Friday, 4 March 2011

Making Footsteps

You may recall, some time ago (news travels slowly to my cave) that a large, exciting dinosaur was identified and tag lined with the term ‘Thunder thighs’ or to people with beards ‘Brontomerus’. Dinosaurs are without doubt the most well known thing about paleontology. More people might study ammonites and microfossils but its the big things that get people interested – does new stories reporting a new discovery get people interested?
Now this is a dinosaur ‘discovery’ so it’s going to get lots of people interested, but will it sustain that interest and get people interested in geology. There is plenty of communication out there, but for this post I’m going to examine the effect of a big geosciences story on patterns of search for a variety of geological terms – and see if there is any great increase as a result.

Blue is 'thunder thighs', red is 'Brontomerus' and yellow is 'paleontology'

So the story ‘hit’ on the 20th, resulting in no change in the search volume for ‘Paleontology’ but a sharp peak (oddly a few days later) for the creatures scientific name: Brontomerus’. This seems a little odd, but what about the effect on ‘dinosaurs’. Oddly there is actually a decrease in searches for dinosaurs, with a small ‘hump’ 5 
days later.

Search volume for 'Dinosaur' note the comparison to the blue line in the above chart. 

The search volume for ‘Dinosaur’ way outstrips that of anything on the above chart – and since there is no real change it can be assumed that there is enough background demand for information on dinosaurs to lead a small story to not cause a great deal of ripples.

Search volume for 'Geology' note slight peak around the 20th, second peak around the 28th is likely related to the New Zealand Quake. 

 A similar story is present for ‘geology’ ; although there is a peak which coincides with the story, a second peak coincides with the New Zealand Quake  – whether this is simply a result of a general pattern of as a result of the story is difficult to attain .The background interest in both terms is a great sign – constant interest which for engaging people into geosciences is clearly a good thing! What does it teach us about communicating geosciences? Well that a news story is just that, its a story, it’s been a week and news has moved on – thankfully there is enough interest in this facet of geosciences to maintain a steady stream of minds looking for information allowing educators to easily plan and generate interesting topics and articles.  

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