Computational Social Science
We live life in the network. We check our e-mails regularly, make mobile phone calls from almost any location, swipe transit cards to use public transportation, and make purchases with credit cards. Our movements in public places may be captured by video cameras, and our medical records stored as digital files. We may post blog entries accessible to anyone, or maintain friendships through online social networks. Each of these transactions leaves digital traces that can be compiled into comprehensive pictures of both individual and group behavior, with the potential to transform our understanding of our lives, organizations, and societies.
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.