Friday, September 02, 2005

Physicists vs. Sociologists, oh my.

Apparently there's been a bit of bad blood over the fact that physicists are doing social network analysis. An account of some of the "hmph, why don't they cite us" is over at Crooked Timber.

It probably sounds like I'm not sympathetic, but actually I am. I had it bad in the cross-disciplinary early days of Internet research when I wrote my dissertation. It was hard to figure out who to read, what to cite, and where to follow-up. Hard, but not impossible, and so I am sympathetic. (But possibly the relatively powerless position of grad student made me more concerned about this process than tenured physics professors?)

Eszter at Crooked Timber has a nice reading list for social network studies. And here's the link to the infamous social network paper by physicists, on the Eurovision song contest -- always an interesting subject! Even more entertaining, from their abstract: "We investigate the complex relationships between countries in the Eurovision Song Contest, by recasting past voting data in terms of a dynamical network. Despite the British tendency to feel distant from Europe, our analysis shows that the U.K. is remarkably compatible, or ‘in tune’, with other European countries. Equally surprising is our finding that some other core countries, most notably France, are significantly ‘out of tune’ with the rest of Europe."

I'd guess the physicists are British.


steve said...

There is a tendancy for some physics types to apply certain tools and concepts in other areas, but this bothers me. I'm guilty about thinking in terms of mean free paths for interactions, but that is only a crutch for my own thinking rather than something deep.

All of that said, some physics types have made interesting tools and observations - Mark Newman comes to mind (UMich I think).

Lynn said...

Yes, I'm a fan of Mark Newman. You're right, he's done very good stuff.

Lynn said...

Oh, and also -- I do think cross-disciplinary borrowing is often very fruitful. It sometimes provides the lateral thinking that makes for real breakthroughs. But it's always nice to cite the originals, too.