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


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Gentile Francesco Ficetola.

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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).

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