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Singh Program in Market and Social Systems Engineering

Inaugural Lecture and Dedication

“Using the Web to Do Social Science”
Presented by Duncan Watts, Principal Research Scientist, Yahoo! Research

Thursday, October 15, 2009
Lecture 5:00 p.m., Ceremony and Reception 6:00 p.m.
Wu and Chen Auditorium, Levine Hall
(Overflow space available in Berger Auditorium, Skirkanich Hall)

Lecture Summary:

Duncan WattsSocial science is often concerned with the emergence of collective behavior out of the interactions of large numbers of individuals, but in this regard it has long suffered from a severe measurement problem— namely that interactions between people are hard to observe, especially at scale, over time, and at the same time as observing behavior. In this talk, I will argue that the technological revolution of the Internet is beginning to lift this constraint. To illustrate, I will describe four examples of Internet-based research to perform (a) network surveys using Facebook; (b) observational network analysis using email server logs; (c) psychological experiments using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; and (d) “macro-sociological” experiments using a custom-built website. Although Internet-based research still faces serious methodological and procedural obstacles, I propose that the ability to study truly “social” dynamics at individual-level resolution will have dramatic consequences for social science.

Additional Information:

Duncan Watts is a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research where he directs the Human Social
Dynamics group. He is also an adjunct senior research fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic
Research and Policy at Columbia University, an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute,
and an associate member of Nuffield College, Oxford. His research interests include the structure and
evolution of social networks, the origins and dynamics of social influence, and the nature of distributed
“social” search. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age and Small Worlds:
The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness
. He holds a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of New South Wales, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University.

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