working with computer scientists
In North Carolina, this is called the “Vaisey Cart.“
I’ve recently begun to work with a crew of computer scientists at Indiana when I was recruited to help with a social media project. It’s been a highly informative experience that has reinforced my belief that sociologists and computer scientists should team up. Some observations:
- CS and sociology are complimentary. We care about theory. They care about tools and application. Natural fit.
- In contrast, sociology and other social sciences are competing over the same theory space.
- CS people have a deep bucket of tools for solving all kinds of problems that commonly occur in cultural sociology, network analysis, and simulation studies.
- CS people believe in the timely solution of problems and workflow. Rather than write over a period of years, they believe in “yes, we can do this next week.”
- Since their discipline runs on conferences, the work is fast and it is expected that it will be done soon.
- Another benefit of the peer reviewed conference system is that work is published “for real” quickly and there is much less emphasis on a few elite publication outlets. Little “development.” Either it works or it doesn’t.
- Quantitative sociologists are really good at applied stats and can help most CS teams articulate data analysis plans and execute them, assuming that the sociologist knows R.
- Perhaps most importantly, CS researchers may be confident in their abilities, but less likely to think that they know it all and have no need for help from others. CS is simply too messy a field, which is similar to sociology.
- Finally: cash. Unlike the arts and sciences, there is no sense that we are broke. While you still have to work extra hard to get money, it isn’t a lost cause like sociology is where the NSF hands out a handful of grants. There is money out there for entrepreneurial scholars.
Of course, there are downsides. CS people think you are crazy for working on a 60 page article that takes 5 years to get published. Also, some folks in data science and CS are more concerned about tools and nice visuals at the expense of theory and understanding. As a corollary, it is often the case that some CS folks may not appreciate sampling, bias, non-response, and other issues that normally inform sociological research design. But still, my experience has been excellent, the results exciting, and I think more sociologists should turn to computer science as an interdisciplinary research partner.