International Security

Terrorism Over Time

Sep 9 '11

[NOTE: Now updated with a third figure at the bottom of the post]

With the “tenth anniversary of 9/11”:http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/s/sept_11_2001/index.html in mind, here are two visualizations of some time trends regarding the attention paid to terrorism. The first figure charts the use of terrorism in books that can be searched by Google Books:

As is apparent, there was very little discussion of terrorism in books at least pre-1970. Not surprisingly, discussion of terrorism then skyrockets after 9/11.

The second figure looks at terrorism mentions in news stories as indexed by Google news.

Unfortunately, the data only go back to 2004, so we are missing what was undoubtedly a huge spike in stories around 9/11. However, what is interesting here is the gradual decline in attention to terrorism generally as time passes since 9/11. So perhaps more nuanced data tells a story that is not captured in the first graph, which only involves data though 2008. Or perhaps there is a difference between the way books and news article are influenced by big contemporary events.

[Note: There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to put together an analogous figure using Google Scholar other than going through and searching each year individually and seeing how many articles are returned. I imagine this would be easy to automate using the appropriate programming skills, but don’t know how to do this myself. So if anyone who can wants to do this and then can email me the appropriate figure, I’d be happy to to add it to this post as an update. I searched only on “terrorism” for my figures.]

********

Source: Figures generated using “Google Ngram Viewer”:http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/ and “Google Trends”:http://www.google.com/trends

**************

UPDATE: “Logan Dancey”:http://www.pitt.edu/~lmd80 of the University of Pittsburgh sends along the following figure that displays the percentage of all congressional bills in a quarter coded as related to terrorism by the Congressional Research Service through 2008:

The pattern here is similar to what was suggested by Google Trends news data: a huge upsurge following 9/11, and a steady decline since then. As this figure is concerned with legislative action, it is possible that what we are witnessing is the identification of a new problem, measures introduced to deal with that problem, and then a drop off in attention to the problem because the new legislative framework is now in place. Or it could be just a decreasing lack of attention as 9/11 fades further into the past.