The real trend is toward bad journalism

According to a report in The Age, Melbourne is the second most lonely city in the world - based on a Google Trends search for the word “lonely”. Talk about drawing a long bow!

A search today shows the following as the top ten searchers for “lonely”:

  1. Dublin Ireland
  2. Melbourne Australia
  3. Auckland New Zealand
  4. Sydney Australia
  5. Perth Australia
  6. London United Kingdom
  7. Vancouver Canada
  8. Brentford United Kingdom
  9. San Francisco United States
  10. Manchester United Kingdom

But how about searching for “lonely planet”:

  1. Dublin Ireland
  2. Melbourne Australia
  3. London United Kingdom
  4. Auckland New Zealand
  5. Sydney Australia
  6. Brisbane Australia
  7. Adelaide Australia
  8. Perth Australia
  9. Edinburgh United Kingdom
  10. Bletchley United Kingdom

That’s almost identical, isn’t it? I think The Age could just as easily have reported that Melbournians (indeed, Australians in general) are avid consumers of travel guide books.

Even trying some synonyms like alone, loneliness, and isolated don’t show anything conclusive.


The Google Trends about page explains:

Keep in mind that instead of measuring overall interest in a topic, Google Trends shows users’ propensity to search for that topic on Google on a relative basis. For example, just because a particular region isn’t on the Top Regions list for the term “haircut” doesn’t necessarily mean that people there have decided to stage a mass rebellion against society’s conventions. It could be that people in that region might not use Google to find a barber, use a different term when doing their searches, or simply search for so many other topics unrelated to haircuts that searches for “haircut” make up a very small portion of the search volume from that region when compared to other regions.

One could substitute “lonely” for “haircut” in that explanation and using Google Trends data to conclude that Melbourne is the second most lonely city in the world is shown to be incredibly foolish.

Apparently the story originates from Reuters. Wherever it came from, that’s sloppy, sloppy journalism.

2 Responses to “The real trend is toward bad journalism”

  1. Steve Says:

    And would you look at that. By sheer coincidence, all of the cities are English-speaking. I need to learn a new language so I won’t ever get ‘lonely’ again.

  2. flipsockgrrl Says:

    Christina Wodke has also been playing with Google Trends: she compares “interaction design” “information architecture” and “user experience” with Jakob Nielsen’s favorite word, with perhaps predictable results. Not a triumph for simple language over complex jargon, necessarily — more an effect of many years of public advocacy by self-proclaimed gurus…