Swoosh!

We’re back to Google’s hot searches today. I know we just hit it last week, but something popped up that struck me as interesting. (There’s probably a blog post in why peeking at someone else’s searches is so fascinating. This isn’t that post.)

As we’ve discussed in the past, top searches tend to fall into a few recurring categories. Chief among these are sports and partially-dressed women. Monday’s top searches are such a classic example that I had to share it with you. Here’s the top five:

  1. Raiders (for those of you who don’t follow sports, that’s the Oakland Raiders American football team)
  2. Scarlett Johansson (let’s just note that Google’s thumbnail image for this search shows her in a skin-toned tank top and move on)
  3. Atlanta Falcons (another American football team)
  4. Red Sox (over to baseball)
  5. Presidents Cup Streaker (yes, a nearly nude woman ran onto the course at a golf match)

So in the top five results, we have four sporting events and two partially-clad women. So why did I find this interesting? Well, mostly because the streaker only made it to Number Five. Why didn’t an event that combined sports and bare bodies rank higher in the American psyche?

I don’t have any definitive answers for the question, but I do have some ideas.

  • People are bored with streakers – It’s possible. Certainly the pictures of the event seem to include a number of bored-looking spectators. There may be a certain amount of editorial bias in the selection of still photos, though: the videos show more interested-looking onlookers. More generally, Google’s historic results show a definite downward trend in searches for streakers over the past decade.
  • Maybe it’s just Americans losing interest – Google’s trend data points out that the most searches for streakers come from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Maybe it’s only Americans who are bored with streakers. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald traces streaking back to London in 1799. It’s only reasonable that members of the late, great British Empire would take a proprietary interest in keeping the tradition alive. On the other hand, Canada and India show even less interest than the U.S.
  • It’s golf – I had to suggest it, since golf is far from the most popular spectator sport. But the fact that the Presidents Cup made the top searches list last week without a streaker’s involvement implies that someone (actually, quite a few someones) is paying attention to golf.
  • She wasn’t nude – Frankly, this is the most convincing theory to me. Once people heard that she was wearing a thong and (as one news report put it) “strategically placed red, white and blue stickers”, they lost interest.

Obviously, more data is necessary. We need to do some controlled experiments. By varying the types of events streaked at and the amount of clothing that the streakers wear, we can begin eliminating some of the possibilities above. We do need to control the other variables, though. Age and sex of the streaker seem likely to skew the response (though that might be the subject of another set of experiments). Since it seems unlikely that Ms Webster, the Presidents Cup streaker, will be available for the complete run of experiments, we’re going to need some volunteers. Women in their early 20s who are willing to bare some-or-all in the name of SCIENCE! are invited to drop a line to their local university. Psychology PhD candidates are standing by.

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