👓 Disconnected, fragmented, or united? a trans-disciplinary review of network science | Applied Network Science | César A. Hidalgo

Read Disconnected, fragmented, or united? a trans-disciplinary review of network science by César A. HidalgoCésar A. Hidalgo (Applied Network Science | SpringerLink)
During decades the study of networks has been divided between the efforts of social scientists and natural scientists, two groups of scholars who often do not see eye to eye. In this review I present an effort to mutually translate the work conducted by scholars from both of these academic fronts hoping to continue to unify what has become a diverging body of literature. I argue that social and natural scientists fail to see eye to eye because they have diverging academic goals. Social scientists focus on explaining how context specific social and economic mechanisms drive the structure of networks and on how networks shape social and economic outcomes. By contrast, natural scientists focus primarily on modeling network characteristics that are independent of context, since their focus is to identify universal characteristics of systems instead of context specific mechanisms. In the following pages I discuss the differences between both of these literatures by summarizing the parallel theories advanced to explain link formation and the applications used by scholars in each field to justify their approach to network science. I conclude by providing an outlook on how these literatures can be further unified.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Social scientists focus on explaining how context specific social and economic mechanisms drive the structure of networks and on how networks shape social and economic outcomes. By contrast, natural scientists focus primarily on modeling network characteristics that are independent of context, since their focus is to identify universal characteristics of systems instead of context specific mechanisms.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:18PM

Science and Complexity (Weaver 1948); explained the three eras that according to him defined the history of science. These were the era of simplicity, disorganized complexity, and organized complexity. In the eyes of Weaver what separated these three eras was the development of mathematical tools allowing scholars to describe systems of increasing complexity.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:19PM

Problems of disorganized complexity are problems that can be described using averages and distributions, and that do not depend on the identity of the elements involved in a system, or their precise patterns of interactions. A classic example of a problem of disorganized complexity is the statistical mechanics of Ludwig Boltzmann, James-Clerk Maxwell, and Willard Gibbs, which focuses on the properties of gases.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:20PM

Soon after Weaver’s paper, biologists like Francois Jacob (Jacob and Monod 1961), (Jacob et al. 1963) and Stuart Kaufmann (Kauffman 1969), developed the idea of regulatory networks. Mathematicians like Paul Erdos and Alfred Renyi, advanced graph theory (Erdős and Rényi 1960) while Benoit Mandelbrot worked on Fractals (Mandelbrot and Van Ness 1968), (Mandelbrot 1982). Economists like Thomas Schelling (Schelling 1960) and Wasily Leontief (Leontief 1936), (Leontief 1936), respectively explored self-organization and input-output networks. Sociologists, like Harrison White (Lorrain and White 1971) and Mark Granovetter (Granovetter 1985), explored social networks, while psychologists like Stanley Milgram (Travers and Milgram 1969) explored the now famous small world problem.   

Some excellent references
August 25, 2018 at 10:24PM

First, I will focus in these larger groups because reviews that transcend the boundary between the social and natural sciences are rare, but I believe them to be valuable. One such review is Borgatti et al. (2009), which compares the network science of natural and social sciences arriving at a similar conclusion to the one I arrived.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:27PM

Links are the essence of networks. So I will start this review by comparing the mechanisms used by natural and social scientists to explain link formation.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:32PM

When connecting the people that acted in the same movie, natural scientists do not differentiate between people in leading or supporting roles.  

But they should because it’s not often the case that these are relevant unless they are represented by the same agent or agency.
August 25, 2018 at 10:51PM

For instance, in the study of mobile phone networks, the frequency and length of interactions has often been used as measures of link weight (Onnela et al. 2007), (Hidalgo and Rodriguez-Sickert 1008), (Miritello et al. 2011).  

And they probably shouldn’t because typically different levels of people are making these decisions. Studio brass and producers typically have more to say about the lead roles and don’t care as much about the smaller ones which are overseen by casting directors or sometimes the producers. The only person who has oversight of all of them is the director, and even then they may quit caring at some point.
August 25, 2018 at 10:52PM

Social scientists explain link formation through two families of mechanisms; one that finds it roots in sociology and the other one in economics. The sociological approach assumes that link formation is connected to the characteristics of individuals and their context. Chief examples of the sociological approach include what I will call the big three sociological link-formation hypotheses. These are: shared social foci, triadic closure, and homophily.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:55PM

The social foci hypothesis predicts that links are more likely to form among individuals who, for example, are classmates, co-workers, or go to the same gym (they share a social foci). The triadic closure hypothesis predicts that links are more likely to form among individuals that share “friends” or acquaintances. Finally, the homophily hypothesis predicts that links are more likely to form among individuals who share social characteristics, such as tastes, cultural background, or physical appearance (Lazarsfeld and Merton 1954), (McPherson et al. 2001).  

definitions of social foci, triadic closure, and homophily within network science.
August 26, 2018 at 11:39AM

Yet, strategic games look for equilibrium in the formation and dissolution of ties in the context of the game theory advanced first by (Von Neumann et al. 2007), and later by (Nash 1950).  

