Americans looked to Google for information on Ebola, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the actor Robin Williams's suicide this year—all of which ranked among the hottest search terms of 2014. Google has announced the results of its “14th Annual Year in Search,” an inventory of the year’s most-searched-for keywords and phrases. The data gives us a chance to look back and relive some of the major events of 2014, many of them in science (see Scientific American’s list of the top 10 science stories of the year).

The searches that rank highest are those that have gained the most ground when compared with searches during a similar time period last year. In that sense, the results show not only what the world is looking to the Internet to find—but also subjects that were truly trending in 2014 after receiving little attention in 2013. Google captures 68 percent of Internet searches from desktops worldwide, according to NetMarketShare.

In this year’s results the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge comes in at number 6 among the top U.S. searches—representing the nation’s zeal for dumping cold water over our heads all summer to raise money for the ALS Association for research on treatments for the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The phrase “What is ALS?” also ranked as number 2 among the top 10 most-searched questions starting with the phrase “What is…?”

“What is Ebola?” was the most searched phrase in that category, and Ebola was also the number 3 top search term overall in the U.S. “Ebola symptoms” also ranked first in a list of symptom-related searches—beating out pregnancy and the flu, in a country where true Ebola symptoms were detected far less frequently than either of the other two.

Hurricane Arthur, which hit the coast of North Carolina in mid-summer, was this year’s most searched natural event—whereas California’s drought didn’t even make the list, perhaps because it has been ongoing since 2011 (and so did not show the required spike in traffic). Arthur was followed by the magnitude 8.2 Chilean earthquake in April and the magnitude 6.0 tremblor that struck northern California in August.

In technology a Google Doodle commemorating the Philae Lander, a robotic probe launched by the European Space Agency to land on and explore a comet, was the ninth-most popular doodle of the year in the U.S. and the Flappy Bird game was the fifth-most popular search term of all, ranking higher than either the ISIS terrorist army invasion in the Middle East or the events in Ferguson, Mo.

It also seems that if you want to be remembered, it pays to be in show business—all of the people whose deaths landed them in the top 10 list for most-searched-for losses were actors and actresses at some point in their careers, including the notable poet, singer and actress Maya Angelou who passed away on May 28.

As past coverage at Scientific American has shown, the most popular Google searches have many correlates both proposed and proved—a boost in searches on business and politics foretells a dive in the stock market, strange weather prompts people to search for climate change in a pattern that predicts their political affiliation, and a spike in searches for flu medicine could someday help us to see when and where the flu is actually striking.

Below is a selection of this year’s U.S. trends. If you spot any other science-related trends in Google’s master list, please note them as a comment.

Trending Searches

1. Robin Williams

2. World Cup

3. Ebola

4. Malaysia Airlines

5. Flappy Bird

6. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge


8. Ferguson

9. Frozen

10. Ukraine

Trending Natural Events

1. Hurricane Arthur

2. Chile Earthquake

3. Napa Earthquake

4. Hurricane Iselle

5. Oso Mudslide

6. Hurricane Odile

7. Arkansas Tornado

8. Hurricane Julio

9. Alaska Earthquake

10. Hurricane Ana

Trending Symptoms

1. Ebola

2. Flu

3. Pregnancy

4. Asperger’s syndrome

5. ALS

6. Lupus

7. Diabetes

8. Lyme Disease

9. Typhus

10. Respiratory virus

Trending Searches for "How to…"

1. Airdrop

2. Contour

3. Vote

4. Kiss

5. Craft

6. Colorblock

7. Wakeboard

8. Refurbish

9. Delegate

10. DIY

Trending Searches for "What is… "

1. Ebola?

2. ALS?

3. ISIS?

4. Bitcoin?

5. Asphyxia?

6. Gamergate?

7. WhatsApp?

8. MERS?

9. Hamas?

10. Airdrop?

Top Dog Questions

1. Why do dogs eat grass?

2. Do dogs dream?

3. Why do dogs howl?

4. Why do dogs have whiskers?

5. Why do dogs chase their tails?

6. How to clean dogs ears

7. Why are dogs noses wet?

8. How to stop dogs from digging

9. How to introduce dogs

10. Why do dogs bury bones?

Trending Google Doodles of 2014

1. U.S. Valentine’s Day 2014

2. World Cup 2014 #27 (Boss)

3. 2014 Winter Olympics

4. Rubik’s Cube

5. Doodle 4 Google 2014 U.S. Winner

6. Nelson Mandela

7. John Steinbeck

8. Audrey Hepburn

9. Philae Robotic Lander

10. International Women’s Day 2014

Trending Selfies

1. Selfie Olympics

2. Monkey

3. Oscar

4. Obama

5. Squirrel

6. David Ortiz

7. Zach Mettenberger

8. Colin Powell

9. Elephant

10. Shark

Top/Trending Books

1. Boy, Snow, Bird

2. Blood Will Out

3. Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

4. City of Heavenly Fire

5. Flash Boys

6. The Invention of Wings

7. All the Light We Cannot See

8. Words of Radiance

9. Yes Please

10. Capital in the Twenty First Century

Trending People

not including deaths

1. Jennifer Lawrence

2. Kim Kardashian

3. Tracy Morgan

4. Ray Rice

5. Tony Stewart

6. Iggy Azalea

7. Donald Sterling

8. Adrian Peterson

9. Renée Zellweger

10. Jared Leto

Trending Deaths

1. Robin Williams

2. Joan Rivers

3. Philip Seymour Hoffman

4. Maya Angelou

5. Jan Hooks

6. Harold Ramis

7. Shirley Temple

8. Lauren Bacall

9. Mickey Rooney

10. James Avery