Can culture be decoded like a genome?

“Can culture be decoded like a genome?”

This is a question that Scientific American asks in a recent article. The question is sparked by Google’s new Books Ngram Viewer. The viewer is a Quantitative analysis of Culture using millions of digitized books.  

For example, the word Evolution drops, falls and rises again in use from the 1920s to the 2000s. The viewer does not explain the result, but provides us a thought provoking look into the data.

In the Abstract for the paper from Science it states “We survey the vast terrain of “culturomics”, focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology.”

This is truly a fascinating tool from Google for anyone interested in the idea that culture might be studied in the same fashion as biology. Notice that the Harvard Team calls this culturomics.