Friday, December 17, 2010


Scientific American:

Can culture be decoded like a genome? A team from Harvard University has teamed up with Google to crack the spines of 5,195,769 digitized books that span five centuries of the printed word with the hopes of giving the humanities a more quantitative research tool.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer, launched online December 16 and described in a paper in Science, allows Web users to query their respective areas of interest based on n-grams (a method of modeling sequences in natural language). The Harvard team is calling their analysis "culturomics" based on the notion that culture "is something you can study like evolution in biology," says Jean-Baptiste Michel, a postdoctoral researcher in Harvard's psychology department and in the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, who helped lead the charge with Aiden. As a gene or phenotype changes over time, so, too, the researchers propose, do cultural sensibilities.

The Economist suggests that science is invading the humanities:

Reading by numbers
Science invades the humanities

But what if this sort of rich stew of millions of books also manages to humanize the sciences?

Ngram Viewer

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