Who's Googling Anatomy?

I decided to take a look at Google's new Trends tools to see how my academic field performs. I've written a little bit about what I've found. The answers may surprise you.

Understanding how people search for 'Anatomy' is useful because many Universities (particularly English medical schools and Scottish Universities) are seeking to increase their revenue by offering more 'products' to international students from developed economies or developing economies with substantial government sponsorships.

These data are also interesting from a public engagement perspective, which many institutions value and expect of their staff. All anatomists should ask themselves: How many people are interested in my subject? From where are they enquiring?

How many people search for Anatomy?

Lots of people search for anatomy. Compared to other similar disciplines anatomy attracts more interest. Physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology all attract considerably less interest... even 'trendy' biosciences like forensic science deliver much fewer queries than Anatomy.

Of course, the fact that many find anatomy more interesting that physiology, biochemistry or pharmacology will be of no surprise to anatomists 😜. What might be surprising is the trend over time; Anatomy queries have dropped to 49% since their peak in March 2004. I'd be very interested if anyone could suggest a reason for this trend - Send me a Tweet.

From where in the UK do Anatomy searches originate?

This question won't interest many readers, but for those in the UK... here's a breakdown of our top Anatomy Googlers:

It won't be a surprise that much of the search traffic follows large population centres, like London (see Saint Albans and Thames Ditton), but what is remarkable is the volume of queries originating from Scotland. Both Dundee and Glasgow attract significant volumes of traffic, while Edinburgh and St Andrews are notable by their absence. Elsewhere in England, many searches originate in Cambridge and Plymouth, while in Wales most interest appears to centre in Cardiff.

UK results are interesting, but they only reflect the habits of anglophile Goolgers...

Where is traffic increasing in our field?

When looking at global search queries, traffic from the UK is eclipsed by activity elsewhere.To get a truly global perspective we need to look at search queries in a variety of languages. Luckily there isn't massive range of translations for the term 'Anatomy'. English and foreign language Google searches for Anatomy in relation to general science searches are shown in the graph below:

The graph above shows that 'Anatomy' attracts many queries. I won't include the data here, but most are actually from anglophile Africa, the USA and the Philippines. Almost as many queries for 'Anatomia' are delivered; most of these are from Spanish/Portugese-speaking regions such as South America, parts of Africa and Iberia.

There is a small but detectable number of queries relating to 'Anatomie', 'Anatomi' and '解剖学'. While these the scale of queries may seem insignificant, comparing them to 'background' Science queries gives interesting results; it seems that despite the large volume of 'Anatomy' and 'Anatomia', it is 'Anatomi' that demonstrates growth:

The growth in 'Anatomi' searches is most likely attributable to Malay-speaking and some Nordic countries. Looking deeper at the country breakdown, it becomes clear that the breakout area in anatomy is in fact Indonesia, perhaps followed by Denmark and Sweden:

By looking closely at these top three contributors to 'Anatomi' search traffic, it is clear that Indonesia is by far the largest contributor, with Denmark on average contributing a little over a third of the total Indonesian queries.

There is also a clear cyclical trend in the Indonesia Anatomi data; traffic peaks in September/October before dipping in December/January, followed by another peak in March/April and a final large decrease in searches over Summer in June/July. These peaks and troughs marry up perfectly to the standard academic calendar, suggesting that these Indonesian searches are not originating from the general public, but from students of anatomy at key points throughout the academic year. This assumption is corroborated when we take Indonesians searching 'Anatomi' see what other terms they search for:

Translated into English, most of these terms relate to academically related fields or concepts, such as physiology, structure, morphology and human.

In summary...

  • Anatomy is popular, especially compared to similar biomedical subjects such as physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology.
  • Most interestingly, anatomy is even more popular than 'trendy' fields such as forensic science.
  • Scotland is particularly interested in Anatomy compared to the UK as a whole.
  • English and Spanish Anatomy queries lead the world in terms of search volume.
  • The only region where anatomy queries are increasing in volume is Indonesia.
  • Increasing interest in Indonesia is likely attributable to students of anatomy... either due to more medical education or greater access to the internet.