October 12, 2010

More Fun with Spurious Correlations: Feminist and Falafel, Gay and Shepherd's Pie

Our series of posts on statistical correlations have shown that references to "Christianity" within cyberscapes are highly correlated with obesity, while places with many references to "feminist" and "gay" have the opposite relation. Despite the appeal of some of these correlations, per capita income likely remains the most important, albeit not the only, underlying factor in shaping these relationships.

Given the important causal role of income to obesity we were curious whether this might extend into the virtual world as well. In other words, can we correlate references to income within cyberscape with references to other cultural markers such as "gay" or "feminist". Earlier maps we made of references to "rich" and "poor" within the Google Maps database revealed concentrations of rich in expected places, e.g., the coastal regions of the U.S. Thus, we wondered how the number of references to "rich" would correlate to references to "feminist" or "gay".

Gratifyingly, there is a strong positive correlation between references to the keywords "feminist" and "rich" (0.795) and "gay" and "rich" (0.66). This is consistent with our idea that the virtual representations reflect(albeit not perfectly) many material practices, events and places. This is an idea that we explore in more detail in many of our more academicly geared papers and publications.

Feminist and Rich

Gay and Rich
But we'd be doing a disservice to the loyal followers of Floatingsheep if we didn't extend our line of questioning to the next improbable, and highly spurious, level. Given that we started our series of correlation experiments by discovering the negative relationship between obesity and virtual references to "feminist" and "gay", we must now ask what foods are associated with these terms within the cyberscape? A burning question to be sure.

As the graphs below illustrate, references to "feminist" and "falafel" are highly correlated (0.658), as are references to "gay" and "shepherd's pie" (0.629). Not exactly, the correlation that we expected, but data does not lie [1]. Perhaps the route to weight loss is falafel and shepherd's pie?

We're not entirely sure how to interpret this, but it is (ahem) food for thought [2].

Feminist and Falafel

Gay and Shepherd's Pie
[1] Data does however roll over and allow itself to be manipulated shamelessly. It really is a bit of a milquetoast. Sometimes we wish data would have a bit more of a backbone.

[2] Actually, we're fairly sure that the underlying cause of these relationships is once again income. At least in the case of falafel, i.e., falafel in the U.S. =~ more cosmopolitan =~ higher income. But we're intrigued by the significantly higher levels of shepherd's pie in New England (New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island) and the outlier of Maryland. Yum?

1 comment:

  1. The Shepherd's Pie bias toward New England can be easily explained by looking at ethnographics, specifically the density and popularity of Irish pubs in those states (with Massachusetts and Rhode Island leading the way).