“Humanism” on Google Trends August 8, 2009

“Humanism” on Google Trends

Reader Dallas was playing around with Google Trends when he noticed something odd.

Look what happens when you type in “Humanism“:


To explain: The past few years, people have Google-searched for the term “Humanism” during the fall, winter, and spring. But not so much over the summer months.

That doesn’t happen when you search for atheist/atheism. Even with “Humanist,” the contrast isn’t as stark.

Does anyone know why that is?

(Thanks to Dallas for the link!)

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  • Ron in Houston

    I don’t know, but I almost drown in a lake that averaged 3 feet deep.

  • Courtney

    I would guess that the biggest reason is that school is out during the summer (US centric, of course.) “Humanism” is probably looked up in an academic context a lot more than not.

    Second (and probably minor factor): no major Christian holiday in the summer for the winger pundits to scream about “secular humanism” destroying America, thus driving up googling of “humanism.”

  • Elise

    For search volume (not necessarily news reference) I suspect it may correlate with the academic year, as in, high school/college students looking up “humanism” for their classes (I recall first learning the term in history class in relation to the Renaissance/Enlightenment). Note there also appears to be steep plunges in search volume around the typical winter break period?

    Just a hypothesis.

  • Richard Wade

    An interesting seasonal pattern. Another thing I see is there is a steady decline in overall volume of searches between 2004 and 2009. Almost straight lines can be drawn between the corresponding peaks and valleys in each year, and they slant steadily down to the right. Another “Why is that?”

  • A search for Christianity shows the same pattern http://www.google.com/trends?q=christianity I suspect it may be related to people spending less time in the summer inside on the computer and more time outside or on vacation.

    @Richard Wade: Also the overall volume goes down, but the news reference volume goes up considerably.

  • I agree with everyone else that it is likely a school trend. Another really odd trend is that “evolution” seems to spike very sharply every year around September and October. Could be another school trend but it might be something else. Who knows.

  • The Other Tom

    I agree with Courtney that there’s probably also a religion trend involved. Consider that most churches have substantially lower attendance in the summer… some even close for the summer. That’ll be fewer people being ranted at about the evils of “secular humanism”, so fewer interested in googling about it.

  • Josh

    Search for other “academic” terms… physics, Shakespeare, Gettysburg Address. The same basic pattern (high fall/winter/spring, low summer/late december) appears.

    I think this is strong evidence that it is the school timing. What this may mean is that “Humanism” is an academic term, while “athiest” and “humanist” are more personal terms.

  • Tom

    I agree with Courtney, humanism is known to the world far more in a humanities-studies sense than in a theistic/atheistic sense. We display somewhat of a confirmation bias if we assume this trend has much to do with “our” humanism instead of renaissance humanism. The world doesn’t really care about us that much. So far…

    I think the theory that churches being less concerned with humanism in the summer is a joke. They already don’t give a hoot about humanism! They’re too busy doing Bible Study and having pot lucks to care about humanists. Do you really think that a significant portion of religious people are AT ALL interested in educating themselves about humanism? Immediate dismissal is far more likely.

    It’s silly that people who are preached at about the sins of secular humanism would want to google it, or even use google at all!

  • The trend is not surprising at all. If you try a bunch of different words, you’ll find that many of them have the same seasonal pattern. It has everything to do with students and summer vacation. There are probably lots of students who look up humanism (as in, the historical movement from the Rennaissance). I daresay that few of those students are ever asked to write reports on atheism.

  • Anon

    Google Insights gives a better breakdown of where the searches are coming from, for example:




  • Oskar

    Warning “crude” language

    I have no idea why all off a sudden some searching trends pop up. I mean look at this:
    What happened new years eve 2005?

  • Tometheus

    I like the spike right before Christmas 🙂

  • Warren Falk

    Interestingly all major religions have the downward trend that humanism has (though, they easily beat humanism, unsurprisingly). That is all except Islam. They also all have the seasonal pattern, except Islam again. And one of them eclipses all the rest. Yep, Islam again.

  • J B Tait

    I agree with Courtney about the summer drop, and the winter holiday season would account for the dip right before each new year. The small dip each April could be Spring Break, and the small dip in November might well be Thanksgiving.

    My first thought on looking at that graph, however, was that it was too perfect and probably bogus.

    If the data set is valid, and the speculation correct, then would it be reasonable to assume that students make up the preponderance of searchers to have such an effect on the trend?

  • Raul

    Oskar: Brokeback Mountain came out in January of 2006. 🙂

  • Raul

    Well I guess it was December 2005… but close enough! 😉

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