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computational social science

Check out this essay about the potential of computational social science in today’s issue of Science magazine.  A slew of notable social scientists including David Lazer, Nicholas Christakis, Gary King, Michael Macy, and my colleague Noshir Contractor make the case that more funding, attention, and serious energy should be put into the study of social life on computer networks (e.g., the Internet, mobile phones).

The capacity to collect and analyze massive amounts of data has transformed such fields as biology and physics. But the emergence of a data-driven “computational social science” has been much slower. Leading journals in economics, sociology, and political science show little evidence of this field. But computational social science is occurring—in Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo, and in government agencies such as the U.S. National Security Agency. Computational social science could become the exclusive domain of private companies and government agencies. Alternatively, there might emerge a privileged set of academic researchers presiding over private data from which they produce papers that cannot be critiqued or replicated. Neither scenario will serve the long-term public interest of accumulating, verifying, and disseminating knowledge.

Social science research tends to lag real world phenomena but the lack of research emphasis on Internet phenomena (e.g., online activism, Web-based organizations) seems astounding given the amount of time that we, as academics alone, spend communicating and learning through or adding data to online networks. As Lazer et al. argue in this essay, some of this lack of attention can be attributed to funding issues and, correlated with that, inadequate social science training in computer programming.

By the way, David Lazer has a very cool blog about complexity theory and social networks. Definitely worth adding to your RSS feed.

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Written by brayden king

February 6, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, networks

7 Responses

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  1. Very impressive collection of scholars—great find!

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    Drew Conway

    February 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  2. Good links. Funny moment: I totally understand how this happened. When I was in grad school, I was discouraged from this sort of work by some prominent people. Also, we gravitate toward published data, which is not what is being used by google and others.

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    Fabio Rojas

    February 6, 2009 at 4:20 pm

  3. […] computational social science « orgtheory.net. Posted by Noshir Contractor / Filed under:Networks and Networks Research and Technology and Technology Research […]

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  4. Social context is everything and that’s what we study, so I will come forward to say that I don’t get it. If you want to gather data, then gather.

    First, I do not agree with the default assumption that everything “we” (who?) do is worthy of federal (or private) funding. If an idea is worthwhile, then it is marketable. If it is not marketable, then it is not mature. If you want to do this, investing your own resources, and then gather whatever profit you can from publishing and being an expert, then that is self-validating for an academic professional.

    Second, I faiil to hear the warning klaxon in the phrase that if “we” (who?) don’t “do something” (what?) then this important property will be owned by the government and private business. That’s a pretty big crowd to claim exclusivity. How is “academics” not one or the other — are many not in tax-funded institutions, ergo government?

    Third, I did a JSTOR search for Titles containing INTERNET or ONLINE only in SOCIOLOGY and got 67 hits. As a body, they seem to envelope the stadium of study. Perhaps you see obvious oversights, but those would be the areas where YOU should be working. Myself, I was impressed with the fact that the first article actually came from putting the internet to use two years before the next citations that studied the internet.
    1. What Happened in Cairo? A View from the Internet Nathan Keyfitz Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Winter, 1995), pp. 81-90

    3. Review: The Road to Utopia and Dystopia on the Information Highway Barry Wellman Reviewed work(s):
    City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn by William J. Mitchell
    The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier by Harold Rheingold
    War of the Worlds: Cyberspace and the High-Tech Assault on Reality by Mark Slouka
    Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway by Clifford Stoll
    The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age by Allucquere Rosanne Stone
    Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet by Sherry Turkle
    Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Jul., 1997), pp. 445-449

    Fourth, we could fall all over ourselves claiming earliest use of the internet… Bitnet, Usenet… Fidonet… I got my first message across two school computers — my friend at Lansing Community College found me online at Michigan State University — Thanksgiving Weekend 1977. So, if I have not published anything sociological (and I have not) then the fault is mine, not the lack of federal funding.

    Fifth, if you search MAROTTA HACKING you will find me footnoted in an article, a book, and a presentation by Paul Taylor about the sociology of hacking (among other citations). Again, for the lack of anything substantive, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not with my stars, or with the lack of federal funding.

