Minding the trend: Bain Capital

By Razib Khan | July 16, 2012 9:19 am

Long time readers know that I like to use analytics like Google Trends to put up short posts. Why? I was prompted by the fact that the mainstream often likes to write meandering “trend” pieces which are basically spiffed-up versions of the type of think-pieces essays you’d pen in 10th grade. Basically the modus operandi is to start with a novel or counter-intuitive proposition, and then assemble a number of individuals or data points supporting your theses. For example, It’s Hip to Be Round, which argued 3 summers ago that male New York New York hipsters were now sporting potbellies fashionably. The problem with these sorts of pieces is that it’s not 10th grade in the pre-internet era, where you have a fine number of resources and time. Using above system you can construct a trend piece around any thesis. Just dive through the Google stack, or ask enough people and just cull the ones willing to be quoted. The modern trend piece in fact is a perfect exemplar of the sort of non-fiction which someone with a deconstructive mindset might argue is actually form of fiction. Trend pieces which reflect genuine social truths are then rather like historical novels, narrative elaborations upon factual events or dynamics.

So I was pleased when it was pointed out to me this morning that respectable segments of the mainstream media were now looking at the Google Trend of searches for Bain Capital, rather than expending “shoe-leather,” in assessing the trend of a particular story. Intuitively journalists know that this is “blowing up,” but it is nice that instead of getting quotes from Larry Sabato they actually ascertain the curiosity of a substantial subset of the voting public. The method isn’t perfect, and one can imagine it being “gamed” in a political context in the near future, but the philosophy behind it, look for aggregate analytics which are freely available, which is heartening. There is a role for person to person reporting “on the street,” but in an age of finite journalistic resources those should be marshaled in specific cases. Also, in some cases using analytics like these might yield that conventional wisdom is wrong. That would be a major step up. The crowd is not always wise.

P.S. I stole the general idea of this sort of post from Agnostic.

For old times:

  • David

    Fashion trends and political trends seem like different reporting. For political trends, we have a lot of (occasionally) savvy people who conduct polls. Though imperfect, these are informative. There is no analogue of polls to confirm stories like “US hipsters are proud of their pot bellies” or “Lots of rural youths are chugging cough medicine!” The intention of these stories is not to soberly inform, but to shock, provoke, stimulate and generate page clicks. And I wouldn’t give much credit for the Google Trends move, because that’s just another easy, 10th grade move available to you. Gee, a guy looked at Google Trends and wrote an article about what he saw there, accompanied by speculation! In 10th grade reporting, that’s hardly an A! And if you want to write about Bain and Trends doesn’t show a blip, you can always fall back on the “my ear to the ground that has heard that…” mode.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    And if you want to write about Bain and Trends doesn’t show a blip, you can always fall back on the “my ear to the ground that has heard that…” mode.

    bullshit move.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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