How Racist are Americans? Ask Google.

Friday, December 02, 2011


With election season in full flower, pollsters have emerged to gauge the fluctuating preferences of voters. But there are some questions to which pollsters are unlikely to get honest answers. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a PhD candidate at Harvard, has found a way to plumb America’s impenetrable psyche: Google Search results. Bob talks to Davidowitz about his method.

Comments [25]


Could be time for a follow-up:

Jun. 15 2012 07:31 AM

So, since Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses the N-word in this piece, he must be a racist? The whole basis for this 'study' seems flawed from the start.

Dec. 18 2011 11:45 AM

I guess there's really no point in actually listening to this piece. The title is a "spoiler", since it wasn't actually "Are Americans Racist?"... The title belies the foregone conclusion that yes, of course Americans are racist and it's just a question of finding out exactly how much.

So the experiment wasn't really an effort in asking and answering a question, but rather already having an answer and ginning up "evidence" that supported that conclusion.

Ah, the 'scientific' process...

Dec. 09 2011 04:26 PM
A Listener from NYC

@A Listener from Chicago

Good point. Did you follow that story enough to hear that the "victim" later recanted her story and admitted she was trying to get back at her ex-boyfriend, one of the accused.

I think people's knee-jerk acceptance of that "victim's" story and this OTM story are telling about the pervasive and accepted bigotry in our nation against disenfranchised whites from Appalachia.

If only the coal dust permanently stained the faces of those toothless, barefoot, illiterate, inbred hicks....

I'm not saying this includes you A Listener from Chicago.

Dec. 07 2011 05:20 PM
Sean from Utah

This six-minute report has certainly generated a lot of rancor. I agree, some of Davidowitz's conclusions seem questionable. I haven't read his paper to know the methodology, but I think it would be a stretch to derive data on voting from Google searches. In any case, this was an interesting and thought-provoking story. If the confluence of public radio, race, and Ivy-league schools bring out your reactionary side that's your issue, not OTM's.

Dec. 06 2011 05:25 PM


"I wonder which conservative blogger linked to this story, because it's obvious the majority of these have never listened to this show before."

I don't remember seeing any of your comments before.

However, if you look over the last few weeks, you'll see lots of mine.

By your logic, it was a Progressive apologist that linked to this story and that's how you found your way here.

Dec. 06 2011 03:58 PM
A Listener from Chicago

How do you know West Virginians are racist just because they have searched the N-Word? Perhaps they were following a horrifying story, which NPR itself was following, about a black women who was tortured and referred to with the "N-Word" epithet. Here's the link to the NPR story.

Dec. 06 2011 12:37 PM

Haha, this comments section proves that you folks at OTR can only mollify some of the people some of the time, and FOX News viewers none of the time.

I wonder which conservative blogger linked to this story, because it's obvious the majority of these have never listened to this show before.

Dec. 05 2011 05:49 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

When a fundamentalist clergyman obsesses about sins of the flesh, it's a pretty safe bet that he has some . . . uh . . . issues of his own. Academics and journalists - people who, like clergy, are also in the business of telling people what they should think, obsess about race, coming up with increasingly arcane methodology to show how racist other Americans are. Draw your own conclusions.

More important handicaps that people have in life are generally ignored. We have 'classic politics', rife with 1968-vintage concepts and vocabulary, the same way we have 'classic rock' radio stations. No wonder accusations of 'racism' draw a 'my eyes are glazing over' reaction at this point in history. It's just politics.

Dec. 05 2011 04:57 PM
Jackie from Downers Grove, IL

This touched a nerve with me. How many more times do we have to talk about racism in terms of THIS presidency? He won. Now it's up to him to do the job. I'm tempted to vote him out just so we can shift the national dialogue away from the tired and oft manufactured subject of racism in just about anything.

Dec. 05 2011 01:25 PM
Joseph Moore from SF Bay Area

What I found shocking is how many New Yorker evidently drive to West Virginia to Google their favorite rap lyrics.

Dec. 05 2011 11:51 AM

This does appear to be an attempt at laying the ground work for dumb innuendo against citizens voting against Obama because of his awful economic record as President by suggesting it could it be for a sinister and bigoted reason?
Nothing like harnessing fatuous suspicion and fear in an election year. Don't cast a vote based on facts and figures but on purging bigoted demons that "might" live in the inner psyche.
Don't look at your bank account, job history or tax burden when choosing a President but at your psychological evaluation provided by Harvard University and public radio.
Speaking of West Virginia, it is a Democrat stronghold which was represented by Sen. Robert Byrd for decades which reminds us of the almost two centuries of the Democratic Party's preoccupation with race and how they use it for maximum political advantage. They exploited it for political gain one way a hundred years ago and appear to be exploiting it another way today for the same reason.

