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Debunking Myths: Public Interest in Conservation is Actually Rising

The article "Analyzing Google search data to debunk myths about the public's interest in conservation" authored by Zuzana Burivalova, Rhett A Butler, and David S Wilcove, reveals that the commonly held belief that public interest in conservation is declining is not accurate. The authors used Google Trends, a tool that measures internet searches on Google, to assess public interest in different conservation-related terms. They found that interest in conservation is actually increasing and is positively correlated with interest in climate change.


The authors suggest that conservation scientists should capitalise on this growing interest and transform it into actual support for conservation. They recommend presenting objective, evidence-based findings about conservation in a relatable and engaging manner to nurture public support. They also argue that such efforts are crucial at a time when there is increasing political polarisation, reduced funding, and deliberate misinformation campaigns.


Limitations of Google Trends and a New Method to Back-Adjust Outcomes

The article acknowledges the limitations of using Google Trends to assess public interest in conservation. The tool provides an indication of how interest in a given search term has changed on a monthly basis since 2004. Google Trends adjusts the absolute number of searches by calculating the proportion of total searches on Google each month that were for the searched term. The remaining months are assigned a value between 0 and 100 based on how much smaller their ratio was. This method does not provide the absolute volume of searches for a term, which limits its use in identifying longer-term trends.


To overcome this limitation, the authors developed an algorithm to back-adjust Google Trends outcomes to reflect the ratio of absolute searches. The algorithm estimates the number of total Google searches for each month by fitting an exponential model to various approximations. This estimate is then used to back-transform Google Trends outcomes. The article provides details of the equations used to back-transform Google Trends outcomes. The authors also obtained estimates of the absolute monthly search volumes for individual conservation-related search terms from the internet browser add-on Keywords Everywhere and the commercial service Google AdWords.


The article also notes the relationship between biodiversity conservation and climate change, demonstrating that the public is interested in both issues simultaneously. The article suggests that international environmental NGOs should take this increased interest in conservation into account when implementing conservation programs in different countries.


Photo by Randall Ruiz

Rising Interest in Conservation Interventions

Finally, the article discusses favoured conservation interventions and how interest in most interventions searched for has increased over the past 13 years. This highlights the importance of maintaining and increasing public interest in conservation, which could lead to greater support for conservation initiatives.


In summary, the research by Zuzana Burivalova, Rhett A Butler, and David S Wilcove demonstrates that public interest in conservation is increasing and positively correlated with interest in climate change. They suggest that conservation scientists should take advantage of this trend by presenting objective, evidence-based findings about conservation in a relatable and engaging manner. The article also highlights the limitations of using Google Trends to assess public interest in conservation and provides an algorithm to back-adjust Google Trends outcomes. The article concludes by suggesting that international environmental NGOs should consider this growing interest in conservation when implementing conservation programs and that maintaining and increasing public interest in conservation is crucial for supporting conservation initiatives.


References

To read the research paper, "Analyzing Google search data to debunk myths about the public's interest in conservation," by Zuzana Burivalova, Rhett A Butler, and David S Wilcove Please click here.


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