the peaks and troughs in the Science curve occur at nearly the same times as those in the Philosophy curve. Even when the Science curve lies well above the Philosophy curve, they could fit each other like the matching edges of a jigsaw puzzle!
[Image: chart?con‌tent=science%2Cphilosophy&corp...r_end=2000]

Since we are not limited to plotting only two quantities at a time, we can plot for 'Science', 'Philosophy' and 'Religion' at the same time, and find that the upsurge in Science hasn't affected Philosophy as much as it has Religion.
[Image: chart?con‌tent=science%2Creligion%2Cphil...r_end=2000]

2. While using the Ngram viewer, we must be careful while using words which are contemporarily loosely treated as synonymous. Consider these:
[Image: chart?con‌tent=science%2Chumanities&corp...r_end=2000]

[Image: chart?con‌tent=science%2Carts&corpus=0&s...r_end=2000]

Perhaps 'humanities' gives such a poor showing because this term gained currency only fairly recently. By the same token, perhaps the word technology too is a comparatively recent coinage.
[Image: chart?con‌tent=science%2Ctechnology&corp...r_end=2000]
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#5
(continued from previous)

3. Staying with the Science vs Religion playoff, we can see that in the past century, the literary discourse has begun to involve more evidence than faith...
[Image: chart?con‌tent=evidence%2Cfaith&corpus=0...r_end=2000]

...and society is getting less concerned with sin than the more earthy 'crime'.
[Image: chart?con‌tent=crime%2Csin&corpus=0&smoo...r_end=2000]

In the world of books, for most of history, there have been more 'miracles' than 'happenings'...
[Image: chart?con‌tent=miracle%2Chappening&corpu...r_end=2000]

...but of late, more events seem to be attributed to Chance than to Providence!
[Image: chart?con‌tent=chance%2Cprovidence&corpu...r_end=2000]



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#6
A New York Times op-ed summarizing results from several studies using the Google Ngram viewer can be read here: What Our Words Tell Us

Between them, the researchers claim to have discerned three major trends : individualization, demoralization and governmentalization. Quoting from the article:

Quote: Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine. He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since. On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.”

Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.” Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise. So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.

Columnist David Brooks sees a problem revealed by these observations, which he formulates as follows:
Quote:Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.
The way out, he concludes, may not be provided by any of the strict traditional left or right camps.
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#7
(21-May-2013, 11:26 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: A New York Times op-ed summarizing results from several studies using the Google Ngram viewer can be read here: What Our Words Tell Us

Between them, the researchers claim to have discerned three major trends : individualization, demoralization and governmentalization. Quoting from the article:

Quote: Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine. He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since. On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.”

Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.” Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise. So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.

Columnist David Brooks sees a problem revealed by these observations, which he formulates as follows:
Quote:Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.
The way out, he concludes, may not be provided by any of the strict traditional left or right camps.

Robin Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley not only disagrees with David Brook in What Our Words Don’t Tell Us but also questions if cultural shifts can be studied by changes in the frequency of words in books.

A relevant quote below.

Quote:And if the story Brooks would like to tell is true, this shift in word usage would neatly and clearly tell us that liberalism has changed our characters in negative ways. The problem is that, even granting that the facts cited by Brooks are unequivocally correct, they cannot be used to draw Brooks’ conclusions. The link between linguistic form and real-world reference and function is tricky and complicated. Yes, sometimes the appearance of new words, and the vanishing of old ones, can tell a story about social and political change over time: when was the last time you heard “spinning jenny”? And how often did you encounter “blogosphere” 20 years ago? In cases like these, it’s easy to see the connection between usage share and cultural importance. But when one applies the same tests to words that do not refer to technological innovation or political structure and the like, the test is not nearly so reliable.

Consider “racism.” It is first attested, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in the first decade of the 20th century. By Brooks’ standard, that would imply that racism, the attitude and behavior, only came into being then, and therefore only then needed a word to describe it. Similarly, “sexism,” in its current sense, is only attested in the mid-1960s. What should we make of that?

