Though search terms are not an accurate representation of what the characteristics of people resemble, journalists are quite hell bent on proving that this is what the real picture looks like. This opinion piece done by the New York York Times tries to find a pattern on what the belief system of people today looks like. This plays out to be a good example of how data can be easily used to give readers a bigger construed picture of what may not be.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes in his piece: “Does this mean that when tragedies strike, people focus on getting information and spend little time praying? I have to believe this is a limitation of search data, that actual prayers rise during tragedies, and that searches just do not capture this behavior. If nothing else, it is a puzzle, as everything I thought I knew about the world and search data led me to expect the opposite.”
The piece talks about how it has been a bad decade for God while reminding readers of Pope Francis’ popularity. It also mentions that porn searches have gone up.
The data part of the story was done by Davidowitz. He analysed the search data on google and decided to come up with this conclusion. Though he made an effort to mention the variations he looked up on the same question. However, there are so many things that go wrong with analysis like these. The most important highlight is that somehow we have decided that data by google is enough to form a picture of an issue. Which again comes back to the point about how much of data knowledge do we need to have until we can finally do justice to what the statistics say.
Statistically is it significant to look up searches and form opinion about the spiritual beliefs of people in the US? Is the number 25,124 enough to say that people are questioning the existence of God and are not in fact believers googling more facts about their religion?
So even though the NYT thinks that calamities and God are dependent variables, the graph by them suggests that your search for god falls during difficult times. This is a very opinionated data interpretation of the dataset.
I don’t know if we should take data so seriously all the time. I mean after all Davidowitz points out that Kim Kardashian is the most followed person on social media. Err…does that make Kardashian God? I don’t think so.