Ithaca, N.Y. — A new study claims to track differing levels of racism across the United States by using Google search data.


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Tompkins County Public Library
The 21st Century Library Campaign

The results are not so good for the area that includes Ithaca.

Here’s the chart:

Large swaths of Western New York and the Southern Tier, according to the researchers, are far likelier than other regions of the country to input racist search terms into Google. That means the areas are more likely to be racist, according to the researchers, who tie the results to black mortality rates across the country.

The study, published in PLOS One by data scientist Stephens-Davidowitz, was covered widely in the national media.

Many media outlets highlighted the reportedly high levels of racism in upstate New York as something of a surprise.

“Interestingly, on the map above, the most concentrated cluster of racist searches happened not in the South, but rather along the spine of the Appalachians running from Georgia all the way up to New York and southern Vermont,” notes The Washington Post.

Some may reasonably question if using Google search data for terms like the “N-word” are reasonable indicators of an area’s racism.

Here’s how The Post explains it (though, to be frank, I’m not totally convinced):

“It’s also important to note that not all people searching for the N-word are motivated by racism, and that not all racists search for that word, either.”

“But aggregated over several years and several million searches, the data give a pretty good approximation of where a particular type of racist attitude is the strongest.”

And, later on, The Post story also notes:

“The researchers on the PLOS ONE paper found that racist searches were correlated with higher mortality rates for blacks, even after controlling for a variety of racial and socio-economic variables.

For more reading, here’s The Boston Globe and here’s The Huffington Post.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.