Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a Harvard doctoral candidate in economics, recently wrote a paper which uses data from Google searches as a gauge of racial attitudes in the United States.

Using Google Insights, Stephens-Davidowitz was able to determine which states had the most people searching for racially charged terms. After comparing that data with election results, he concluded that racial prejudices had in fact hurt Obama in 2008, and could possibly hinder him even more in 2012, conclusions that Stephens-Davidowitz discussed in a recent New York Times article.

For Stephens-Davidowitz, data from Google searches are an enormously powerful tool for research.

"You're aggregating information from everybody's second-to-second thoughts," Stephens-Davidowitz said. "Whatever you're thinking at the moment, you tend to put on Google."

Though he stressed that the paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, he said that this type of research will only become more useful in the future.

"As even more people use internet around the world, the amount of data is going to be enormous," Stephens-Davidowitz said.