I was playing with Google Insights for Search and Google Trends and discovered that science fiction is in decline, or at least the popularity of searching on the term in Google. I started with this Google Trends chart on science fiction:
I then switched to Google Insights for the rest of the comparisons.
Warning, the totals given on the graphs are not always accurate – they vary with the cursor position on the time graph. So ignore them. Just look at the lines, or I’ll give you the averages from the Google page.
Trying to understand what the numbered scale means is hard, but here is Google’s explanation,
The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. When we don’t have enough data, 0 is shown. The numbers next to the search terms above the graph are summaries, or totals.
When I was growing up they talked about the big three of SF writers, Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke, so I did a graph of them.
Asimov is by far the more popular writer now, but all three writers show a decline in interest. And why did Asimov have a spike in July 2004, and Clarke in March, 2008?
Because Google doesn’t give actual numbers it’s hard to gauge absolute interest, so I plotted “space travel” versus “Lady Gaga” and got a rather sad graph:
Space travel hits the 0 mark in comparison. So I did space travel by itself and got this:
Interest in space travel is in sharp decline. So I wondered how science compared to science fiction and created this chart:
Now I’m starting to doubt my methodology. Why is time travel so much more popular than space travel? Or is it a matter of how the phrases are used in popular culture. I thought I try another comparison to test things.
Science fiction is 2 compared to NASA’s 19. But notice, interest in NASA is in decline too.
But science fiction is 57 compared to time travel’s 26. Time travel is probably a common term that’s well used in popular culture outside of the field of science fiction, as is science fiction, but it’s hard to gauge phrase from genre.
Star Wars is way more popular than Star Trek and both are more popular than science fiction. Is that huge spike for Star Wars due to films or the discussion of the defense anti-missile program?
To get some real world perspective I did a comparison to iPods and iPhones. On the Google page the totals were SF is 0 and the iPhone and iPods averaged 28 each.
Trying to zero in on the popularity of science fiction I tried:
So science fiction is about as popular as the Kings of Leon before they hit the big time – or at least on Google.
Finally, how does science fiction compare to other genres.
On the web page fantasy and science fiction each get a 2, romance gets a 6, and mystery gets a 28.
Why is murder a more a interesting fictional topic than the future? Go figure.
I don’t know if any of this means anything, but it is interesting to play with. I linked to the two services at the top, so go test them yourself.
JWH – 4/9/11