This book was a fast read, both educational and entertaining. It covers everything from horses to porn (unrelated of course) and has a dry sense of humor and Seth’s certainly got the credentials.
His book is enabled by our modern era of data collection and tracking which I find downright creepy, but what choice do we have if we want to use the latest gidget and thingymabobber and keep up with the Changs-es and Jones-es.
Anyhow here are some highlights and anecdotes I enjoyed from Seth’s book. You can buy a copy on Amazon.
The highest during the period I searched—and these terms do shift—was “Slutload.” That’s right, the most frequent search was for a pornographic site. This may seem strange at first blush, but unemployed people presumably have a lot of time on their hands. Many are stuck at home, alone and bored. Another of the highly correlated searches—this one in the PG realm—is “Spider Solitaire.” Again, not surprising for a group of people who presumably have a lot of time on their hands.
His left ventricle was in the 99.61st percentile! Not only that, but all his other important organs, including the rest of his heart and spleen, were exceptionally large as well. Generally speaking, when it comes to racing, Seder had found, the bigger the left ventricle, the better. But a left ventricle as big as this can be a sign of illness if the other organs are tiny. In American Pharoah, all the key organs were bigger than average, and the left ventricle was enormous. The data screamed that No. 85 was a 1-in-100,000 or even a one-in-a-million horse.
Strawberry Pop-Tarts. This product sells seven times faster than normal in the days leading up to a hurricane.
So what gets shared, positive or negative articles? Positive articles. As the authors conclude, “Content is more likely to become viral the more positive it is.”
The economists quickly homed in on one key factor: the politics of a given area. If an area is generally liberal, as Philadelphia and Detroit are, the dominant newspaper there tends to be liberal. If an area is more conservative, as are Billings and Amarillo, Texas, the dominant paper there tends to be conservative. In other words, the evidence strongly suggests that newspapers are inclined to give their readers what they want.
Among the top PornHub searches by women is a genre of pornography that, I warn you, will disturb many readers: sex featuring violence against women. Fully 25 percent of female searches for straight porn emphasize the pain and/ or humiliation of the woman—“ painful anal crying,” “public disgrace,” and “extreme brutal gangbang,” for example. Five percent look for nonconsensual sex—“ rape” or “forced” sex—even though these videos are banned on PornHub. And search rates for all these terms are at least twice as common among women as among men. If there is a genre of porn in which violence is perpetrated against a woman, my analysis of the data shows that it almost always appeals disproportionately to women.
And Google searches suggest a surprising culprit for many of these sexless relationships. There are twice as many complaints that a boyfriend won’t have sex than that a girlfriend won’t have sex. By far, the number one search complaint about a boyfriend is “My boyfriend won’t have sex with me.”
Do women care about penis size? Rarely, according to Google searches. For every search women make about a partner’s phallus, men make roughly 170 searches about their own.
The primary explanation for discrimination against African Americans today is not the fact that the people who agree to participate in lab experiments make subconscious associations between negative words and black people; it is the fact that millions of white Americans continue to do things like search for “nigger jokes.”
But there is one crucial reason that Facebook may lead to a more diverse political discussion than offline socializing. People, on average, have substantially more friends on Facebook than they do offline. And these weak ties facilitated by Facebook are more likely to be people with opposite political views.
When Americans moved from an area where this variety of tax fraud was low to an area where it was high, they learned and adopted the trick. Through time, cheating spread from region to region throughout the United States. Like a virus, cheating on taxes is contagious.
So what did they find? When a violent movie was shown, did crime rise, as some experiments suggest? Or did it stay the same? On weekends with a popular violent movie, the economists found, crime dropped. You read that right. On weekends with a popular violent movie, when millions of Americans were exposed to images of men killing other men, crime dropped—significantly.
Baseball was among the first fields with comprehensive datasets on just about everything, and an army of smart people willing to devote their lives to making sense of that data. Now, just about every field is there or getting there. Baseball comes first; every other field follows. Sabermetrics eats the world.
Facebook now runs a thousand A/ B tests per day, which means that a small number of engineers at Facebook start more randomized, controlled experiments in a given day than the entire pharmaceutical industry starts in a year.
The ads were incredibly effective. In fact, when we first saw the results, we double-and triple-and quadruple-checked them to make sure they were right—because the returns were so large. The average movie in our sample paid about $3 million for a Super Bowl ad slot. They got $8.3 million in increased ticket sales, a 2.8-to-1 return on their investment. […] As expensive as these Super Bowl ads are, our results and theirs suggest they are so effective in upping demand that companies are actually dramatically underpaying for them.
In sum, according to these researchers, giving a detailed plan of how he can make his payments and mentioning commitments he has kept in the past are evidence someone will pay back a loan. Making promises and appealing to your mercy is a clear sign someone will go into default.
Google searches related to suicide correlate strongly with state-level suicide rates. In addition, Evan Soltas and I have shown that weekly Islamophobic searches—such as “I hate Muslims” or “kill Muslims”—correlate with anti-Muslim hate crimes that week. If more people are making searches saying they want to do something, more people are going to do that thing.
The next Kinsey, I strongly suspect, will be a data scientist. The next Foucault will be a data scientist. The next Freud will be a data scientist. The next Marx will be a data scientist. The next Salk might very well be a data scientist.
Another reason for lying is simply to mess with surveys. This is a huge problem for any research regarding teenagers, fundamentally complicating our ability to understand this age group. Researchers originally found a correlation between a teenager’s being adopted and a variety of negative behaviors, such as using drugs, drinking alcohol, and skipping school. In subsequent research, they found this correlation was entirely explained by the 19 percent of self-reported adopted teenagers who weren’t actually adopted. Follow-up research has found that a meaningful percent of teenagers tell surveys they are more than seven feet tall, weigh more than four hundred pounds, or have three children. One survey found 99 percent of students who reported having an artificial limb to academic researchers were kidding.