August 25, 2018 at 10:58PM

Preferential attachment is the idea that connectivity begets connectivity.  

August 25, 2018 at 10:59PM

Preferential attachment is an idea advanced originally by the statisticians John Willis and Udny Yule in (Willis and Yule 1922), but has been rediscovered numerous times during the twentieth century.  

August 25, 2018 at 11:00PM

Rediscoveries of this idea in the twentieth century include the work of (Simon 1955) (who did cite Yule), (Merton 1968), (Price 1976) (who studied citation networks), and (Barabási and Albert 1999), who published the modern reference for this model, which is now widely known as the Barabasi-Albert model.  

August 25, 2018 at 11:01PM

preferential attachment. In the eyes of the social sciences, however, understanding which of all of these hypotheses drives the formation of the network is what one needs to explore.  

For example what drives attachment of political candidates?
August 26, 2018 at 08:15AM

Finally it is worth noting that trust, through the theory of social capital, has been connected with long-term economic growth—even though these results are based on regressions using extremely sparse datasets.  

And this is an example of how Trump is hurting the economy.
August 26, 2018 at 08:33AM

Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that social capital and social institutions are significant predictors of economic growth, after controlling for the effects of human capital and initial levels of income (Knack and Keefer 1997), (Knack 2002).4 So trust is a relevant dimension of social interactions that has been connected to individual dyads, network formation, labor markets, and even economic growth.  

August 26, 2018 at 08:35AM

Social scientist, on the other hand, have focused on what ties are more likely to bring in new information, which are primarily weak ties (Granovetter 1973), and on why weak ties bring new information (because they bridge structural holes (Burt 2001), (Burt 2005)).  

August 26, 2018 at 09:45AM

heterogeneous networks have been found to be effective promoters of the evolution of cooperation, since there are advantages to being a cooperator when you are a hub, and hubs tend to stabilize networks in equilibriums where levels of cooperation are high (Ohtsuki et al. 2006), (Pacheco et al. 2006), (Lieberman et al. 2005), (Santos and Pacheco 2005).  

August 26, 2018 at 09:49AM

These results, however, have also been challenged by human experiments finding no such effect (Gracia-Lázaro et al. 2012). The study of cooperation in networks has also been performed in dynamic settings, where individuals are allowed to cut ties (Wang et al. 2012), promoting cooperation, and are faced with different levels of knowledge about the reputation of peers in their network (Gallo and Yan 2015). Moreover, cooperating behavior has seen to spread when people change the networks where they participate in (Fowler and Christakis 2010).  

Open questions
August 26, 2018 at 09:50AM

References

1.
Hidalgo CA. Disconnected, fragmented, or united? a trans-disciplinary review of network science. ANS. 2016;1(1). doi:10.1007/s41109-016-0010-3
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🔖 Complexity: An interdisciplinary forum for complexity research | PLOS

Bookmarked Complexity: An interdisciplinary forum for complexity research by PLOS (channels.plos.org)

Most of today’s global challenges, from online misinformation spreading to Ebola outbreaks, involve such a vast number of interacting players that reductionism delivers little insight. Systems are often non-linear, exhibiting complexity in temporal and spatial domains over large scales, which is a challenge to predictability and comprehension. Strategies must be found to look at the problem as a whole, in all its complexity. Representing the associated data as a complex network, in which nodes and connections between them form complicated patterns, is one such strategy. Network science provides novel tools for analyzing, visualizing and modeling this data thanks to the cross-fertilization of fields as diverse as statistical physics, algebraic topology and machine learning, among the others.

This Channel brings together all aspects of complexity research and includes interdisciplinary topics from network theory to applications in neuroscience and the social sciences.

hat tip:

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🎧 The Problem with the Solution | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to The Problem with the Solution from Invisibilia | NPR.org
We are naturally drawn to finding solutions. But are there ever problems we shouldn't try to solve? Lulu Miller visits a town in Belgium with a completely different approach to dealing with mental illness. Families in the town board people – strangers - with severe mental illnesses in their homes, sometimes for decades. And it works, because they are not looking to cure them.

A stunning idea, and one that could do well not only for the mentally ill among our friends and families, but some interesting psychology for parenting and expectations of parents for their children.

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🎧 The Personality Myth | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to The Personality Myth from Invisibilia | NPR.org
We like to think of our own personalities - and those of our spouses, children and friends - as predictable and constant over time. But what if they aren't? In this episode, Alix Spiegel visits a prison to explore whether there is such a thing as a stable personality. And Lulu Miller asks whether scientists can point to a single thing about a person that doesn't change over time. The answer might surprise you.

Not explicitly said, but this episode points out the heavy nurture side of the nature/nurture question in relation to the stability of one’s personality over time. In some sense, you are who those around you expect you to be. This also makes me think I ought to go back to working for a larger company with more people around me.

Yet another great episode, though to me not as intriguing as some of their other prior efforts. Still overall, a stellar podcast series.

