Most popular health *topics* of 2011?

To understand a headline – especially a year-end “Top N” list – you need to look under the hood and find their criteria.

Yesterday the New York Times Well blog posted The Most Popular Health Topics of 2011. I looked, eagerly, to find the rise of patients. Nothing of the sort there: instead high-protein diets and superhero workouts. Really, New York Times?? Really?

Ah, but the headline (and lead) were quickly followed by the source: “according to the number-crunchers at Google” – from their search reports. So I’d say the headline’s a miss: better to say the most popular health searches of 2011. Results from Bing and Yahoo were similar.

And then, aha, a splendid example of “selection bias” – the statistical trap you get into if you don’t consider who was studied. The above (diets and superheros) were the general public; among Times readers, though, “happy relationships, alternative therapies, the brain and mental health were among the most popular health topics.”

Here’s hoping that in 2012 more people searching for things that suggest an increase in patient engagement. What kinds of search phrases might suggest that? Any ideas?



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2 Responses to “Most popular health *topics* of 2011?”

  1. Google Zeitgeist is even worse in terms of providing any actual useful information:

    Wow, lookee there. 9 of the top 10 search terms in health in 2011 were brands. Surprise, surprise.

    Who the heck cares? How does this provide any information about the actual topic of “health”?

    Google really should use some of the smart people it has working for them and put together some really interesting lists that have some value to actual human beings. Like top 10 symptoms searched for. Top 10 diseases and conditions searched for. And about a dozen other topics I can think of…

    It really makes you wonder about having so much useful data at your fingertips and this is the best thing you can produce? A real disappointment.

  2. e-Patient Dave says:

    Perhaps the good folks at Bing or Yahoo could kick Google’s butt on health search, in the way you describe?

    That would sure be consistent with MS’s participation in the health industry.

    If they don’t, IBM sure will, as it feeds Watson.

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