Thursday, May 11, 2006

Gauging Interest in Teddy Bears

Readers may recall my agreement with Ozzie a year ago. Once Ozzie receives tenure, he will assist me in writing my book. There are so many exciting possibilities to be pursued. Globalization and the Diffusion of Teddy Bears has a certain appeal, but I strongly suspect that my attentions will first be turned upon the epistemological and metaphysical properties of teddy bears. I plan an ambitious and far reaching intellectual agenda concerning teddy bears, and it is good to establish a firm intellectual foundation. Perhaps after dictating The Second Treatise on Teddy Bears, I will write An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Teddy Bears. From that vantage, I should be able to adequately pursue the diffusion of teddy bears. To be perfectly frank, I am positively giddy with excitement. Ozzie bought a desk for me last Christmas. I have never before possessed such a fine workshop in which to ply my trade. I long for the day when I can cease my concern with voting behavior and turn my attention to the eternal truths of the universe.

Readers whose primary encounter with narrative is the treacly tripe served up by Hollywood movie studios might guess that the paragraph above foreshadows the news that Ozzie will receive early tenure. While not entirely illogical, the conclusion is wholly unwarranted and demonstrates a severe misapprehension on the bureaucratic workings of academia. To be perfectly honest, nothing could be further from the truth. Ozzie has not produced anything worthy of note in weeks. Rather than finishing up existing papers, Ozzie spends his nights watching basketball games and his days struggling through the resulting sleep deprivation. Sigh. I find it somewhat apropos that Ozzie studies voters, who are often described as myopic, poorly informed, and easily distracted. It may be a very long time before I can begin my book in earnest.

To prepare myself for the day when my intellectual pursuits become actualized, I spend my idle hours pondering. The topic varies depending upon the day. I see little reason to reign in and focus my thoughts when my magnum opus is a minimum of six years away. Typically, I commune with the Canon (I am reaquainting myself with Aristotle at the moment), but occasionally I find myself inspired by the tools Ozzie employs in his work.

The wealth of data on American public opinion is simply staggering. Each day hundreds of randomly selected individuals are surveyed, and their responses are available for scholars to sift through. The range of questions that can be answered using such materials is mind boggling (which makes Ozzie's choice of topics for intellectual inquiry all the more depressing). I realize that a scholar should think of a question and then find the right methods to answer the question, but the temptation to make use of the cornucopia of survey tools is strong. Since Ozzie is frittering away his hours watching under-educated, over-paid pituitary cases fight over an inflated cow hide, I decided to indulge myself and explore seedy world of public opinion.

Unfortunately, surveys concerning my object of interest are not readily available. Perhaps the Vermont Teddy Bear Company has conducted proprietary research, but I am doubtful that I will ever gain access to such information. So how was I to assess public opinion concerning teddy bears?

As luck would have it, the innovative engineers at Google have derived a useful measure of broad interest in a subject. I eagerly typed in "teddy bear" into Google Trends to see what information concerning public sentiments on teddy bears could be gleaned. The results were surprisingly unambiguous. I took three lessons from the exercise.

Lesson One: People are most likely to type the word "teddy bear" into Google two weeks prior to Valentine's Day. I can only surmise that teddy bears are viewed as an appropriate gift for a romantic holiday. While I do not disagree with such sentiments, I would prefer teddy bears to be associated with a broader range of holidays. Why are teddy bears not viewed as patriotic? Surely, World Science Day (November 10th) would also be an appropriate day to give a loved one a teddy bear. Still, my wishes cannot change the shape of the data. That the world associates teddy bears with Valentine's Day is an uncontrovertible fact.

Lesson Two: Former British Colonies are the seat of global interest in teddy bears. The countries seeking teddy bears most are (in order): 1) The United States; 2) Australia; 3) United Kingdom; 4) New Zealand; 5) Canada; 6) Thailand; and 7) India. Given the prominent ranking of a small island state such as New Zealand, I assume that the results are normed by population. With the exception of Thailand, which is the only Southeast Asian nation not to be conquered by a European power, every country is an English speaking former British colony. The regularity cannot be due to chance. Whether teddy bears diffused through mercantile, cultural, or technological routes cannot be determined. However, the regularity is striking and worthy of note.

Lesson Three: The biggest news story concerning teddy bears involved a bad romantic pun. Apparently the "Crazy for You" teddy bear in a strait jacket from Vermont Teddy Bears rankled some oversensitive people. Yet another example of political correctness run amuck. Each of the articles deemed representative of the protest against "Crazy for You" bear worried about offending crazy people. Not one person quoted expressed concern over the undue restriction of movement for the hapless teddy bears. I agree that Vermont Teddy Bears behaved in a callous manner, but I see no reason to ignore the plight of friendly teddy bears.

I am not sure larger life lessons can be drawn from the Google Trends analysis. However, the initial data exploration was intended merely as a distraction. To that end, the analysis was immensely successful.


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