Don’t Believe That Google Trends Map

Illustration by Google Trends/Lifehacker

Last week Google Trends went viral with a map of a many misspelled difference in any U.S. state:

This was quick copied by America’s other Internet titan, Pornhub:

These maps are trusting fun! Typos are humorous (say “porm” out loud) and infographics demeanour like candy and feel like learning. But a webcomic xkcd claims that they’re also fundamentally done up:

Randall Munroe/xkcd

Unlike terms associated to meridian or geography, a tangible many misspelled difference substantially don’t change that many state to state. So to find some distinct differences, information analysts have to puncture for a many common equipment that do vary. By a time they strike something interesting, they’ve expected massaged a information over any relevance. But a maps above embody nothing of these caveats.


Google Trends and Pornhub didn’t respond to requests for comment. Data scientist Roban Kramer gave some context by email:

I consider a categorical indicate of a xkcd animation is, “Half a time you’re usually sampling pointless sound since a underlying information doesn’t change that many from state to state.” Without carrying looked during this sold dataset, that seems utterly expected to me.

Basically we should never take severely any end drawn from data, or any visualization, that doesn’t give we information about a doubt or sound involved.

Before holding these kinds of maps seriously, I’d wish to know things like how large a differences are in a depends of a initial and second-most misspelled words, how opposite a frequencies of these difference indeed are from state to state, and how quick a rankings are within a state from month to month.

So unless we can investigate a information yourself, these maps are for party functions only. This doesn’t seem like many of a problem in itself. These maps aren’t accurately actionable, so all they do is emanate some feign trivia.

But personification quick and lax with information mostly has bigger consequences. It’s one reason we get so many paradoxical diet advice. As FiveThirtyEight has demonstrated, it’s easy to over-analyze adequate information to detect “statistically significant” correlations between, say, potato chips and high math scores. That’s one reason we’re flooded with paradoxical studies that contend coffee, milk, and booze means and forestall cancer. When a media news these formula but a correct caveats about fake positives, they bluster a public’s trust in science.


So subsequent time we hear that some investigate unearthed a thespian and intolerable correlation, check their methods. If there’s poignant room for doubt, provide it like a brightly colored hunt map: usually for fun.

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Posted by on Jun 7 2017. Filed under Gadgets. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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