Google Searches for Science

These series of studies were conducted in collaboration with Ayelet Baram-Tsabari from the Technion Institute. For many years we work together to explore the scientific interests and needs of online users worldwide. To do so, we employ public data available from Google Trends on people's top and rising searches for different scientific terms.

In our most recent work we focus on Nobel Prize announcements and study how it can trigger global and local searches for the Nobel laureates and their related discoveries. We refer to the short period after media announcements of scientific events as a “teachable moments”, since during this precious time users often display more interest in science and are therefore have more potential to gain valuable scientific knowledge. We also developed a method to measure the duration of this teachable moment, using the “half-life” of search trends, which is the duration it takes for searches to drop to 50% of the peak. Following the longitudinal trends of Google searches for the names and discoveries of Nobel laureates from 2012 to 2017, we show that Nobel Prize events clearly trigger more searches for laureates, but also for their respective discoveries.

The following Figure demonstrates well how Nobel Prize events in last five years triggered much greater online searches around the world for both the laureates and their respected discoveries in various scientific fields. While online searches for related scientific discoveries also display seasonal trends that correspond the academic year, their share increases significantly during the teachable moment of the Nobel Prize announcement. This teachable moment for laureate, however, is very short, as the half-life of Google searches and news attention is only one day.

Searches for Nobel Laureates and the Discoveries

Other studies further reveal the importance of the relevant Wikipedia entries during those teachable moments. Users not only tend to look for information about the laureates and their discoveries in Google, but also visit Wikipedia pages to learn more about those scientific topics.

Finally, the Nobel Prize competition is a national event even more than a global event. The share of searches from the laureates’ countries is often much higher than the global share of searches. In the example below we see the searches for John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka who were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in October 2012 for their discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. Google Trends shows us that the share of searches for the British scientist, John Gurdon were much higher in the UK, while the share of searches for Shinya Yamanaka in Japanese were particularly higher in Japan.

Searches for Nobel Laureates around the world