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Google Books Stats Science

Analyzing Culture With Google Books 20

Posted by Soulskill
from the unavoidable-selection-bias dept.
Harperdog writes with this excerpt from Miller-McCune: "I would not call myself a Luddite — I use digital resources all the time, in my research and my teaching. I have hundreds of PDFs of books I have downloaded from a variety of online sources — Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Gallica (the digital service of the French National Library), and yes, Google Books — that I use in my research. But when I read the Science article (abstract), I was immediately struck by what seems to me to be a fundamental flaw in its methodology: its reliance on Google Books for its sample. Google Books has focused on digitizing academic libraries. I would argue that books found in academic libraries are not necessarily representative of cultural trends across society. As any historian knows, every scholarly library is different and every library has its biases.'"
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Analyzing Culture With Google Books

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  • Google Books has focused on digitizing academic libraries. I would argue that books found in academic libraries are not necessarily representative of cultural trends across society.

    This is just public posturing handwringing over being multicultural "enough". You wanna publicly wring your hands to get "diversity street cred", OK go wring your hands, but you don't need to actually engage the rest of us, you just need to strike the pose.

    Come on, g.books has "fanny hill", which is not exactly the pinnacle of dry academic prose (to save some /.ers, its pretty good pr0n, sorta nsfw, search for it at home, to give you a cultural reference its like a very long format penthouse letters set in

    • by hansraj (458504)

      Academic libraries frequently already have a big portion of their catalogue in digital form: mostly theses and journals. So my guess would be that someone starting out with a goal of digitizing all books would naturally start with the academic libraries.

    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      I gave TFA a quick read, and you seem to be projecting your own issues on to the author. There's no talk of being "multicultural," no hand wringing over diversity.

      It's a legitimate question that needs to be addressed in any research based on Google Books. I've heard the figure quoted in the article before, that Google Books represents 4% of all books ever published. That 4% is a large enough sample to "allow the kind of statistically significant analysis common to many sciences" doesn't mean the particul

    • by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Monday August 08, 2011 @04:59PM (#37027396)

      Google Books has focused on digitizing academic libraries. I would argue that books found in academic libraries are not necessarily representative of cultural trends across society.

      This is just public posturing handwringing over being multicultural "enough". You wanna publicly wring your hands to get "diversity street cred", OK go wring your hands, but you don't need to actually engage the rest of us, you just need to strike the pose.

      Speaking as someone who's been working in academic libraries for 18 years -- the original quote isn't handwringing over multiculturalism, it's an accurate description. Academic libraries purchase books that will be of use to academics. There are huge areas that they generally don't collect in. A contemporary academic library will purchase relatively few cookbooks, popular genre novels (romance, mystery, sci fi, etc.), YA books, self-help books, and so on, simply because they don't fit the library's mission. OTOH, an academic library is far more likely than a public library or a brick and mortar bookstore to have books written in foreign languages, books written by or about marginalized groups, and books written by minor or otherwise marginalized authors. An academic library's collection is likely to be more multicultural than that of any other book repository. But it won't have any Harlequins, any recent celebrity biographies, or Personal Finance for Dummies, so it's really hard to say that it represents the broad swath of society's reading practices.

    • by Americano (920576)

      It doesn't seem to be handwringing over cultural trends at all. Just seems to be saying that there's a very real chance of selection bias inherent to the data set.

      Say you did an analysis of computer programming based on O'reilly's Safari service. It'd probably suggest to you that algorithms and system design was pretty much irrelevant to programming, since there's only a couple Knuth books which could be overlooked, but things like "Ruby on Rails," "Perl," and "iOS Programming in 21 Days," were incredibly

  • Isn't this article the same one that came out to accompany google's "ngrams" (http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/) lab? I don't think these guys are trying to make generalizations about culture in general; they are only raising the possibility that, even with a small (4% of the total published) sample, interesting queries and surveys of human (although in this case Anglophone) culture can be made.
  • by Rei (128717) on Monday August 08, 2011 @04:29PM (#37027146) Homepage

    I have a sort of backburner project in which I break down the Icelandic vocabulary by morphology patterns and frequency of use, with the frequency of use arrived at by polling Google (the search engine). I figured, hey, with Google as a source, you'll get mostly people talking, plus news, plus ads, plus books, and in general a nice cross-section, right? Well, just ignoring some of my search methodology problems involving homonyms and declension forms (I have some ideas on how to counter those), I found that there were some serious biases by using Google as a search methodology which should have been obvious in retrospect. For example, "síða" (which can mean, among other things, webpage) was listed as one of the most common nouns. :)

    Whatever corpus you choose, it's going to have its own biases.

  • To be fair, the corpus is much more rounded for the 1800-2000 English cloud, which is what they use in the science article.

    Now, I'm not saying that all the data is perfect, I've found some issues - but if you actually look at the additionall materials for the science article they talk a fair bit about how theye made sure the data were good. And they spent a lot of time looking into it. I personality it. Data doesn't have to be perfect to be useful. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    • by DingerX (847589)
      "Scientific" quantitative analysis is the Gay Cowboy Movie of historiography. One turns up every decade or so, it's inevitably hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough, then promptly forgotten.
      The problem with historical data is that it's so far from random that the more sophisticated the analysis you subject them to, the more you end up analyzing artifacts of the selection criteria. This has been shown with every generation of quantitative data to be subjected to historical analysis. For example, let's say
  • browsed through the figures in the Science paper and my impression is that the choice of indicators is pathetic.

    Another pseudoscientific study.

  • Quanity not enough? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerry (6400) on Monday August 08, 2011 @04:47PM (#37027280)

    Google has digitized 5 million books from primarily academic libraries.

    Microsoft began their digitization project in 2005 and abandon it in 2008, throwing users onto the tender mercies of book publishers and public libraries for content. Public libraries cannot afford to digitally scan books, even if the publishers would allow it.

    Book publishers are the most vocal critics of Google's book scanning project, and to hear them wail you'd think Google was burning books, not scanning them. What the book publishers are wailing about is their perceived loss of profits because digitized books open the barn door, making mute the hope some have of renewing copyrights on material LONG resident in the public domain. In a word, greed.

  • I read this article when it came out 8 months ago. My impression was the article investigated change in language over time, and interest in topics over time in formal writing. Academic sources are used because they tend to include a range of texts from the long ago, where more popular sources are going to cull the resources much more drastically. On reflection that only thing I might have included were newspapers and pamphlets to more accurately measure the rise of fall of new terminology.

    For those who

  • Sample selection will always cause a bias no matter how extensive it is. The important thing is that the sources are well described so that the bias(es) can be properly accounted for (I think GoogleBooks does fit that requirement). The interesting thing with this paper is that it makes use of the "-omics" approach to something that previously had been a purely scholarly subject (where the insight of the individual scholar naturally gets limited by its ability to manually absorb material, at a much lower thr

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