So…the research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University has posted a blog entry on its research that purports to show that interest in Catholicism is dramatically down. The author comes to this conclusion by virtue of CARA’s research which shows that Google searches for the word “Catholic” are down not only domestically, but internationally. The headline, “Is Interest in Catholicism Falling Online?” sounds alarming and I’m sure it is meant to be. It certainly rattled me when I saw it linked over at NewAdvent. I can only conclude that our reaction is supposed to be
Oh, woe is us! The sky is falling on our New Evangelization!
to which I can only respond
You heard me. The Henny Penny headline is only part of the problem I have with the article. I looked over this “research” and no one should be drawing ANY conclusions from it…except to say that people aren’t looking up the word “Catholic” on Google. Big deal. That hardly means a lack on interest in Catholic things on the internet.
I know this both intellectually and personally. Intellectually, the gaps between this “research” and the author’s “conclusion” are very wide, so wide that we can dismiss his conclusion. In other words, I am saying that the data–while it does not negate the author’s conclusion — by no means answers the author’s question, posed in his sensationalized headline, “Is Interest in Catholicism falling online?”, a question which the author answers affirmatively. The author, Mark Gray writes, “the data shown… indicates that people may be less likely to be looking for Catholic content now than in the past.” Hmmm.
In his assertions, Mr. Gray is guilty of several reasoning errors known as Fallacious Generalizations:
Overgeneralization / Sweeping generalization – The author takes the research of Google and concludes that fewer people are using Google to look up the word “Catholic” therefore interest in Catholicism has waned. However, even a person with a most rudimentary exposure to research techniques can immediately notice the limited nature of the underlying research. Google, while the most popular search engine, is by no means the only search engine. Furthermore, there are thousands and thousands of searches that can involve Catholic doctrine, theology, history, worship, prayer, culture, teachings, arts and news that do not use the word “Catholic”. Examples?
“Pope in Croatia”
“Theology of the Body”
“Saints and martyrs”
“How to say the Rosary”
“What is the Assumption”
“Refute sola scriptura”
“beatification of John Paul”
Argumentum a silentio – “You do not Google, therefore you are not.” It did not show up in the limited research, therefore, it must not be.
Fallacy of Division – “Since “Catholic” is a less popular search term today, the trend shows people are not interested in Catholic things.” (Substituting a part for a whole). See examples listed above.
Finally, I can see absolutely from personal experience that folks out reading Catholic websites, blogs and resources are most likely NOT ‘googling’ them to get there and certainly not by typing in “Catholic” in the search bar. I get almost no visitors using the term “Catholic”. One of my top posts of all times is the one I did on the myth of unlimited Vatican wealth. How do those folks find it? by typing in
“How wealthy is the Vatican?”
I kid you not. I get 20 visitors a month from that search alone. Seems people really, really want to know how wealthy the Vatican is and that search does not show up in the CARA data. Nor does “how to pray the Rosary”, “Christian persecution”, and “little popes” all of which send me handfuls of visitors every month. Searches on “beauty”, “late have I loved thee”, and “kneeling in church” also send me a significant amount of traffic. I could go on, but you get my point.
I don’t Google “Catholic Vatican website”, do you? I’d search Vatican website (on Yahoo! btw)– if I didn’t already know that the site is vatican.va. If I want to know about a particular topic, I will most likely go straight to NewAdvent.org, USSCB.org, or Catholic Answers. My browser knows to bring up First Things, The National Catholic Register, Zenit, and the Catholic News Agency. I don’t ever Google those and I doubt you do. That is why we have Favorites on our browsers, not to mention Feeds.
In other words, the use of the Internet is an ever-changing, dynamic thing and our society gets more sophisticated in its use all the time. So fewer people are googling the “Catholic” word now than in years past. That is a trend for Google to ponder, not necessarily one for Catholics in the new media to obsess over. Plus heck, some of us think that Google is evil. Evil like Disney.
In conclusion, dear Reader, (and not a fallacious conclusion either)…however you got here to my webblog, I appreciate your taking the time to read this. I hope you have taken a big breath and sighed a sigh of relief and remember: the sky is not falling. You can google it.
(on a side note, a big “Boo” to NewAdvent for posting the ad hominem research piece under the even more Henny Penny-ish title, “When you crunch the numbers, there’s no escaping it: Interest in Catholicism is falling online“. Sheesh, people get a hold of yourselves.)