Is interest toward the environment really declining? The complexity of analysing trends using internet search data

Abstract

Recent analyses of internet search volume hypothesized a decline of public interest toward themes related to environment, biodiversity conservation and fishery. These analyses were based on Google Trends, which is a measure of how frequently a term is searched in Google, in proportion to the total of searches performed. Google Trends is a measure of relative search, and this may make difficult assessing temporal trends. I evaluated whether relative declines in internet search volumes represent genuine decline in interest toward environmental-related themes, by comparing trends of terms representing various themes, including environment, computer science, other disciplines (astrophysics) and leisure. Similar values of relative decline were detected for environmental terms, for computer science terms, and for other scientific disciplines. Conversely, an increase was observed for leisure related terms. This suggests that interest toward the environment is not truly decreasing. The apparent decline of environmental and scientific terms is most likely caused by the increasing use of internet for aims unrelated to science and technology, such as leisure. Internet search tools are a powerful source of information, but users should be aware of the complexity of analysing their data: using unrelated terms as benchmark may help to identify genuine trends.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Bonardi A, Manenti R, Corbetta A, Ferri V, Fiacchini D, Giovine G, Macchi S, Romanazzi E, Soccini C, Bottoni L, Padoa Schioppa E, Ficetola GF (2011) Usefulness of volunteer data to measure the large scale decline of “common” toad populations. Biol Conserv 144:2328–2334

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Gillies J, Cailliau R (2000) How the web was born. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  3. International Telecommunications Union 2013. Key ICT indicators for developed and developing countries and the world (totals and penetration rates). International Telecommunications Union, Geneva. http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/statistics/2012/ITU_Key_2006-2013_ICT_data.xls

  4. McCallum ML, Bury GW (2013) Google search patterns suggest declining interest in the environment. Biodivers Conserv 22:1355–1367

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Sauer JR, Link WA, Kendall WL, Dolton DD (2010) Comparative analysis of mourning dove population change in North America. J Wildlife Manag 74:1059–1069

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Schmidt BR (2004) Declining amphibian populations: the pitfalls of count data in the study of diversity, distributions, dynamics, and demography. Herpetol J 14:167–174

    Google Scholar 

  7. Waller V (2011) Not just information: who searches for what on the search engine Google? J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 62:761–775

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Wilde GR, Pope KL (2013) Worldwide trends in fishing interest indicated by internet search volume. Fisheries Manag Ecol 20:211–222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Willard SD, Nguyen MM (2013) Internet search trends analysis tools can provide real-time data on kidney stone disease in the United States. Urology 81:37–42

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Yang AC, Huang NE, Peng CK, Tsai SJ (2010) Do seasons have an influence on the incidence of depression? The use of an internet search engine query data as a proxy of human affect. PLoS ONE 5:e13728

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Zuur AF, Ieno EN, Walker NJ, Saveliev AA, Smith GM (2009) Mixed effects models and extensions in ecology with R. Springer, New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

I thank two reviewers for constructive comments on early versions of this manuscript. GFF was supported by a post-doctoral scholarship of Univ. Milano-Bicocca.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gentile Francesco Ficetola.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ficetola, G.F. Is interest toward the environment really declining? The complexity of analysing trends using internet search data. Biodivers Conserv 22, 2983–2988 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0552-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Environment
  • Google trends
  • Public opinion
  • Sustainability
  • Time series