Big Data Reveals Economic Polarization in Public Interest in Earthquakes
[POSTECH professors Jonghun Kam, Jinhee Kim, and Young-Joo Suh analyze the global public interest in earthquakes.]
[Out of 10 earthquakes with high casualties, seven earthquakes in developing countries garner little interest]
Among the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2011 Japan earthquake, which earthquake received more attention from the international community? Big data has the answer. It is often presumed the greater the damage, the greater the interest. But in reality, the level of interest is dependent on the income level of the affected country.
A POSTECH research team led by Professor Jonghun Kam (Division of Environmental Science and Engineering), Professor Jinhee Kim (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences), and Professor Young-Joo Suh (the Graduate School of Artificial Intelligence) used Google Trends and Wikipedia search volume to determine the correlation between the extent of damage and the public’s interest in earthquakes that have occurred since 2004.
Although many studies on international earthquake relief policies have been conducted, most have been in the form of surveys or interviews which limited the sample size. Since it was impossible to conduct surveys in real time, previous studies failed to provide in-depth insight on the level of interest in earthquakes by country.
To overcome this, the research team selected 10 earthquakes with the highest death toll and high interest since 2004 based on the earthquake data provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the search volume data provided by Google Trends. The duration of interest was analyzed based a statistical model using the search volume and the annual per capita income provided by the World Bank.
As a result, of the 10 earthquakes that caused the most deaths since 2004, seven earthquakes in developing countries did not receive international attention, whereas earthquakes in developed countries received much attention in comparison.
Specifically, public interest in earthquakes usually dwindled within a week regardless of the number of deaths involved. But interest in earthquakes that occurred in countries with the annual per capita incomes of $10,000 to $20,000 persisted for up to two weeks as the number of related deaths increased.
Also, the international community’s interest in earthquakes tends to be led by major Western countries (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom). These countries are expected to play a crucial role in future international earthquake relief efforts.
“According to this study, developed countries should voluntarily participate in international earthquake relief programs and take an active stance to report on the earthquake’s damage within the two-week “golden” time window in order to reduce the damage in developing countries,” explained Professor Jonghun Kam of the Division of Environmental Science and Engineering at POSTECH. “It is also an urgent matter to come up with international relief policies that encourage people to voluntarily donate and raise funds.”
Professor Jinhee Kim of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences at POSTECH remarked, “This study, which actively looked at the flow of international disaster-related information based on Google Trends, is different from the conventional research.” She added, “Even with advances in technology to disseminate information quickly and extensively, it seems that international inequality on information still remains.”
An international team of researchers participated in this research including Professor Young-Joo Suh and Ph.D. candidate Jihun Park of the Graduate School of Artificial Intelligence at POSTECH, Dr. Fabrizio Gizzi (Institute of Heritage Science, National Research Council, Italy), Professor Donatella Porrini (Department of Economics at University of Salento, Italy) and Professor Wanyun (Department of Geology at the University of Alabama, USA).
This research was supported by the Basic Research Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea and by the Graduate School of AI program of the Institute of Information and Communications Technology Planning and Evaluation (IITP) of Korea. The findings from the research were recently published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, an online journal published by Springer-Nature.