Topic Modeling the Sarah Palin Emails

June 27, 2011

(This article was first published on Edwin Chen's Blog » r, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

tl;dr Browse through Sarah Palin’s emails, automagically organized by topic, here.

LDA-based Email Browser

Earlier this month, several thousand emails from Sarah Palin’s time as governor of Alaska were released. The emails weren’t organized in any fashion, though, so to make them easier to browse, I did some topic modeling (in particular, using latent Dirichlet allocation) to separate the documents into different groups.

You can play with the email browser here.


Here’s a sample of the topics learned by the model, as well as the top words for each topic. (Names, of course, are based on my own interpretation.)

  • Wildlife/BP Corrosion: game, fish, moose, wildlife, hunting, bears, polar, bear, subsistence, management, area, board, hunt, wolves, control, department, year, use, wolf, habitat, hunters, caribou, program, denby, fishing, …
  • Energy/Fuel/Oil/Mining: energy, fuel, costs, oil, alaskans, prices, cost, nome, now, high, being, home, public, power, mine, crisis, price, resource, need, community, fairbanks, rebate, use, mining, villages, …
  • Trig/Family/Inspiration: family, web, mail, god, son, from, congratulations, children, life, child, down, trig, baby, birth, love, you, syndrome, very, special, bless, old, husband, years, thank, best, …
  • Gas: gas, oil, pipeline, agia, project, natural, north, producers, companies, tax, company, energy, development, slope, production, resources, line, gasline, transcanada, said, billion, plan, administration, million, industry, …
  • Education/Waste: school, waste, education, students, schools, million, read, email, market, policy, student, year, high, news, states, program, first, report, business, management, bulletin, information, reports, 2008, quarter, …
  • Presidential Campaign/Elections: mail, web, from, thank, you, box, mccain, sarah, very, good, great, john, hope, president, sincerely, wasilla, work, keep, make, add, family, republican, support, doing, p.o, …

And here’s a sample email from the wildlife topic:

Wildlife Email


In a future post, I’ll perhaps describe in more depth what latent Dirichlet allocation is and do some analysis of the different topics. For example, looking at the percentage of emails in the Trig/Family/Inspiration topic across time, we see that there’s a spike in April 2008 — exactly and unsurprisingly the month in which Trig was born.


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