sociology: don’t screw this up, but we need to seriously hook up with computer science
Every once in a while, you get a free lunch. About a year and a half ago, sociology got a small free lunch. It was announced that the MCAT would now include sociology material. Awesome.
But there is a seriously huge free lunch coming up – the rise of “big data.” Ignore the nay sayers. Ignore the hand wringers who worry if Facebook is hurting our feelings. Look at the big picture. Silicon Valley has created a new social world that requires analysis. And not just the generic stuff you get from your local management consultant. They need analysis from people who understand human behavior and can build arguments. They don’t want data mining. They want theory and real research designs.
Consider this tweet from Elise Hu, a Washington Reporter, who quoted Joi Ito, director of the MIT media lab:
In other words, the world of computer science has stumbled into social science. As usual, many think that social science is garbage, but that is slowly changing. Many are being hired at Google and Facebook. Others are striking out on their own. Many within the social sciences are using computer science.
The big message? This is a huge opportunity. It can change the discipline – but only if we constructively interact with the computer science discipline. My recommendations:
- Reach out to your colleagues in computer science. Run a seminar or write a grant.
- Reach out to computer science students. Create courses for them, invite them to be on projects.
- Treat “big data” was we would other data. It has strengths and weaknesses, but in being critical we can use it in the correct way and raise the level of discussion.
- Submit to computer science conference. I’ll be honest, computer scientists are not statisticians. There are a lot of fascinating areas of computer science where the stats are very simple or the ideas are basic. We can add a lot of value.
The benefit? CS will get an infusion of good ideas to work through. Sociology will come into contact with some really cool people, create a bigger audience, and get more resources. We can also get answers to some great questions.
So don’t screw it up, people. This doesn’t happen very often.