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Researcher Speaking On South Coast Says Internet Searches Key Tool In Finding What People Think


A researcher who’s speaking on the South Coast says a lot of what we know today about people, and sensitive subjects like racism, sexual preference, and abortion may be wrong, because people lie about these subjects.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz says data from the internet shows a much different reality about a number of issues that we find through traditional research, surveys, and polls.

He’s a Harvard trained economist, and former scientist with Google who says he started to look at how people were using the search engine, in particular what information people were seeking.

Stephens-Davidowitz says some of what he found was shocking. He notes that one commonly searched item is racist jokes. And, he notes that those searches didn’t just come from the Southern U.S., which many people might conclude. The researcher says another common search is the question “How do I induce an abortion.” Stephens-Davidowitz says that search is especially common in parts of the country where it is more difficult to get legal abortions.

Stephens-Davidowitz says despite what some people say about things, especially things they don’t want to admit, studying search records can show the truth.

The researcher says the data doesn’t look at the who, but the what of the searches. But, he admits that the public concerns about privacy has prompted some people to think twice about their searches, or to take steps to try to ensure their privacy.

Stephens-Davidowitz says despite some of the dark findings he’s made, there is the potential to do good. For instance, he says searches of symptoms of prostate cancer could lead to better, more focused educational efforts to get people in for earlier diagnosis, and treatment.

The researcher has written a new book about the subject called “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What The Internet can tell Us About Who You Really Are.” He’ll speak Tuesday night at U-C Santa Barbara’s Campbell Hall. The 7:30 p.m. UCSB Arts And Lectures event is free, and open to the public.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.