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SOCNET  February 2005

SOCNET February 2005

Subject:

Re: Physics and Sociology

From:

Chris McCarty <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Chris McCarty <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 10 Feb 2005 18:34:50 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (147 lines)

*****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

I will be interested to see over the next few years in which journals these physicists publish this research and which conferences they attend.  There is no doubt that they are making a contribution.  However there is at least one example of a physicist who is now in a Sociology department and making a career as a sociologist.  Even if you are a physicist, if you end up tenured in a sociology department I would think you would check those juornals before publishing.

I'm also convinced that the physicists will eventually come to the conclusion that their research programs, as interesting as they are, can be informed by social science data collection.  If you aren't careful you may wake up one day and find that you are more a sociologist than a physicist, which is OK with me.  I'm fairly certain I don't have the math skills to be a physicist.

Chris

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Social Networks Discussion Forum on behalf of Ajay Mehra
        Sent: Thu 2/10/2005 5:22 PM
        To: [log in to unmask]
        Cc:
        Subject: Re: Physics and Sociology



        *****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

        I think Professor Scott may be overstating the case. Both Watts and Barabasi
        have acknowledged the "debt" they owe to earlier work on networks, including
        the work done by sociologists. That they may have done so somewhat belatedly
        is a different matter.

        All this agonizing over who came up first with what, of course, is nothing
        new in the sciences. I am persuaded by Whitehead's observation: "But to come
        very near to a true theory, and to grasp its precise application, are two
        very different things, as the history of science teaches us. Everything of
        importance has been said before by someone who did not discover it."
        Sociologists may have been aware of scale-free distributions, but it was the
        (recent crop of) physicists who saw the relevance of these distributions for
        understanding phenomena such as the WWW, and who have turned the study of
        these distributions into a fruitful research program.

        Ajay Mehra
        University of Cincinnati

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
        Behalf Of Bienenstock Elisa
        Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 4:28 PM
        To: [log in to unmask]
        Subject: Re: Physics and Sociology

        *****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

        Well said. Thank you.

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
        Behalf Of Scott, John
        Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 6:24 AM
        To: [log in to unmask]
        Subject: Physics and Sociology

        *****  To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org  *****

        In all the recent discussions about the relationship between physics and
        sociology in the study of social networks, the fundamental issue seems
        to have been lost sight of. The important issue is not whether the two
        disciplines can or should cooperate. That is essential and it happens
        frequently. Contributors to the discussion have pointed out many
        fruitful and important cases, and the history of sociology is full of
        many others. The big problem arises when academics from one discipline
        move into the area of another discipline without trying to discover what
        work has already been done by its practitioners. At best they reinvent
        the wheel. At worst they antagonise people with their intellectual
        arrogance.



        This is what has happened with much of the recent work on small worlds:
        physicists have argued that their methods and theories can illuminate
        social networks but have failed to realise that a whole community of
        sociological network researchers already exists and has done exactly the
        kind of work that they are pointing to. Their books claim to have made
        startling discoveries about the social world and advocate the
        development of new research programmes on these topics. Their reviewers
        take these claims at face value and so a reputation for intellectual
        novelty is built up.



        It is surely a basic failure of normal scholarly research procedures
        that these books can be written and published without the author
        undertaking any proper literature search. The author of one recent book
        expounding the novelty of the 'power law' does not seem to realise that
        sociological work over many years has documented the existence of this
        kind of distribution in many real social networks. None of this is
        cited. Its author does not seem to have discovered the existence of
        journals on social networks, nor does he seem to realise that INSNA
        exists and that the cover design of its newsletter shows a network with
        a power law structure. This same book is based around the author's
        research into internet search engines, but it doesn't seem as if he has
        ever typed the words 'social networks' into Google or any other search
        engine.



        If I were to come up with the idea that familiar theories from sociology
        could illuminate problems in physics, the first thing I would do would
        be a literature search to see if anybody, in physics or elsewhere, had
        already worked on the issue. Physicists who followed the same strategy
        when they wished to contribute something to social analysis, might find
        that they would be welcomed more warmly by their social science
        colleagues.



        ________________________________

        Professor John Scott
        Department of Sociology,
        University of Essex
        Colchester CO4 3SQ

        Telephone: 01206-872640
        Web site: <http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~scottj>





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        _____________________________________________________________________
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        network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send
        an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line
        UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.


_____________________________________________________________________
SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send
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