Ngrams of Social Science Disciplines: Part 2

I have a few more thoughts about the graph of Ngrams of social science disciplines that I posted about last week.

The trends in economics, sociology, and anthropology appear, to my eye, to be correlated.  What cultural factors, cause this?  General interest in the formal study of social behavior?  What causes that?  Perhaps the correlated short-term, i.e. year-to-year variation, is best understood as having a different cause from the correlated trends over longer periods?  In particular, why did each term decline since the 1990s, with a particularly big drop-off from 2007 to 2008?

Perhaps the last year of data is unreliable, but should we be worried about the trend?

I plugged in the name of a practitioner of each discipline: “sociologist, economist, political scientist, anthropologist, psychologist” to see if I noticed any differences.  The basic trends look the same, but there are some differences.  e.g. in the last two decades, “anthropologist” is more popular than you’d expect given “anthropology” and “economist” is less popular than you’d expect given, “economics.”  I can easily spin a story: anthropology is more subjective, so the identity of the researcher is more relevant.  I can think of more possibilities, but none of them explains why this difference only becomes notable in the last twenty years.

Looking over a longer time period, we can see that each of the human sciences has become more prominent since 1900 (at least by this measure.  In addition to other concerns, consider that economics was once known as “political economy.”)

The “harder” sciences have also done well.  Physics and mathematics growing faster in the first half of the century, but then stagnating as biology (tracking sociology amazingly closely) catches up.


I’m having a lot of fun fooling around with these ngrams, so I’ll probably do at least one more post using them soon.  I highly encourage interested parties to check out the paper published in Science which will introduce you to a far greater range of types of analysis that this dataset allows.





4 Responses to Ngrams of Social Science Disciplines: Part 2

  1. Adam says:

    I thought the trend of political economy vs political science was interesting. It’s not a clear substitution of terms with science coming up and economy down. Instead political economy follows a wave, coming back into fashion in the 1960s after a nadir in the 1940s, and again exceeding references to polsci by 1980 or so.

  2. Hi Adam, Thanks for bringing up political economy, it’s an interesting case because its meaning has really changed over time. Let’s <a href=",political+economy,economics&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3&quot; title ="include economics in the graph" as well.

    is not clearly defined, but in fact refers to many different things. Here is wikipedia’s intro paragraphs:

    Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy. It developed in the 18th century as the study of the economies of states, polities, hence political economy.
    In the late nineteenth century, the term ‘economics’ came to replace ‘political economy’, coinciding with publication of an influential textbook by Alfred Marshall in 1890.[1] Earlier, William Stanley Jevons, a proponent of mathematical methods applied to the subject, advocated ‘economics’ for brevity and with the hope of the term becoming “the recognised name of a science.”[2][3]
    Today, political economy, where it is not used as a synonym for economics, may refer to very different things, including Marxian analysis, applied public-choice approaches emanating from the Chicago school and the Virginia School, or simply the advice given by economists to the government or public on general economic policy or on specific proposals.[3] A rapidly-growing mainstream literature from the 1970s has expanded beyond the model of economic policy in which planners maximize utility of a representative individual toward examining how political forces affect the choice of policies, especially as to distributional conflicts and political institutions.[4] It is available as an area of study in certain colleges and universities.

  3. I should add, “political science” is a more common term in the U.S. than in Europe. The first American political science departments and journals were formed around 1903… almost the same year economics became a more common term than political economy.

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