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Edit wars! Measuring and mapping society’s most controversial topics

Wikipedia is more than just an encyclopaedia; it is also a window into convergent and divergent social-spatial priorities, interests and preferences: aka Edit Wars. In his chapter (with Anselm Spoerri, Mark Graham, and János Kertész) The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis, the OII’s Taha Yasseri uses a quantitative measure to locate and analyse the similarities and differences between the most controversial topics identified in 10 language versions of Wikipedia, finding that a quarter relate to politics.

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The physics of social science: using big data for real-time predictive modelling

Use of socially generated “big data” on collective states of minds in human societies has become a new paradigm in the emerging field of computational social science, but bridging the gap between real-time monitoring and early prediction remains a challenge. Taha Yasseri discusses his paper Early Prediction of Movie Box Office Success based on Wikipedia Activity Big Data (with M.Mestyán and J.Kertész), which builds a predictive model for the financial success of movies based on the collective activity of online users, showing that a movie’s popularity can be predicted far ahead of its release date.

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Five recommendations for maximising the relevance of social science research for public policy-making in the big data era

In a previous post, OII Director Helen Margetts outlined ways in which the environment in which public policy is made has entered a period of dramatic change; one in which ‘big data’ presents both promises and threats to policy-makers. Here she discusses how social scientists can help policy-makers in this changed environment, ensuring that social science research remains relevant, and warns that social science concerns or questions may be increasingly ignored if ‘big data’ education and training is left completely in the hands of computer scientists.

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The promises and threats of big data for public policy-making

The environment in which public policy is made has entered a period of dramatic change; one in which ‘big data’ presents both promises and threats to policy-makers. Big data offers a chance for policy-making and implementation to be more citizen-focused, taking account of citizens’ needs, preferences and experience of public services. But it is also technologically challenging for government, and presents new moral and ethical dilemmas to policy makers. OII Director Helen Margetts discusses how policy-makers might respond to this changed environment.

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Can Twitter provide an early warning function for the next pandemic?

With factors such as air travel act as a catalyst in the spread of new and novel viruses, the need to improve global population monitoring and enhance surveillance of infectious diseases is more pressing than ever. Patty Kostkova (UCL) discusses how the real-time streams of user data generated on social networks like Twitter can be used for monitoring the health of large populations, providing a potential early warning function for pandemics, detecting flu spikes weeks before official surveillance systems. Watch Patty talk on this subject at the OII.

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Responsible research agendas for public policy in the era of big data

The availability of big datasets offers great potential to shape and influence policy outcomes, as well as the means by which policy-making is undertaken. But it remains unclear how government might make best use of this rich source of information, or with what practical and ethical implications. Victoria Nash (OII) discusses a recent OII workshop that explored how policy-makers, analysts and researchers should respond to the threats and promises offered by big data to public policy making and government services.

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Predicting elections on Twitter: a different way of thinking about the data

Recently, there has been a lot of interest in the potential of social media as a means to understand public opinion. Social media monitoring, which in theory can extract information from tweets and Facebook posts and quantify positive and negative public reactions to people, policies and events has an obvious utility for politicians seeking office. Nick Anstead (LSE) co-author with Mike Jensen (University of Canberra) of a paper “Psephological investigations: Tweets, votes, and unknown unknowns in the republican nomination process” published in Policy and Internet discusses how useful these techniques are for predicting election results, and how they might be reimagined in the future.

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Seeing like a machine: big data and the challenges of measuring Africa’s informal economies

The mobile phone has created new channels of information about African informal economies and workers. In an era where so much of the apparatus for measuring Africa’s economies has been weakened, this kind of data reaps enormous potential for governments and private companies. Dr Laura Mann (OII) discusses the implications of big (and open) data on the research environment — as Africa becomes ‘more usable’ and ‘more legible’, she asks: for whom, by whom, and for what purpose is this data being used?

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The scramble for Africa’s data

Africa is fast becoming a source of ‘big data’, however there are big holes in the governance of the technology. The OII’s Linnet Taylor asks what can incentivise African countries’ citizens and policymakers to address privacy in parallel with (rather than after) the collection of massive amounts of personal data, how to devise privacy framework models for groups with restricted access to technology, and how such a system can be participatory enough to be relevant to the needs of particular countries and populations.

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