Narrative account and illustrative queries by style

This page describes the style of queries found in the searches for "chance of" in Bing project.

Atypical queries

The overwhelming majority of questions are on matters (presumably) of direct concern to the individual, as opposed to impersonal questions like and a few which one hopes are impersonal rather than of immediate concern A few indicate unrealistic attitudes to major or minor matters and a few are humorously incomprehensible Many of the above, and others such as demonstrate "technical naivety" in the sense of addressing a search engine as if it were a person.

But most of the queries above are atypical. As can be seen in the illustrative queries by topic list, the majority of queries are in fact specific and reasonable.

Some analysis

It is striking that around half the queries concern medical matters, and more than half of those concern pregnancy and birth control. As we emphasized at the outset, this data on search queries is several steps removed from the conceptual question "how do people think about chance in everyday life" and we certainly do not suggest a quantitative correspondence like "half of our everyday perception of chance involves medical matters". However, because it takes a small but non-zero amount of motivation and effort to type a query into a search window, we are willing to regard this data as providing qualitative snapshots of parts of people's "conceptual space of chance". (xxx say better!)

It is also striking that the overwhelming majority of medical queries are "technically sophisticated" in the sense of having an answerable question and formulating it in a way helpful for a search engine. For instance

and this holds even when the actual content is unsophisticated Most of the medical questions indicate some rational concern, with only a few suggesting impending tragedy

Our suspicion is that for the different topics we are seeing different, and highly selected, types of user. Those with medical queries apparently do think of medical issues in terms of chance in roughly the same way that a medical statistician would think in terms of chance, and they are using the web as a resource to discover chances. This contrast with a more casual air of queries about other topics.

Comparing this data with the then-current draft of Annotated list of perceived instances of chance we were pleased to find that list had not omitted any major topics found in this data (OK, we had forgotted "weather" though it was implicit in several list items) but it did prompt us to rewrite the medical items. Another use of the latter list is to help us discover what topics were absent from the search queries. For instance, there were very few queries such as "what car model has best chance of lasting 10 years without major repairs?" or queries relating to coincidence or luck. Presumably people use different specific words in such queries.