Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

The author Seth Stephens poses some fascinating questions: Why does the crime rate decrease during weekends when violent movies are playing? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives?

The answers are provocative and are hidden deep in Google search results data. Indeed, Google may be one of the most important tools to understanding human psychology in the 21st century…This one was a real page turner and easy to digest.

One of my favorite concepts that came out of this book is that google will be able to help us prevent crimes in the future. For example, if someone is searching for “how to kill my boyfriend” 20 times a month and is then visiting websites to purchase knives and poisons, or whatever, that should set off red flags. Is it not our moral responsibility, or is it not google’s, to do something about it? You can see where privacy issues could get tricky here really quick and it conjures all sorts of  Minority Report-esque scenarios, but it’s an important conversation we need to be having now. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell would like to know if my girlfriend is exhibiting signs of premeditated murder…

Some quotes to get your brain juices stirring: 

-The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else

-One weakness of Google’s attempt to predict influenza using search data is that you can already predict influenza very well just using last week’s data and a simple seasonal adjustment. There is still debate about how much search data adds to that simple, powerful model. In my opinion, Google searches have more promise measuring health conditions for which existing data is weaker and therefore something like Google STD may prove more valuable in the long haul than Google Flu.

-Silver found that the single factor that best correlated with Donald Trump’s support in the Republican primaries was that measure I had discovered four years earlier. Areas that supported Trump in the largest numbers were those that made the most Google searches for “nigger.”

-People lie to friends. They lie to bosses. They lie to kids. They lie to parents. They lie to doctors. They lie to husbands. They lie to wives. They lie to themselves. And they damn sure lie to surveys. Here’s my brief survey for you: Have you ever cheated on an exam? __________ Have you ever fantasized about killing someone? _________ Were you tempted to lie? Many people underreport embarrassing behaviors and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias.

Another quote to give you a sense of the book’s more humorous flavor:

And though I like to think that nothing can shock me, I was shocked aplenty by what the internet reveals about human sexuality—including the discovery that every month a certain number of women search for “humping stuffed animals.”


A video talk by Seth that you might enjoy:

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