Scholars Elicit a 'Cultural Genome' From 5.2 Million Google-Digitized Books

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The English language is going through a time of huge growth. Humanity is forgetting its history more rapidly each year. And celebrities are losing their fame faster than in the past.

Those are some of the findings in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science by a Harvard-led team of researchers. The scholars quantified cultural trends by investigating the frequency with which words appeared over time in a database of about 5.2 million books, roughly 4 percent of all volumes ever published, according to Harvard's announcement.

The research team, headed by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden, culled that digital "fossil record" from more than 15 million books digitized by Google and its university partners. Google is giving the public a glimpse of the researchers' data through an online interface that lets users key in words or phrases and plot how their usage has evolved. The paper's authors bill this as "the largest data release in the history of the humanities."...

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