Monday, May 20, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing!

The world saw two major catastrophes, within a week, in April 2019. First, a revered architectural and religious icon, the Notre Dame, going up in flames that consumed its beautiful fl├Ęche. Then the devastating bomb explosions on a peaceful easter morning in Sri Lanka. People reacted differently to both these heart breaking events. For the Notre Dame people took to social media posting their best pictures of the iconic structure, most including a selfie. For the ghastly events in Sri Lanka however, there was an eerie silence. A silence that was misconstrued (in my opinion) by many as a gross apathy. One such opinion was the article titled "Why do people care more about a fire in Notre Dame than hundreds of people dead in Sri Lanka?".

The article is filled with speculations and the one attempt to corroborate them with data was flawed. To quote the author "Google Trends show the lack of concern was worse than I thought. The Notre Dame fire had up to nine times more search interest than the bombings in Sri Lanka, within 24 hours of each event. So why does the Western world care more about a fire where no one died, than it does the gruesome killing of hundreds of people in coordinated bomb blasts?", a conclusion based on her observation from the following Google trends data from her article.

What the author presumably did not realize is that when she looked up the trend she did not choose the right category, and in fact chose the default "All categories".  However, what you see on Google trends for the same time period when you choose the category "News" is a completely different story, one that contradicts the author in no uncertain terms, as can be seen from the data below. Clearly the author was wrong and there was definitely significantly more interest in Sri Lanka than Notre Dame in the 24 hours period of the events in question.

Notre Dame appears in a lot more categories than Sri Lanka which seems to lead to its higher average search when "All categories" is chosen. For example, there is a University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, USA

The other pain point for the author was that Australians (the author resided in Australia when writing the article) were more concerned about the event in Notre Dame than Sri Lanka. She seemed to base this again on her data which was averaged Worldwide and not for Australia! She goes on to attribute this to Australians having traveled more to France than to Sri Lanka. To quote the author "Maybe you haven't travelled to Sri Lanka - it's true that fewer Australians travel there than France - but all of this is relatable. All of this should be close to home." This conclusion is again misplaced as shown by the following data averaged for Australia, which clearly indicates that Australians were much more interested in the event in Sri Lanka than Notre Dame.

I went a bit further and looked at the distribution of interest in Sri Lanka and Notre Dame events worldwide by region for the week in question. The result is quite interesting. Turns out that Australia was the top 5th country with the highest interest in Sri Lanka, again, contrary to the author's belief. One can see that a significant portion of Europe (as would be expected) did have a higher interest in Notre Dame. South and Central America also showed more interest in Notre Dame than Sri Lanka. One can possibly attribute this to a predominantly Catholic population in South and Central America and Notre Dame being a revered Catholic cathedral.

So one has to be very careful about what data they are looking at before jumping to what could be very erroneous conclusions. 

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