Characterizing the Google Books corpus: Strong limits to inferences of socio-cultural and linguistic evolution
PLoS ONE, 10, e0137041, 2015
Abstract: It is tempting to treat frequency trends from Google Books data sets as indicators for the true popularity of various words and phrases. Doing so allows us to draw novel conclusions about the evolution of public perception of a given topic, such as time and gender. However, sampling published works by availability and ease of digitization leads to several important effects. One of these is the surprising ability of a single prolific author to noticeably insert new phrases into a language. A greater effect arises from scientific texts, which have become increasingly prolific in the last several decades and are heavily sampled in the corpus. The result is a surge of phrases typical to academic articles but less common in general, such as references to time in the form of citations. Here, we highlight these dynamics by examining and comparing major contributions to the statistical divergence of English data sets between decades in the period 1800–2000. We find that only the English Fiction data set from the second version of the corpus is not heavily affected by professional texts, in clear contrast to the first version of the fiction data set and both unfiltered English data sets. Our findings emphasize the need to fully characterize the dynamics of the Google Books corpus before using these data sets to draw broad conclusions about cultural and linguistic evolution.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).