In lieu of that, I decided to turn to Google’s N-gram viewer. I’ve already mentioned this addictive online utility once, in my post about Spooky Action at a Distance. Basically it allows you to see how the popularity of a specified word or phrase has changed over time. After searching through millions of digitized books it returns, for each year in a specified range, the percentage of all the books published in that year that include the given word or phrase.
You can waste hours playing with the N-gram viewer, but here are a few charts I thought were particularly interesting (you may need to click to enlarge them in order to see what is going on).
Chart 1: Fortean specialisms
The word “ufology” seems to emerge circa 1960, after which it follows a similar pattern to “fortean”. The post-millennial dip – which appears to confirm the widespread view that ufology is in decline – is almost certainly real, and not just a statistical artifact (you might think, for example, that it just means there are fewer books from recent years in Google’s database – but remember that what’s shown is not the number of books containing the word ufology but the percentage).
“Cryptozoology” is a newer word than either Fortean or ufology, only dating from circa 1970 – but it’s in a healthier state, displaying a steady increase which continues to the present day.
Chart 2: Sasquatch versus the Loch Ness Monster
Neither Sasquatch nor the Loch Ness Monster appear to suffer from the post-millennial let-down that UFO-related subjects do (more on which later).
Chart 3: Paranormal versus Parapsychology
Chart 4: UFO versus flying saucer
“UFO” starts a few years after “flying saucer”, but overtakes it by the early 60s. It then climbs at an impressive rate for two decades, remains more or less static through the eighties, and then shoots up again in the 90s. Then it hits that millennium barrier and starts to plummet back down again. There’s no getting away from it – UFOs just aren’t as popular as they used to be.