“Dataclysm, Who We Are When no one is looking”, by Christian Rudder

DCF 1.0

“Dataclysm” by Christian Rudder in 2014, describes the recent and still emerging ability to analyze the human psyche  with data gleaned from the internet.   This method solves a number of problems researchers have had previously.  One being the lack of accuracy when asking people directly about personal attitudes and preferences, since people are usually less than totally candid about their true feelings.  Another being the greater number and variety of cohorts to coalesce data from.  This is especially true when studying subjects from narrow demographics who are not otherwise practical to gather in large numbers for traditional polling.  So for example, rather than asking college volunteers (because their the most available subjects in universities where such studies are done) questions about sexuality, or attitudes toward races, politics, or other personal inclinations and getting answers shaded by how the subjects want to appear, researchers can comb through data online and get more accurate answers by analyzing the data.   Christian Rudder is a statistician as well as one of the founders of “OKCupid”, an online dating site.  He gives numerous examples of questions that can now be answered more accurately.  One example is measuring the percentage of same-sex attracted men in the population.  One of his methods was to look at the number of searches for gay pornography in different parts of the country.  He found that it is relatively the same everywhere, in contrast to the number of self identified gay men which was lower in conservative areas.   Another example is the attitude of whites towards blacks.  When asked directly it is very difficult to find racist attitudes because people want to answer in politically correct terms.  However, when looking at the google searches for “n*gg**” around events as Obama’s first election, there are huge spikes indicating an underlying sentiment. The book contains a lot of graphs and statistics.  There are lots of specific examples to flesh out the general point that data from the internet offers social scientists a new way of getting a clear accurate answer to questions that couldn’t be done with prior methods.




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