Actually, the appearance of these words at those times is a positive indicator. Racism and sexism have been endemic in our species as far back as the historical record allows us to determine, and probably further. But it was only in the 20th century that people first began to see these kinds of behaviors as something other than normal and inevitable, and therefore worthy of naming and eventually changing. To name these evils was to show them as aberrant and evil, something that could be recognized as peculiar and changeable.

So the increasing presence of “individualism” words does not necessarily mean that we have become more individualistic. It could mean that we are becoming more aware of our individualism – the first step, perhaps, to rethinking and changing it. And the fact that today we use words like “humility” less and “discipline” more may mean any of several things, or nothing.
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#8
If we assume that Robin Lakoff's conclusion above that the spurt in the occurrence of 'racism' and 'sexism' in 1960's books may in itself signal a raising of consciousness, then are we to assume that the following plots maybe a sobering indicator of a sagging of consciousness in the 2000s?
[Image: atuuy4Z.png]
Or it could be simply be that consciousness-raising continues to be on the upswing, but has moved to discourse in the Web and Web 2.0, resulting in a dwindling of keywords from dead-tree publications that are the staple of Ngram data.

Not reading too much into Ngram data maybe a good idea, as advised by Lakoff. However, is it also a good idea to wave aside the concerns of 'atomization' and 'demoralization' that David Brooks raises? Or could his mistake just be his choice of flimsy grounds like Ngram numbers to badly make a point that was otherwise correct on the ground? Might it be that despite the seeming upswing in progressive mobilization, a kind of alienation and demoralization are simultaneously underway?

In much of the discourse in progressive circles, the consideration for describing behavior as ethical that is most emphasized, is the attitude adopted towards the most vulnerable or most marginalized. That the attitude one adopts towards social peers or immediate family also matters, is something which though not exactly dismissed or denied in progressive advocacy, is either conveniently missed or prematurely taken for granted. Of course, it is only a straw-progressive who would insist that standing with the oppressed requires standing apart from the 'establishment' represented by family, but such standoffish-ness is something restless young audiences romanticizing the progressive cause are prone to. Being presented with progressive priorities can have the unwitting effect of displacing earlier priorities and commitments, even when they are not explicitly decried as 'bourgeois concerns'. Consciousness 'raised' to some place seems to have the effect of it being 'withdrawn' from closer home, given humans' limited cognitive resources. It is therefore all too easy to forget that there at least two ways of doing good in the rush for 'social change'. Such a concern, far from being manufactured as a taunt to progressives by a quasi-conservative 'centrist' columnist like David Brooks, is, to be fair, recognized and emphasized by some leading lights on the liberal left as well. In the highly recommended documentary Examined Life which features a galaxy of such luminaries, Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explains why we must 'learn how to do both'. Quoting from the book version of the interview:

Quote:As a species that was designed to live in bands of a hundred-odd people for much of its evolutionary history, we have to figure out how we are going to live in a planet with 6,7,8 billion people...We're good at small face-to-face stuff. That's what we're made for. We know how to be responsible for children and parents and cousins and friends, but we now have to be responsible for fellow-citizens, both of country and fellow-citizens of the world. The question is, can we figure it out?
...
There is a kind of universalism, which some people call cosmopolitanism too, that I find absurdly demanding because it says your local attachments, your rooted connections to your family, your community, your country are all morally arbitrary. It says you should really recognize that your primary obligation is to humans as such, and that it's wrong to favor anybody, to be partial to anybody. There is a long tradition of this sort of thought in philosophy. William Godwin, in the famous nineteenth-century version of it, discusses whether if you see a great humanitarian in a house that is burning down, but his servant is your father, whether you should save your father or the great humanitarian. Godwin says obviously you should save the great humanitarian because that is better for humanity.
That kind of denial of the moral appropriateness of partiality -attachment to family, friends, lovers and so on- just makes this view seem preposterous.
...
Our responsibilities aren't just to a hundred people whom we can interact with and see, and that's I think the great challenge. And cosmopolitanism for me is meant to be an answer to that challenge. It's meant to say, "You can't retreat to the hundred". You can't simply be partial to some tiny group and simply live out your moral life in that. That's not morally permissible. But you can't abandon your local group either, because that would take you too far away I think, from your humanity. So what we have to do, I think, is to learn how to do both.
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