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Ideology and Social Structure on Twitter

Last week I was at the VOXPOL conference @ King’s College London. Vast majority of researchers were talking about terrorists and extremists, so I was a bit out of my field; though interestingly they were also all talking about big data and computational social science, which seems to be a staple in every social science conference these days. Ongoing debate about whether we need more teams of social scientists + computer scientists, or whether social scientists need to up their computing skills. I think both approaches are fine in the short term but in the long run social scientists need to skill up, as computer scientists won’t always be interested in our questions (we will want to use automatic content analysis in social science long after it becomes a boring topic in computer science, in the same way as we are still using the t test).


I gave a presentation on the relationship between ideology and social structure on twitter, arguing that political groups at the ideological extremes are more likely to exhibit closed and centralising communication patterns than those in the middle, which is an early result from a join project between myself, Diego Garzia and Alex Trechsel. The main point of the presentation was to discuss different ways of measuring closure and centralisation, which I’m still not sure about. Luckily most of our measures point in a similar direction, so I’m pretty sure there’s an interesting result in there somewhere.

Why do MOOC users meet face to face?

Last week Monica Bulger, Cristobal Cobo and I presented a paper at the ICA’s pre-conference on higher education innovation. Monica and Cris are the experts in this area and did most of the heavy lifting, but I was pleased to take part, mainly out of a professional curiosity about how Massively Open Online Courses may or may not be changing the face of higher education. In the paper we looked in particular at patterns of offline meetups amongst the users of these online courses, using data from the Meetup API (my role being to facilitate data gathering and manipulation). Meetup have an open and generous stance to API data, and after a bit of coding I was able to extract information on several thousand face to face meetings of students taking part in Coursera courses in over 100 countries around the world.

Meetup - Map

More clicks on Wordle produced a word cloud of the titles of each meetup, which I can’t resist because it looks so nice even if it probably isn’t a good way of doing science.Word Cloud - Titles

What does it all mean? Beyond showing the impressive worldwide reach of Coursera, and the fact that people like face to face interaction when they are learning, we are still deciding to be honest with you. Suggestions welcome.

Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities for Political Science

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference on ‘Big Data’ at the Oxford Internet Institute. Several really interesting presentations including from a group of computer scientists at Bristol University and Duncan Watts of Microsoft Research. I learnt a lot about recent advances in text-mining especially. I presented some research on political speech at the UK’s House of Commons, and was awarded the prize for best paper which was flattering considering the quality of other work on show.

I left more convinced than ever that ‘big data’ is going to bring about major changes in the discipline of political science, though there’s plenty of work left to do in establishing the validity of automatic coding and analysis.

By |2012-10-10T07:37:27+01:00October 10th, 2012|Conferences|0 Comments

European Internal Security Conference

Just presented a paper on the parliamentary scrutiny of counter terror legislation at a conference on European Internal Security here at the EUI. It was a very impressive event especially in terms of the range of participants. Several interesting and thoughtful comments on the paper.

By |2012-04-23T14:10:17+01:00April 23rd, 2012|Conferences|0 Comments