    Sixth, I am sorry not to find the citation, but when I was active on THE WELL back in the 1990s, two researchers went to a large private company and got work chartiing the true lines of communication in the company by tallying the To: and From: fields in corporate emails. So, it seems like this is a known opportunity, at least to some people.

    Finally, my impatience with this is s reflection of a day reading works by and about Herbert Spencer: we’ve been over this ground 100 times in 100 years. It’s called “society” and its what people do… and what other people study them doing…

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    Michael E. Marotta

    February 10, 2009 at 3:17 am

  5. […] a comment » As discussed here before, computational research has incredible potential for social scientists interested in […]

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  6. […] individuation, sociability and autonomy, Noshir Contractor‘s very brief mention in his talk of computational social-science  (the study of social life on computer networks) and his raising the problem of  technology  producers and the curated experience of the user , […]

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  7. 2011 JITP Conference: The Future Of Computational Social Science

    CALL FOR PAPERS
    May 16 & 17, 2011 at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA
    The 3rd annual, two-day Journal of Information Technology & Politics (JITP) thematic conference will be in Seattle, Washington, coordinated by the Department of Political Science and the Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPPP) at the University of Washington.
    KEYNOTE SPEAKER
    Jaime Teevan is a researcher in the Context, Learning, and User Experience for Search (CLUES) Group at Microsoft Research. Her work explores how our digital past can help shape our future information interactions. Jaime was named a Technology Review (TR35) 2009 Young Innovator for her research on personalized search. She has published more than 50 technical papers, including several best papers, and received a Ph.D. and S.M. from MIT, and a B.S. in Computer Science from Yale University.
    APPROACH
    Computational social science is an emergent field and source of new theoretical and methodological innovation for social science more broadly. Multidisciplinary teams of social and computer scientists are increasingly common in the lab and at workshops where cross-fertilization occurs in the areas of theory, data, methods, and tools. Peer-reviewed interdisciplinary work is becoming more common as the computational tools and techniques of computer science are being used by social scientists. Previously, large-scale computational processing was the purview of expensive, university-centric computing labs. Now, with the democratization of technology, universities and for-profit firms increasingly provide large amounts of inexpensive computing power to researchers and citizens alike.
    It is the potential of these new computational technologies and related Web-based platforms for research, politics, and governance that led to the creation of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics. Previous special issues on “Text Annotation for Political Science” 5(1), “Politics: Web 2.0″ 6(3/4), “YouTube and the 2008 Election Cycle in the United States” 7(2/3), and “The Politics of Open Source” (in production) have focused the attention of researchers on the expansive new landscape of digital democracy as well as the architecture and tools that underpin it.
    In their 2009 Science article, David Lazer and colleagues highlighted some of the future challenges for scholars working in this area. “Computational social science could become the exclusive domain of private companies and government agencies. Alternatively, there might emerge a privileged set of academic researchers presiding over private data from which they produce papers that cannot be critiqued or replicated. Neither scenario will serve the long-term public interest of accumulating, verifying, and disseminating knowledge.” Luckily, the phenomenon of computational social science is distributed so widely and found in such variety that these scenarios are unlikely. The trends towards openness and data and tool sharing are notable breakthroughs in a sphere where proprietary approaches dominate. Data, method, and tool transparency are increasingly watchwords for governments and researchers.
    With this background in mind, we invite a wide range of paper submissions on the future of computational social science. Submissions may include, but are not limited to:
    * Applications of information theory to social science research
    * Methodologies and tools for studying users and information on social media services
    * Projects featuring novel uses of computer assisted qualitative data analysis software
    * Large-scale empirical analysis and modeling
    * Web technologies and data mining
    * Interdisciplinary methodologies in collaborative research
    * Pedagogical issues in computational social science
    * Computer simulations in political science education and training 
    * Concepts from social sciences enhanced by computation, such as social network analysis
    * Innovation in socio-technical network and infrastructure analysis

