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ECOLOGY AND SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS

by

S.M. McMahon et al (University of Tennessee Knoxville)

"Science", 2001, 293: 1604.

The authors discuss ecology and social network analysis. For the past 30
years, a subdiscipline of the social sciences known as "social
network analysis" has developed structural models to analyze
human interactions. In social network analysis, discrete
mathematics and statistics are combined with the emerging
epistemology of complex systems to explore processes and
phenomena as diverse as the diffusion of information through an
organization, the adoption of innovations in society, and the
spread of infectious disease in a population. Researchers working
on social network analysis draw upon many disciplines: sociology,
anthropology, psychology, geography, mathematics, statistics, and
computer science. Like social network analysis, analyses of
trophic structure in ecological communities and of energy flow
and nutrient transfer through ecosystems incur the problem of how
to conceptualize and test interactions within these complex
systems. The striking similarities between social networks and
biological communities suggest that there exist constraining or
structuring forces common to both. Social and ecological networks
also share the need to reduce the elements and interactions of
the network to an order simple enough to analyze, yet complex
enough to reflect reality. In general, most of the difficult
problems modern society faces arrive in the form of complex
structures such as economies, ecosystems, and societies, and
interactions among social scientists and biologists and the
integration of their techniques and insights may prove crucial to
developing a new understanding of how these complex systems
behave.

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