Does Scientific Progress Affect Culture? A Digital Text Analysis

59 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2019 Last revised: 5 Feb 2019

See all articles by Michela Giorcelli

Michela Giorcelli

University of California - Los Angeles; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Nicola Lacetera

University of Toronto - Strategic Management; University of Toronto at Mississauga - Department of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Astrid Marinoni

University of Toronto

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Date Written: January 2019

Abstract

We focus on a unique episode in the history of science, the elaboration of the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin, to study the interplay between scientific progress and cultural change. We perform text analysis on a corpus of hundreds of thousands of books, with the use of techniques from machine learning. We examine, in particular, the diffusion of certain key ideas of the theory of evolution in the broader cultural discourse and imaginary. We find that some concepts in Darwin’s theory, such as Evolution, Survival, Natural Selection and Competition, diffused in the cultural discourse immediately after the publication of On the Origins of Species. Other concepts such as Selection and Adaptation were already present in the cultural dialogue. Moreover, we document semantic changes for most of these concepts over time, and a more positive sentiment toward these ideas, thus providing further insights about the channels through which Darwin’s theory influenced the broader discourse. Our findings provide the first large-sample, systematic quantitative evidence of the relation between two key factors of long-term economic growth (science and culture), and suggest that machine learning and natural language processing offer promising tools to explore this relation.

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Suggested Citation

Giorcelli, Michela and Lacetera, Nicola and Marinoni, Astrid, Does Scientific Progress Affect Culture? A Digital Text Analysis (January 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25429, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3315229

Michela Giorcelli (Contact Author)

University of California - Los Angeles ( email )

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Nicola Lacetera

University of Toronto - Strategic Management ( email )

Canada

University of Toronto at Mississauga - Department of Management

Canada

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Astrid Marinoni

University of Toronto ( email )

Canada

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