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🎧 The New Norm | Invisibilia

Listened to The New Norm from Invisibilia | NPR.org
You probably don't even notice them, but social norms determine so much of your behavior - how you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel. These norms are so entrenched we never imagine they can shift. But Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to do just that: teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.

This is a fantastic episode that fits right into the heart of their running theme. The psychology of the smile isn’t something one thinks about often, but it has such a profound effect on our daily lives.

Invisibilia logo

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🎧 Our Computers, Ourselves | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to Our Computers, Ourselves from Invisibilia | NPR.org
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.

Possibly not as interesting to me because I’ve watched this space more closely over the past 20 years or so. Still it’s an interesting episode asking some great questions.

I can’t believe I flew through season one so quickly.

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🎧 The Power Of Categories | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to The Power Of Categories from Invisibilia | NPR.org
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.

The transgender/sexual dysphoria story here is exceedingly interesting because it could potentially have some clues to how those pieces of biology work and what shifts things in one direction or another. How is that spectrum created/defined? A few dozen individuals like that could help provide an answer.

The story about the Indian retirement community in Florida is interesting, but it also raises the (unasked, in the episode at least) question of the detriment it can do to a group of people to be lead by some the oldest members of their community. The Latin words senīlis ‎(“of or pertaining to old age”) and senex ‎(“old”) are the roots of words like senate, senescence, senility, senior, and seniority, and though it’s nice to take care of our elders, the younger generations should take a hard look at the unintended consequences which may stem from this.

In some sense I’m also reminded about Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and why progress in science (and yes, society) is held back by the older generations who are still holding onto outdated models. Though simultaneously, they do provide some useful “brakes” on both velocity of change as well as potential ill effects which could be damaging in short timeframes.

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🎧 Entanglement | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to Entanglement from Invisibilia | NPR.org
In Entanglement, you'll meet a woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia who can physically feel what she sees others feeling. And an exploration of the ways in which all of us are connected — more literally than you might realize. The hour will start with physics and end with a conversation with comedian Maria Bamford and her mother. They discuss what it's like to be entangled through impersonation.

I can think of a few specific quirks I’ve got that touch tangentially on mirror synethesia. This story and some of the research behind it is truly fascinating. Particularly interesting are the ideas of the contagion of emotion. It would be interesting to take some complexity and network theory and add some mathematical models to see how this might look. In particular the recent political protests in the U.S. might make great models. This also makes me wonder where Donald Trump sits on this emotional empathy spectrum, if at all.

One of the more interesting take-aways: the thoughts and emotions of those around you can affect you far more than you imagine.

Four episodes in and this podcast is still impossibly awesome. I don’t know if I’ve had so many thought changing ideas since I read David Christian’s book Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History[1] The sad problem is that I’m listening to them at a far faster pace than they could ever continue to produce them.

References

[1]
D. Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Univ of California Press, 2004.
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🔖 The New Minority by Justin Gest (OUP, 2016)

Bookmarked The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality (global.oup.com)
It wasn't so long ago that the white working class occupied the middle of British and American societies. But today members of the same demographic, feeling silenced and ignored by mainstream parties, have moved to the political margins.

Suggested reference in several Foreign Affairs articles recently.

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Calculating the Middle Ages?

Bookmarked Calculating the Middle Ages? The Project "Complexities and Networks in the Medieval Mediterranean and Near East" (COMMED) [1606.03433] (arxiv.org)
The project "Complexities and networks in the Medieval Mediterranean and Near East" (COMMED) at the Division for Byzantine Research of the Institute for Medieval Research (IMAFO) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences focuses on the adaptation and development of concepts and tools of network theory and complexity sciences for the analysis of societies, polities and regions in the medieval world in a comparative perspective. Key elements of its methodological and technological toolkit are applied, for instance, in the new project "Mapping medieval conflicts: a digital approach towards political dynamics in the pre-modern period" (MEDCON), which analyses political networks and conflict among power elites across medieval Europe with five case studies from the 12th to 15th century. For one of these case studies on 14th century Byzantium, the explanatory value of this approach is presented in greater detail. The presented results are integrated in a wider comparison of five late medieval polities across Afro-Eurasia (Byzantium, China, England, Hungary and Mamluk Egypt) against the background of the {guillemotright}Late Medieval Crisis{guillemotleft} and its political and environmental turmoil. Finally, further perspectives of COMMED are outlined.

Network and Complexity Theory Applied to History

This interesting paper (summary below) appears to apply network and complexity science to history and is sure to be of interest to those working at the intersection of some of these types of interdisciplinary studies. In particular, I’d be curious to see more coming out of this type of area to support theses written by scholars like Francis Fukuyama in the development of societal structures. Those interested in the emerging area of Big History are sure to enjoy this type of treatment. I’m also curious how researchers in economics (like Cesar Hidalgo) might make use of available(?) historical data in such related analyses. I’m curious if Dave Harris might consider such an analysis in his ancient Near East work?

Those interested in a synopsis of the paper might find some benefit from an overview from MIT Technology Review: How the New Science of Computational History Is Changing the Study of the Past.

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