- This post is a response to “On public interest in conservation and internet data (commentary)”, which was published on Mongabay on July 15, 2019.
- This text was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
In their letter, Correia and colleagues raise two issues about our original article (Burivalova et al. 2018). Their first point questions the proposition that a growth in absolute search volume reflects an increase in public interest. We fully agree that this is unlikely to be a straightforward relationship: it would be affected by disparities in internet access, different reasons for searching the internet, and so forth. Indeed, we highlighted these caveats in our article, where we further warned that: “interest does not necessarily equal support; conservation scientists and practitioners should therefore encourage this growing interest by redoubling efforts to present objective, evidence-based findings about conservation in an accessible, engaging, and relatable way.” Correia et al. also argue that the absolute number of searches is likely to have increased for any topic. We showed that the absolute search volume on certain conservation-related topics, such as “monkeywrenching” (non‐violent sabotage carried out by environmental activists; WebFigure 2b), did not substantially increase during the study period. We do, however, fully support a more nuanced analysis, which would combine multiple approaches to better understand the relationship between search volume, public interest, and public support.
We believe the authors’ second point stems from a misunderstanding. We did not think that conservation and climate change–related topics had similar levels of public interest. Rather, we thought that the rate and direction of change in interest in these two topics was similar and synchronized (WebFigure 5). Indeed, the overall search volume for climate change is currently about five times as high as that for biodiversity, as indicated by Google AdWords and Keywords Everywhere. However, when searches for climate change rise, so do searches for biodiversity. This was not the case for control terms, such as “cup cake” or “HIV/AIDS” (WebFigure 6). Our original worry, or suspicion, was that interest in climate change displaces interest in biodiversity conservation, and we believe that comparing the short-term rates of increase and decrease are a suitable method to assess whether this is true.
We presume that a direct comparison between topics, as the authors propose in their Figure 1b, would only be possible if we had the true absolute historical value for search volume. We also believe that Google Trends data, as available at the time of our analysis, do not allow such comparison. Although it would have been possible to scale our results by the current absolute search volumes as obtained from Google AdWords and Keywords Everywhere, we decided against this, as it would have introduced too much uncertainty due to the way these two tools smooth their results over time (differently relative to Google Trends).
Regardless, we fully agree with Correia et al. that conducting further studies, combining multiple sources of information, and incorporating all available culturomics tools are needed, and we welcome the establishment of the Conservation Culturomics working group within the Society for Conservation Biology. Far more understanding is required in the field of public conservation interest, and how to leverage it, if we are to prevent further species’ extinctions and halt climate change.
Posted in response to On public interest in conservation and internet data (commentary)
This response was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
• Burivalova, Z., Butler, R. A., & Wilcove, D. S. (2018). Analyzing Google search data to debunk myths about the public’s interest in conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 16(9), 509-514. <a href=”https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1962″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>doi:10.1002/fee.1962</a>
• Correia, R. A., Di Minin, E., Jarić, I., Jepson, P., Ladle, R., Mittermeier, J., … & Veríssimo, D. (2019). Inferring public interest from search engine data requires caution. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 17(5), 254-255. <a href=”https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2048″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>doi:10.1002/fee.2048</a>