We have More Important Things to Worry About than Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, died a few days ago on April 11th. You may or may not have heard by now. The New York Times wrote a nice piece on his life and a large number of blogs and forums have filled with discussions of his books, essays, and politics. If you haven't heard by now, I guess I'm not too surprised. Ablogistan took a look and found that there were more twice as many mentions of Anna Nicole Smith in the news than Vonnegut. That fact is both depressing and fascinating at the same time. One of the tried and true methods of social science research is content analysis, where researchers pour over the raw text produced by a culture and measure things like word use. Content analysis is nice because it gives you quantitative data in areas otherwise relegated to qualitative research, but it can be a real chore. If you wanted to study McCarthyism, for example, you would need to poor over thousands of pages of microfiche counting word occurrences and judging usage. The chart comparing Anna Nicole Smith and Kurt Vonnegut is fascinating because it points out how the rise of the Internet has helped lessen a lot of the tediousness of content analysis. So let's take a look. What else is more important than Kurt Vonnegut? (Unfortunately the Internet has not made the difficult stuff like conceptualization and research design any easier, so the findings below are not exactly academic journal material). Google News search for Kurt Vonnegut (past week): 1,317 articles. Google News search for Anna Nicole Smith (past week): 10,232 articles. Google News search for Don Imus (past week): 9,534 articles. There you have it. Anna Nicole Smith, notable for going from being poor and attractive to being rich and less attractive, then rich and somewhat attractive again, is almost 8 times more important than Kurt Vonnegut. Don Imus, who hasn't even died yet, is about 7 times more important than Vonnegut for calling some basketball players "nappy headed hos." Google News tends to include more traditional news outlets (newspapers, television, etc.). So what about the unprofessional world of commentary and discussion found in blogs? Congratulations, bloggers! You talked about as much about Kurt Vonnegut as you did Anna Nicole on the day the news of their deaths came out. And so far Don Imus has yet to have half as many mentions. Blogpulse shows an even clearer trend: So there you have it: Officially speaking, Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote for half a century, producing some of the best novels of all time, is less important than a woman who was famous mostly for being famous. We have empirical proof. And once again, the bloggers have shown that they just don't measure up to professional news media.