Based on the information and opinions I collected from the articles and scholarly sources I read for blog posts 1 and 2, I have decided, as mentioned in my second blog post, that the area I want to investigate within the broad issue of climate change is that of the extent to which any given individual is influenced, by either inherent characteristics or external factors, to accept or to reject the existence of climate change, and, by extension, to accept or reject the extent to which climate change is caused or contributed to by human activity. As a result of this, in seeking to identify an existing design example within an emergent practice context, I wanted to find a project which visualised a data set from which I could deduce information about factors which may influence people’s opinions on climate change, either individually or collectively.
The project I found was ‘A World of Change’, a data visualisation created by Pitch Interactive in collaboration with Google’s News Lab. Geared primarily towards journalists (Wiederkehr 2015), this project explores the issue of climate change through the presentation of Google Search results in a simple and easy to use platform. The project utilises current/emerging technologies in that it was created as a “…linked experience between a multi-touch wall and four Chromebook pixels.” The wall, much like on the current website version of the project, showed a spinning globe on which Google search queries would appear, originating from the city in which it was most frequently asked. “Using real data, the piece simulates the activity of users constantly querying Google on our eight topics around global warming. The Chromebook Pixels allowed users to dive into some of the more qualitative data and excerpts of recent publications on topics in these major cities and towns around the world” (Wiederkehr 2015). The project has made use of data collected from Google Search results about climate change across 20 of the world’s major cities, which has been divided into 8 different categories in order to synthesise the content. The 8 categories can all be seen as sub-categories under the umbrella of climate change— ‘Energy’, ‘Recycling’, ‘Oceans’, ‘Natural Environment’, ‘Drinking Water’, ‘Global Warming’, ‘Wildlife’, and ‘Air Pollution’. The most relevant category to my own research is global warming, but it was interesting to view the other categories, and it has opened up some new ideas and other potential areas I could look into. Within each of the 8 categories, the data has been collated and normalised in order to generate the 3 most common Google searches in each city under each category. Each category generates a different insight into the values and extent of knowledge which people across the 20 cities possess in relation to climate change, and an analysis of the data within each can draw interesting parallels between countries as a whole, as well as reveal gaps in knowledge within certain cities, which may be attributed to political climate or perhaps just general ignorance or a lack of discussion amongst the population, and an absence of scientific information.
When a user enters the site, they are presented with a spinning globe on the right-hand side which can be used to select a particular city; and a list of categories on the left-hand side, as well as a short introduction and a prompt to select a category.
Once a user has selected a category and a city, they are taken to a page which lists the top 3 search queries people have requested in relation to the chosen category and city. It also shows the ranking of the selected city in relation to the other 20 on the basis of the number of Google searches performed in the specific category, as well as showing the ranking of the selected category in relation to the other 7 for the specific city, based on the same criteria. In essence, this page allows the user to see at a glance whether the citizens in that city are concerned with the chosen category, as well as how concerned the searchers are about the problems within the category compared to searchers in the other 20 cities. This is interesting as studying this data will allow a user to understand which city’s citizens are interested in what issues, and, by extension, will allow the user to link this understanding to current events and media coverage that may be occurring in any given country.
From this page, the user can select to ‘see searches over time’, which takes them to a page where they are able to view trends in the amount of Google search activity within the selected city and category across time from 2004–2015.
An interesting observation derived from analysing search data across all 20 cities is that many recorded peaks in the ‘global warming’ category in the 2006–2007 period (Mooney 2015), an analysis of which would suggest that there was significant coverage of climate change issues across these years, and, by extension, that people are likely to become more interested in issues, and seek knowledge about them, when an issue is at the fore in the media. Indeed, according to Frederick W. Mayer, “…by 2007 there was a strong consensus among scientists that the problem [of global warming] was real and its consequences potentially devastating, and there was broad public support for action in the US and across the globe” (Mayer 2012). Mayer goes on to provide figures which show that 77 percent of Americans, by mid-2006, believed that the average temperature on Earth was getting warmer, a figure which remained consistent across early 2007, when “…mainstream press…declared the science to be settled”(Mayer 2012). From this analysis, it would be reasonable to assume that people were more aware of global warming and the debate surrounding it, and thus were more likely to want to get involved and be informed, so that they in turn could form their own views, prompting an upward trend in relation to the number of Google Searches made on the topic in that period.
One of the people involved on the World of Change project, Simon Rogers, the data editor at the Google News Lab, said that through the site, the producers “…wanted to show how [the issue of climate change] looks when viewed through the lens of Google Search data. Google data is so big—there are over 3 billion searches a day—that our challenge was to make those huge numbers meaningful” (Mooney 2015). I believe that they have achieved this as they have created a site which at a glance shows the user a condensed visualisation of the most common Google searches within each of the 8 categories, which by extension gives a glimpse into the level of knowledge people have within each category. The site allows users to view a collated data set so that they do not have to go and conduct their own data-scrape. Whilst the data is extremely useful for gaining an overview over a cross-section of countries about the knowledge set of people in general regarding climate change issues, there are some limitations to the conclusions that can be drawn from the data. The main limitation is that there is no way to get an accurate representation of the views of people across the whole world because there is only the data from 20 major cities presented. This means any conclusions drawn from this data will contain a level of bias, which will tend to favour developed nations. There is also an issue of comparing data across different cities within a single country because most of the countries only have data from a single city presented. In this way, users cannot assess whether knowledge sets differ across cities, so they cannot feasibly gain an accurate picture of how levels of knowledge may change as you move across a country, if they in fact do.
This project, on the whole, is interesting in the context of my area of investigation, described in paragraph one, in that it is highly suggestive that individuals will be influenced in their opinions of climate change by the amount of media coverage and by the slant put on the scientific evidence by the journalists doing the reporting. It also shows that there are differing levels of knowledge across cities, by extension raising the idea that people’s opinions of climate change are influenced by their cultural values and personal experiences. I will bear this in mind in my further investigation of the issue.
- Google News Lab, Pitch Interactive 2015, A World of Change, viewed 22 August 2016, <https://news-lab-trends-experiment.appspot.com/>
- Mayer, F.W. 2012, ‘Stories of Climate Change: Competing Narratives, the Media, and U.S. Public Opinion 2001-2010’, Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Discussion Paper Series, p. 2.
- Mooney, C. 2015, ‘Google just created a stunning visualization of how the world searches for ‘global warming’’, Washington Post, 17 June, viewed 24 August 2016, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/06/17/google-just-created-a-stunning-visualization-of-how-the-world-searches-for-global-warming/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.5739351f9727>
- Wiederkehr, A. 2016, A World of Change: Climate Change through the lens of Google Search, viewed 24 August 2016, <http://www.annahodgson.com/Google-Trends-A-World-of-Change>
- Wiederkehr, A. 2015, ‘Seeing Climate Change through Google Search’, Pitch Interactive, weblog, viewed 24 August 2016, <http://pitchinteractive.com/latest/seeing-climate-change-through-google-search/>