Science · Social/Politics · Technology

A new breed of researcher is turning to computation to understand society — and then change it.

Over the past decade, researchers have used such techniques to pick apart topics that social scientists have chased for more than a century: from the psychological underpinnings of human morality, to the influence of misinformation, to the factors that make some artists more successful than others. One study uncovered widespread racism in algorithms that inform health-care decisions; another used mobile-phone data to map impoverished regions in Rwanda

“The biggest achievement is a shift in thinking about digital behavioural data as an interesting and useful source”, says Markus Strohmaier, a computational social scientist at the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne, Germany.

Not everyone has embraced that shift. Some social scientists are concerned that the computer scientists flooding into the field with ambitions as big as their data sets are not sufficiently familiar with previous research. Another complaint is that some computational researchers look only at patterns and do not consider the causes, or that they draw weighty conclusions from incomplete and messy data — often gained from social-media platforms and other sources that are lacking in data hygiene.

More Via Nature

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