The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books

A new paper is out (PLoS One so free to all), lead by Alberto Acerbi (Bristol Uni), and co-authored by Vasileios Lampos (Sheffield uni), myself (Durham Uni) and R. Alexander Bentley (Bristol Uni). Its a really fun paper looking at the changing pattern in the use of emotion words in the English language during the 20th Century. We make use of Google’s Ngram data. Google scanned approximately 4% of all books and generated a dataset of yearly world frequencies. We mined this dataset to extract the changing frequencies of emotion words throughout the 20th century.

In the data we can see the frequency of words expressing emotions such as anger, fear, joy, sadness, and disgust changing in line with historical events. Large social/cultural events like the World War II, the roaring 20s and the swinging 60s all show up as frequencies changes of words. Interestingly the World War I doesn’t seem to appear in the data, however the Great Depression in the 1930s does. We also expected, due largely to cultural stereo typing, that US books would be more emotional that UK. This is supported by the data, but the split occurs much more recently than we thought it might.  Generally throughout the 20th century the frequency of emotion words has been declining, with one exception, fear. Could that be linked to the climate of fear that has developed during the latter half of the 20th century?

Figure 2. Decrease in the use of emotion-related words through time.
Difference between -scores of the six emotions and of a random sample of stems (see Methods) for years from 1900 to 2000 (raw data and smoothed trend). Red: the trend for Fear (raw data and smoothed trend), the emotion with the highest final value. Blue: the trend for Disgust (raw data and smoothed trend), the emotion with the lowest final value. Values are smoothed using Friedman’s ‘super smoother’ through R function supsmu().

The paper has been really well received in the media, Alberto was interviewed for BBC Radio 4s Material World by Adam Rutherford. Alex and myself were interviewed for NPR.


The Remote Police Commissioner

So just who are these police and crime commissioners anyway? A scrap of (future recycling) paper dropped through my door that told me how to find out. Go to a website, perhaps even follow them on twitter. Yes, I could go to a website to find out who these people (who are all going to work tirelessly to represent my interests) actually are. It would be better if they came to see me, but a sparse twitter feed and a website of empty platitudes is all you need these days (by the way Kingsley Smith, shouty bold capitals are never good). I suppose I am asking to much that the candidates might actually want to meet the people who’s interests they so earnestly what to represent. Perhaps they look at us down the cameras that seem to have replaced beat bobbies in Durham.

I don’t know if other residents of Durham have noticed but cameras seem to be the way to police these days. Walking through Durham centre cast your eyes skywards in the Market Place, down Silver street, and up Claypath. Large cameras watch us from up high, making sure we aren’t getting up to no good. The pattern is the same in the suburbs. I live in Gilesgate Moor, apart from the odd sighting of a police car scuttling through I have never seen a police person (we don’t discriminate in Gilesgate). We do however feel snug in our homes, comforted by the ever watchful eyes on polls that maintain ‘constant vigilance’. Watching the local children kicking footballs at houses, tipping bins over, and trying to push people of bikes. I’m sure a seat is being kept warm in the ‘control’ room for the new commissioner of crime (and policing).

The problem with cameras is that they become normal and then melt away into the background, we forget that they are watching. This is bad for two reasons. Firstly, being under constant big brother surveillance becomes normal which doesn’t seem like a good thing. Secondly, the criminals forget that they are there too, and then I suspect they stop working as a deterrent and are only useful to pick up the pieces later. Actual real beat bobbies are different, they could turn up randomly, talk to the residences (tell children off for trying to assault cyclists). Actual real police and crime commissioners would be better too. Sadly, its much easier to trick yourself into believing that you are engaged with the public with a twitter feed and a website.

Word Diffusion in Climate Science

Our new data mining and modelling paper is out today, “Word Diffusion in Climate Science“. Investigating the diffusion of climate science words in the Google ngrams dataset. We make observation that there is often a disjoint between the findings of science and the impact it has in the public domain. This existence of a disjoint is particularly significant when it is important the science reaches the public. Our hypothesis is that important keywords used in the climate science discourse follow “boom and bust” fashion cycles in public usage. If these cycles are linked to the science leaving the public eye then perhaps scientist need to think about they can do to ensure important findings reach as many people as possible.

Durham university press release (including a rather-too-big-for-my-liking picture of me).

Off to theODI Open Data Hack Day

Being something of a fan of big data the opening of the ODI comes with great interest. I am about to head down to London for their Open Data Hack days. Not exactly sure what to expect, haven’t been to a hack day that is like this exactly, but I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. Just getting a sense of what they are about will be worth the trip. My own use of big data thus far has been more with close data sources that have been created to answer particular questions. Not including Google ngrams, which is very much a large open data source.

I am however rather beginning to think that this wasn’t really a good time to run a much needed update on Mac Ports. It better be finished fairly soon.



Two Conference Presentations

I have been at two conferences this week. Number one was the CoSMoS workshop at the Unconventional Computation and Natural Computation conference. Where I presented a paper titled, “Going Around Again: Modelling Standing Ovations with a
Flexible Agent-based Simulation Framework”. This paper was about how I have refactored an existing simulation platform for a new but related purpose. The process that we go through to develop agent based simulations is as important as the simulations themselves. A simulation is as only as good as its worse assumption, and using the CoSMoS process can really help with identifying and documenting assumptions, and structuring the simulation in a systematic way.

Number two was at the European Conference on Complex Systems, in the Complexity in the Real World Stream. Here I presented a paper on, “Agent-based Modelling of the Emergence of the UK Banking Sector” on behave of myself and my collaborator Simon Mollan. I think a better title for this talk could perhaps have been, “A Longitudinal Study of the Population of UK Banks”. Simon collected an unique database that details the changes of a great many of the banks active in the UK. We then developed this data-set further have recently been modelling some of the population level behaviour that we have seen in the data. Slides for this talk will be made available.