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Research, Google-style

In my correspondence with Boris about Barone’s column about rich Democrats, I expressed surprise at Barone’s statement that “Patriotism is equated with Hitlerism” (among leftists). Boris referred me to this article by Victor Davis Hanson which indeed has examples of leftists (and even moderate Democrats like John Glenn) comparing Bush to the Nazis.

But aren’t the Democrats just following the lead of the Clinton-haters in the 1990s? Hansen says no:

The flood of the Hitler similes is also a sign of the extremism of the times. If there was an era when the extreme Right was more likely to slander a liberal as a communist than a leftist was to smear a conservative as a fascist, those days are long past. True, Bill Clinton brought the deductive haters out of the woodwork, but for all their cruel caricature, few compared him to a mass-murdering Mao or Stalin for his embrace of tax hikes and more government. “Slick Willie” was not quite “Adolf Hitler” or “Joseph Stalin.”

Hmmm . . . this got me curious, so I followed Hansen’s tip and did some Google searches:

bush hitler: 1.5 million
clinton hitler: 0.7 million

What about some other comparisons?

bush god: 8.6 million
clinton god: 3.4 million

So Bush is both more loved and hated than Clinton, perhaps. But then again, there’s been a huge growth in the internet in the past few years, so maybe more Bush than Clinton for purely topical reasons?

bush: 83 million
clinton: 25 million

Hmm, let’s try something completely unrelated to politics:

bush giraffe: 180,000
clinton giraffe: 23,000

OK, maybe not a good comparison, since giraffes live in the bush. Let’s try something that’s associated with Clinton but not with Bush:

bush mcdonalds: 440,000
clinton mcdonalds: 200,000

At this point, I’m getting the clear impression that Bush is getting more hits than Clinton on just about everything! So no evidence here that he’s being Hitlerized more than Clinton was. It looks like the big number for “bush hitler” is more of an artifact of the spread of the web. [Place disclaimers here about the use of Google as a very crude research tool!]

This certainly doesn’t invalidate, or even argue against, Hansen’s main points. It just suggests that we should be similarly concerned about haters on the other side.

OK, I guess that’s enough on this topic . . . maybe a good example for statistics teaching, though? Googlefighting as data analysis? Perhaps Cynthia Dwork, David Madigan, or some other student of web rankings can come up with more sophisticated analyses.

P.S. Update with discussion here.

P.S. Much much more on this general topic here, and here.

10 Comments

  1. Aleks says:

    For investigating whether there is an association between two items (or two keywords), I recommend reading this paper "Beyond Market Baskets: Generalizing Association Rules to Correlations" by Sergey Brin et al. Brin co-founded Google the next year. They proposed using chi-squared tests of independence.

  2. Boris S. says:

    "Bush Stalin" returns twice as many hits as "Clinton Stalin". So there's some need for human review and analysis here.

    I think any fair-minded review of the 'bush hitler' and 'clinton hitler' searches would show that there are far more credible ones on the former. I mean, is there a page reviewing articles comparing Clinton to Hitler like:

    http://www.falloutshelternews.com/BushHitlerLinks

    The comparisons to Hitler (as are conservative comparisons of liberals to Stalin or Mao) are cheap rhetorical tactics designed to shut down argumentation. If Bush=Hitler, or Clinton=Stalin, then no further argument is necessary. Bush, or Clinton, are simply beyond the pale of legitimate points of view.

    My personal rule is, the first person in an argument that compares his opponent to Hitler (or Stalin), just lost the debate.

  3. Florin Vaida says:

    Dude, you cracked me up! Giraffes living in the bush? I couldn't resist and googled "Clinton giraffe". You'll be happy to learn that your blog was the first hit! Keep it up, Andy! :)

  4. Mark Bigelow says:

    Since Bush makes up 77% of the total Bush/Clinton hits, you could see if that ratio gets skewed in the different queries:

    Bush hitler: 68%

    Clinton hitler: 32%

    Bush god: 72%

    Clinton god: 28%

    Bush McDonalds: 69%

    Clinton McDonalds: 31%

    So, in each of those cases, Clinton gets more than his proportional share of the total Bush/Clinton pie.

    Try:

    Bush "Big Government": 263,000 (62%)

    Clinton "Big Government": 162,000 (38%)

    Mark

  5. deb says:

    "examples of leftists (and even moderate Democrats like John Glenn) comparing Bush to the Nazis."

    I think there are at least three subquestions:

    1. Is George Bush like Adolph Hitler?

    2. Is the United States like Nazi Germany?

    3. Were the 911 victims "little Eichmanns?"

    4. Are all Americans "little Eichmanns?"

    You are correct that on the far left coast, the base rate of yes*4 is higher than non-left-field lefties would predict.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/frisch02122005.html

  6. marianolake says:

    On this heads or tails issue: While researching graduate programs I just read an article about Persi Diaconis (a statistics prof at Stanford) who studied this heads or tails issue. He found that it's not exactly 50-50, that it has to do with which way the coin faced when flipped (it is more likely to land the way it started 51-49).

    not that this really matters much, but thought it was interesting!

    see for yourself here:

    http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2004/june9/

  7. iamanut says:

    There is a simple way to fix your test, you simply need to add a first name.

    "George Bush" Hitler 687,000

    "Bill Clinton" Hitler 437,000

    Also the problem with the God search is it could be use both positively and negatively.

    i.e. Bush thinks he's God or Bush got God's vote

  8. I did something similar for Bush and Kerry last October:

    http://www.acepilots.com/mt/archives/001343.html

  9. Teemu Roos says:

    Rudi Cilibrasi and Paul Vitanyi at CWI, Amsterdam, have proposed NGD (Normalized Google Distance) to measure semantic similarity between words. See e.g.,

    Google's Search for Meaning in New Scientist;

    Automatic Meaning Discovery Using Google (preprint) by Cilibrasi and Vitanyi.

    They have a principled way to normalize the Google counts, originally developed for a related similarity metric based on Kolmogorov complexity.