Dec. 04 2011 09:36 PM

I suppose none of this applies to Herman Cain? How about researching gender animus against Palin or Bachmann by Googling their names with a vile sexist term for a woman and see what states, localities and news outlets pop up?
What about the far-left anti-war and Occupy movement's focus on the code words of "neo-cons", "bankers" and "moneylenders" and the examples of anti-semitism at Occupy protests which goes largely unreported?

Why does the program focus on the unproven innuendo and the supposedly suppressed bigotry of Obama's opposition but ignores the long official paper trail of criminal complaints againt the Occupy movement and video evidence of their hate speech and hostility?

Dec. 04 2011 09:22 PM
Joe Washburn from Orlando

How many votes does racism cost John McCain? I think a larger percentage of White voters voted FOR Obama because he is black than the reverse. Had he been white, more people would have realized 1) He is from the Daley Chicago Machine and therefore likely corrupt 2) He has no experience running anything 3) He is certainly a Socialist, etc etc etc.....

Dec. 04 2011 08:29 PM

Fascinating! Did anyone at Google track the results of how many times "lily white" was searched, or was this only limited to minorities and racism against them?

Dec. 04 2011 04:00 PM
Joey from New York City

The population of WV is 96% white and 3.5% black. That doesn't seem to fit with Mr. Davidowitz's statement about the demography of the most racist places.... Also, did he consider potential difference in the way the word is used? That might seem like the most heinous, racist word in the world to him, but maybe the people in WV don't think of it quite the same way. For example, I hear people saying it all the time in New York City!

Dec. 04 2011 03:42 PM
George from NYC

Is anyone else amazed that the "largely hispanic area" of Laredo, Texas, would have a low result for google searches of the word "n-gger"? Could it have something to do with the fact that lots of latinos speak Spanish?

P.S. Thanks OTM for scolding me when I tried to post this comment with the same word the story was about. Way to treat you listeners like adults.

"Watch your mouth! The words "n----r" are not allowed here." -OTM

Dec. 04 2011 03:31 PM

Speaking of napping in school (note the spelling... that's a 3rd grade level word)...

"Winning by a "landslide" does not mean that racism didn't play a role in the election."

Think about it: if elections where racism *wasn't* an issue have been won by narrow margins, then it seems extremely improbably that racism could be an issue and yet one wins by a historical margin.

We are, after all, speaking about statistically related events (since the group of voters is largely the same), so trending is a reasonable expectation over such a large statistical base and such a short temporal window (or did you sleep through clinical statistics as well?).

Dec. 04 2011 01:48 PM

To Simon Ritt: the paper does in fact try account the for issues you raise, in part by estimating both the number of votes gained and lost due to race.

Dec. 04 2011 11:26 AM
Jon from NYC

Interesting comments. Proves part of my hypothesis: As a country, we are some of the dumbest people on the planet.

School's not for naping.

This was not a survey of racism.

Winning by a "landslide" does not mean that racism didn't play a role in the election.

Dec. 04 2011 11:11 AM

The point of this study was ostensibly to measure "what racism cost Obama in the 2008 election".

Really? Am I the only person that remembers that Obama actually won by one of the largest landslide victories in recent memory?

Or is this article ground-laying by the liberals to explain away the inevitable defeat that Obama will endure in 2012 due to policies which have been largely unpopular and his failure to satisfy even his core constituency with broken promises of "healing the oceans" and "closing Guantanamo"?

Dec. 04 2011 03:36 AM
Dave Leech

Why so touchy, folks? Struck a nerve too close to the brain stem?

Dec. 04 2011 01:20 AM
Joe Washburn from Orlando

This guy ONLY considered racism against blacks. Does he not realize that there are some blacks whop are racists, as well?
There is a reason why Red Eye on Fox News at 3am gets better ratings than every show on CNN...the same reason that shows like "On the Media" could not exist withour government subsidy-People in America do not believe this liberal crap.

Dec. 03 2011 05:30 PM
Simon Ritt from Somerville, Ma

I listened with amusement to the recent Interview with Mr. Davidowitz. Of course a Harvard liberal Is anxious to prove that somewhere In this country there are people that did not vote for President Obama because he Is 'black'. Did Mr. Davidowitz do similar research as to how many people voted for Mr. Obama just because he Is 'black'? It Is obvious many more people supported The President because of his race than voted against him because of It. Mr. Davidowitz as much as confirmed this In his reference to 'McCains home state advantage'.
Also there Is a difference between how often a term Is searched on Google and how many people are doing the searching.
It seems to me that even just one crack-pot In West Virginia with computer access would skew Mr. Davidowitz's entire research. It's much more likely that a small handfull of kooks would search for n****r on Google hundreds of times each as opposed to hundreds or thousands of people searching for It only once.
Honestly I found the whole Interview to be a joke.

Dec. 03 2011 03:59 PM

Use for charter School s.m. Paper

Dec. 03 2011 08:01 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.