Thursday, April 12, 2012

Some physics-themed ngram trends

I've been playing again with Google ngram, which shows the frequency by which words appear in books that are in the Google database, normalized to the number of books. Here are some keywords from physics that I tried which I found quite interesting.

In the first graph below you see "black hole" in blue which peaks around 2002, "big bang" in red which peaks around 2000, "quantization" in green which peaks to my puzzlement around 1995, and "dark matter" in yellow which might peak or plateau around 2000. Data is shown from 1920 to 2008. Click to enlarge.

In the second graph below you see the keywords "multiverse" in blue, which increases since about 1995 but interestingly seems to have been around much before that, "grand unification" in yellow which peaks in the mid 80s and is in decline since, "theory of everything" in green which plateaus around 2000, and "dark energy" in red which appears in the late 90s and is still sharply increasing. Data is shown from 1960 to 2008. Click to enlarge.

This third figure shows "supersymmetry" in blue which peaks around 1985 and 2001, "quantum gravity" in red which might or might not have plateaued, and "string theory" in green which seems to have decoupled from supersymmetry in early 2002 and avoided to drop. Data is shown from 1970 to 2008.

A graph that got so many more hits it wasn't useful to plot it with the others: "emergence" which peaked in the late 90s. Data is shown from 1900 to 2008.

More topics of the past: "cosmic rays" in blue which was hot in the 1960s, "quarks" in green which peaks in the mid 90s, and "neutrinos" in red peak around 1990. Data is shown from 1920 to 2008.

Even quantum computing seems to have maxed (data is shown from 1985 to 2008).

So, well, then what's hot these days? See below "cold atoms" in blue, "quantum criticality" in red and "qbit" in green. Data is shown from 1970 to 2008.

So, condensed matter and cosmology seem to be the wave of the future, while particle physics is in the decline and quantum gravity doesn't really know where to go. Feel free to leave your interpretation in the comments!


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  2. n-Grams show how grant-funding works. Observation shows how reality works. They are disjoint sets. Asimov's Foundation Trilogy says a lot about reality defined by decree.

    Emergence is an external, extrinsic property that cannot be fundamental. Emergent chirality is manually inserted into theory as symmetry breakings. Empirical failures of string/M-theory, SUSY, and dark matter end in 90 days in existing apparatus. Write your own n-gram to stay ahead of the curve. Everybody skis downhill after the first skier survives it.

  3. It is amazing how vividly String theory's history is depicted.

    The first String revolution in the 80's, the desert period between 90-95, the second String revolution in 95 and onwards. Even the boost due to the emergence of the multiverse picture is clearly shown in early 2000; this also explains the decoupling of String theory from SUSY during that period.

    The only thing is that I was expecting a relative big boost in 97 due to AdS/CFT which I don't see.

  4. It is amazing, but I also find it somewhat puzzling because the database is books, not scientific papers, and there should be a lag between the research and the book writing. The only sense I can make out of the curve is that when string theory is doing well, more books on the topic are going to be published in general. That there hasn't been another increase from the AdS/CFT conjecture might just show that the market is quite saturated with books on string theory in general.

  5. I think with this resolution the picture is more clear.

    The lag you talked about can been seen now and I can even see the boost due to AdS/CFT but a year later...

    The String theory wars of 2006-07 can be seen too I think:-)

  6. Hi Bee,

    How about using scientists themselves to track the trend in the general interest in science? From this graph it would appear it all peaked within the 50’s and 60’s and yet if with adding Hawking and Sagan to normalize it 2000 would be a comparable peak with it in a decline as of now.



  7. These graphs are indeed interesting too watch!

    Maybe it is possible to extract similar graphs from databases as NASA-ADS or Web of Knowledge. In that way you could get a bit more realistic picture because you also take scientific papers into account.

  8. "The largest dynamical system possible, the whole Universe. Here distance and time spans are so great that the dynamical behavior of the system is dominated by relativistic requirements rather than relativistic effects, minor pertubations on a system which is almost completely described by Newtonian mechanics. It is amusing that the whole Universe can be considered an apparatus, but experimentation with such an apparatus has limitations. The observer has no control over the experiment," which are fossilized remains, "which cannot be repeated. Furthermore, it is not possible to modify the apparatus." Robert H. Dick, 1969


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