Google Releases Intriguing New Bibliometric Tool

GoogleBookWordsGraphs2010-12-17.jpg

Source of graphs: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) With little fanfare, Google has made a mammoth database culled from nearly 5.2 million digitized books available to the public for free downloads and online searches, opening a new landscape of possibilities for research and education in the humanities.

The digital storehouse, which comprises words and short phrases as well as a year-by-year count of how often they appear, represents the first time a data set of this magnitude and searching tools are at the disposal of Ph.D.’s, middle school students and anyone else who likes to spend time in front of a small screen. It consists of the 500 billion words contained in books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian.
. . .
“The goal is to give an 8-year-old the ability to browse cultural trends throughout history, as recorded in books,” said Erez Lieberman Aiden, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard. Mr. Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, assembled the data set with Google and spearheaded a research project to demonstrate how vast digital databases can transform our understanding of language, culture and the flow of ideas.
Their study, to be published in (p. A3) the journal Science on Friday, offers a tantalizing taste of the rich buffet of research opportunities now open to literature, history and other liberal arts professors who may have previously avoided quantitative analysis. Science is taking the unusual step of making the paper available online to nonsubscribers.
“We wanted to show what becomes possible when you apply very high-turbo data analysis to questions in the humanities,” said Mr. Lieberman Aiden, whose expertise is in applied mathematics and genomics. He called the method “culturomics.”
. . .
Looking at inventions, they found technological advances took, on average, 66 years to be adopted by the larger culture in the early 1800s and only 27 years between 1880 and 1920.

For the full story, see:
PATRICIA COHEN. “In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture.” The New York Times (Fri., December 17, 2010): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 16, 2010.)

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