Real-life rocket scientist Andrew Rader posed a simple question to Google: “Why is [insert state name here] so …” in order to observe how the search engine would fill in the superlative blanks based on previous interrogatories.
The feedback proved somewhat frightening.
Google autocomplete results: "Why is [state] so..." pic.twitter.com/yzaQrkc7uO— Weird History (@weird_hist) September 16, 2015
According to the quickie hunt — Rader calculates that the entire experiment took roughly two hours and was well worth the effort (“Very easy exercise to get a compiled view of people's biases,” he told HOH) — a number of web seekers appear to be of the mind that Connecticut and Pennsylvania are haunted, Louisianans and Tennesseans are bigots and Coloradans have nice physiques.
Other preconceived notions include:
- The states of Washington, Wisconsin and Vermont are liberal havens;
- Iowa is democracy central;
- Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma are the most Republican parts of the Union;
- Missouri is where conservatives want to be.
Confidence is high you could count the number of hippies in 2016 presidential hopeful Scott Walker’s professional stomping grounds on one hand, while folks must be giving Republican run-Iowa (How’s it feel to be the last left-leaning man standing, Rep. Dave Loebsack?) extra credit for that whole first-in-the-nation caucusing thing.
Right or wrong, Rader is utterly fascinated by where people’s heads are at.
“In the case of geographical entities like states or countries, Google's autocomplete results represent people's stereotypes, because when they search for the field ‘why is [state] so ...’ they are trying to find bases to support their pre-conceived biases,” he told HOH, adding, “Though it may not be an accurate representation of ground truth, it is an accurate representation of perception.”
To Rader, the most telling thing is how readily reinforced these ideological presets are by the world around us.
“People's biases and stereotypes really aren't that different from how they are portrayed in media. As a population on average, we do think of the South as a land of conservative Christians, the Northeast as a land of wealthy elites, the North as a land of ice and snow, and the Northwest as land of liberal hippies,” he posited. “Note also that the searches are probably more likely to be conducted by people living outside the states in question, because that is the entire basis of the question.”
Are we so easily categorized?
Can our every political inclination be divined merely by our postal code?
Not bloody likely.
Rader certainly doesn’t seem to put too much stock in this random sampling.
“Who thinks Connecticut is haunted?” he mused.
But he does enjoy peeling the onion that is the American psyche.
Take, for instance, the time he picked the brains of tourists traipsing around the nation’s capital about U.S. history:
He’s hoping to capitalize on all the intellectual snapshotting with his winner-takes-all card game, “Politics ”:
“You play a stereotype candidate (libertarian, socialist, minority, war hero), and play scandals on each other like ‘wrong flagpin’, ‘health care death panel’, and corporations are people,’” he laid out in an explanatory email. The competition rolls on as players vie to come out on top regarding niche constituencies ranging from minority/women’s issues to military, guns and religion.
With election season in full swing, Rader has broadened his base by releasing the “2016 Primary Expansion Pack” — a companion set that allows would-be politicos to pose as current front runner Donald Trump (“The Trump”), former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (“The Hillary”), Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul (“The Libertarian”), Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (“The Latino”), self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (“The Bernie”) or a handful of other Oval Office aspirants.
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