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). ❧
August 26, 2018 at 09:50AM