How popular is your element?

XKCD inspires many people. Now it has inspired a periodic table geek

XKCD’s latest is a calendar of meaningful dates based upon how often a date is represented in English-language books since 2000. Anders Sandberg, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, has taken inspiration from that calender and his love for yttrium to construct a new kind of periodic table. It’s based on how popular each element is on the interweb (roughly based on Google search hits).

As Anders explains:

Most popular were, perhaps unsurprisingly, gold (2.7 billion) and silver (1.9 billion). Lead got into third place (1.4 billion), perhaps due to the fairly common verb “to lead” rather than its heavy charisma. Why tin is so popular (1.1 billion) beats me.

Least popular are the transuranians, with Bohrium (40,600), Livermorium (106,000) and Flerovium (118,000) as the least popular. These might suffer a bit because they are recently named and people might still remember them with their old names. But they are still fairly obscure outside connoisseurs of heavy nuclei. Why Meitnerium is so popular compared to the others also beats me.

Robert Munafo, an independent American researcher, points out that tin’s popularity might be down to its usage in Vietnamese. Of course, as Anders accepts, his algorithm based on two hours of work isn’t perfect. There may be a way to semantically weed out non-elemental usage of these words, and I do hope that someone starts working on that.

Till then, I take solace in the fact that Osmium seems to be doing just as well as Polonium and Thorium. How is your favourite element doing?

PS: Here is a large PDF/JPG of the table.