When and why do people Google Nobel Prize winners and their discoveries?, di Ayelet Baram-Tsabari e Elad Segev

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Most people turn to the internet, and specifically to Google, for their scientific information needs. But why would they need scientific information in the first place? What types of information are they looking for? One reason would be to follow up on news coverage of a natural disaster, a celebrity illness, an epidemic or prominent scientific events.

In our newest study published in Public Understanding of Science, we explored how Nobel Prize announcements trigger global and local searches for the Nobel laureates and their related discoveries. We call these short periods after media announcements of scientific events “teachable moments” since during this window of opportunity users often manifest greater interest in the underlying science.

We measured the duration of these teachable moments using the “half-life” of searches on Google, which is the duration it takes for searches to drop to 50% of their peak intensity, based on data available on Google Trends.

The associated Wikipedia entries are also popular during these teachable moments. Users not only tend to look for information about the laureates and their discoveries on Google but also visit Wikipedia pages to learn more about these scientific topics.

Searches performed from 2012 to2017 show that Nobel Prize events clearly trigger more searches for laureates. More importantly, they also show an increase in searches for their respective discoveries. For example, the announcement of Nobel laureate Robert Joseph Lefkowitz triggered more Google searches for G-protein, his related discovery.

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