Last week, I attended the Michigan Bio-Industry Growth Summit. The event bag included reports from sponsoring organizations MichBio, Business Leaders for Michigan, and the University Research Corridor. Attendees also received a report from the national Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). In these reports, I noticed some variation in names for the life science or biotech industry.
Life science industry leaders use different names
- MichBio titled its report the Michigan Bio-Industry Roadmap for Success (Roadmap available from MichBio site).
- BIO named its report Bioscience Economic Development in the States: Legislation and Job Creation Best Practices (download the PDF from BIO).
- In its New Michigan: The 2015 Report on Michigan’s Progress in Leveraging Six Opportunities, Business Leaders for Michigan called “Life Sciences” one of the six opportunities for the state (download the report from Business Leaders for Michigan).
- In its 9th Annual Economic Impact Report (2016), the University Research Corridor (URC) reported on “Life Sciences” in Michigan (read the report at the URC site).
I imagine that in each report’s editorial meeting, a fair bit of time was spent selecting each noun and verb for the title and section headings. Perhaps MichBio went with Bio-Industry to be more inclusive of activities that broaden the definition of biotech, or to differentiate commercial activities from primary research, I’m not sure. They are the domain experts, so I trust their choice was for a good reason.
I asked Google which name was “better”
Yet, for Twitter and for my first post about the event, I opted for biotech. For Twitter, “biotech” was shorter than “bio-industry”, and short and sweet is better in that medium.
When I got back to the office, I did more research. Google Trends gave me the popularity of these terms in searches. Google Trends aggregates all searches, and therefore emphasizes what the general public calls the industry.
Worldwide and regional life science searches
Since I published this post, the embeds no longer work well, so here’s a link to the Google Trends graphs of
As you can see in the graphs, the terms “biotech” and “biotechnology” are more popular worldwide than life science, bio-industry, or biosciences. When we look only in the United States, life science searches are similarly popular to those for biotechnology, but biotech is consistently higher (except for September in each year when life sciences jumps up to or above biotech’s level). The Michigan data is noisier but appears similar to the US as a whole. In all regions, bio-industry and bioscience lag the other terms. If I keep playing with the terms, plurals matter for life science and biosciences, so I chose the most popular variant for these graphs – life science and biosciences.
Closing Thoughts – specific vs. popular phrases
The cross-industry groups, Business Leaders for Michigan and the University Research Corridor, used the more general and more popular term for the industry (life sciences) than did either of the associations with “bio” in their name. Over time, the bio-groups may teach the general population the new terms, search popularity is volatile. Yet, more commonly-used terms (e.g. biotech or life science) should go farther in the near term. Sometimes experts know and use too many words for our own good.
By using “bio-industry”, MichBio might be limiting the reach of its Roadmap. MichBio’s Roadmap is a call-to-action to its members, it is speaking to other experts. Fine distinctions matter to experts, but they might muddy the communication to regular folks. The association and the Roadmap also needs to speak to non-experts—such as legislators and educators. If I were at that editorial meeting, I would have brought search data like this to the table and argued for the more commonly-used terms in the report title.
When I tweeted about the event, I picked #biotech, but within Michigan, life science would have been just as popular and I chose that as the focus keyword for this post.