    PAPER SUBMISSIONS

    Authors are invited to prepare and submit to JITP a research paper, policy viewpoint, workbench note, or teaching innovation manuscript by January 15, 2011. Proposals for full panel presentations will also be accepted. Please contact the conference manager to discuss panels. Papers accepted for publication will be invited to revise and resubmit their articles for publication in a special issue, or double issue, of JITP.
    Authors should “establish membership” at the JITP website, http://www.jitp.net, to submit a paper. Follow the instructions for regular article submissions, being sure to indicate that the paper is for JITP2011 in the comments section.
    Papers will be put through an expedited, blind peer review process by the Program Committee, and authors will be notified about a decision by March 1, 2011. A small number of papers will be accepted for presentation at the conference. Other paper authors will be invited to present a poster during an evening reception.

    BEST PAPER AND POSTER CASH PRIZES
    The author (or authors) of the best research paper will receive a cash prize. The creator (or creators) of the best poster/research presentation will also receive a cash prize.

    PROGRAM COMMITTEE
    Gil ad Ariely, Lauder School of Government Diplomacy and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya
    Paul M. Baker, Georgia Institute of Technology
    David M. Berry, Swansea University, UK.
    Chris Bronk, Rice University
    Jana Diesner, Carnegie Mellon University
    Muzammil M. Hussain, University of Washington
    Daniel Katz, Fellow, University of Michigan, Center for the Study of Complex Systems
    Jacob Groshek, Iowa State University
    Andrea Kavanaugh, Virginia Tech
    Georgios Lappas, Technological Educational Institution of Western Macedonia, Greece
    Azi Lev-On, Ariel University Center
    Ignacio J. Martinez-Moyano, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago
    Bruce Neubauer, Albany State University
    Andre Oboler, Monash University, Australia
    Justin Reedy, University of Washington
    Joseph W. Roberts, Roger Williams University
    Scott Robertson, University of Hawaii
    Derek Ruths, McGill University
    Chirag Shah, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
    Stuart Shulman, University of Massachusetts Amherst, co-chair
    Anas Tawileh, Cardiff University, UK
    John Wilkerson, University of Washington, co-chair

    SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
    The JITP Conferences are unique opportunities to engage across disciplines with scholars and practitioners interested in the intersection of technology and politics. Your organizations sponsorship will help offset the travel and honorarium costs for the daily keynote speaker. It will also provide prizes for best papers and best posters and fund general costs associated with the conference organization and venue rentals. More importantly, it will enable you to reach a diverse audience and create new national and international partnerships.
    Sponsorship is available at 4 levels:
    Level
    Sponsorship
    Benefits

    Platinum
    $10,000 +
    * Prominent display of your logo on all conference marketing materials including on-site handouts and conference website
    * Recognition in the JITP special issue
    * 2 complimentary conference registrations
    * Complimentary Display Space (equipment extra)
    * Recognition during Conference Opening
    * Acknowledged sponsorship of dinner reception
    * 2 tickets to invitation-only conference dinner
    * Sponsorship of one keynote lecture

    Gold
    $5,000 – $9,999
    * Prominent display of your logo on all conference marketing materials including on-site handouts and conference website
    * Recognition in the JITP special issue
    * 2 complimentary registrations
    * Complimentary Display Space (equipment extra)
    * Recognition during Conference Opening
    * Acknowledged sponsorship of a named coffee break

    Silver
    $2,500 – $4,999
    * Prominent display of your logo on all conference marketing materials including on-site handouts and conference website
    * Recognition in the JITP special issue
    * 1 complimentary registration

    Bronze
    $1,000 – $2,499
    * Prominent display of your logo on all conference marketing materials including on-site handouts and conference website
    * Recognition in the JITP special issue

    Please contact the conference coordinator, Michelle Sagan Gonçalves, for more information about sponsorship opportunities: mgoncalves@pubpol.umass.edu or (413) 577-2354.

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    Tyler

    December 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm


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