Archive for February, 2012

Elvis vs evils

17 February 2012

Following a link on twitter this week, I discovered the Google Ngram Viewer, which lets you search for how much certain words appear in books that google have scanned. Through it we can prove that Elvis was a force for good in the world.

If you’re geeky and like graphs, there is a bit of fun to be had with this function of google books. For example, it can be seen that good and bad have both declined in the last 50 years but put in a strong recovery since 2000. Similarly Heaven did not have a good 20th century, but has recovered a bit since the 1980s.

More importantly, we can make spurious conclusions about correlation and causation. For example, see how the increase in mentions of Elvis since 1970 mirrors the decline of evils:

This is clearly evidence that Elvis was a force for good in the world, especially in the years after his death in 1977. Look at how evils increased when mentions of Elvis declined from 2002!  Sure proof if ever I saw it.

Proved beyond all reasonable doubt, I’m sure.


Having argued in print and on the radio (blatant plug, sorry) about how the idea of people expecting the First World war to be ‘over by Christmas’ in 1914 was largely a later construction, I enjoyed this graph

It clearly shows that the peak in the First World War was in 1918 (if you look at the books it appeared in they generally assign the belief to 1914). ┬áNotice also the peaks in 1930 at the height of the myth-reinforcing ‘war books’ boom, 1940 when it looked like the Nazis would win the Second World War, and 1945 when the Allies actually did win it. Of course the sample is not necessarily representative and – as my Elvis example above shows – you can’t really prove anything with these graphs alone. In the case of this myth, the graph is limited because it is only printed books, but together with the general absence of the phrase in newspapers and other written sources in 1914, it is an interesting additional piece of evidence.

The trend in the ‘British English’ books is even more WW2-heavy, but the number of books is very small so I don’t know that it’s much use: