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Thanks to Duncan Watts, Karl van Meter  and Science Daily -- none of which
are responsible for my re-title

 Barry Wellman

  S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC              NetLab Director
  Centre for Urban & Community Studies           University of Toronto
  455 Spadina Avenue          Room 418          Toronto Canada M5S 2G8            fax:+1-416-978-7162
  Updating history:
         Elvis wouldn't be singing "Return to Sender" these days

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon,  3 Dec 2007 22:11:48 +0100
From: [log in to unmask]
Reply-To: [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask]
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [bms-rc33] Article - Social Networks, Social Opinions,
     Social Change (Watts & Sheridan)

Thanks to Science Daily

Duncan Watts is well-known to the social network analysis community, but
his application of such analysis to the construction of public opinion,
with Sheridan Dodds, is something new.


Social Change Relies More On The Easily Influenced Than The Highly Influential
ScienceDaily (Nov. 13, 2007)  An important new study appearing in the December
issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that it is rarely the case that
highly influential individuals are responsible for bringing about shifts in
public opinion.

Instead, using a number of computer simulations of public opinion change, Duncan
J. Watts (Columbia University) and Peter Sheridan Dodds (University of Vermont),
find that it is the presence of large numbers of "easily influenced" people who
bring about major shifts by influencing other easy-to-influence people.

"Our study demonstrates not so much that the conventional wisdom is wrong . . .
but that it is insufficiently specified to be meaningful," the researchers
write. "Under most conditions that we consider, we find that large cascades of
influence are driven not by influentials, but by a critical mass of easily
influenced individuals."

Instead of a model in which opinion flows only from the media to influentials,
and then only from influentials to the larger populace, Watts and Dodds created
an influence network with opinion flows in many directions at once, adjusted for
the probability that a given individual will adopt a change when the information
comes from a certain source.

They then introduced an event into the simulation, evaluating what factors
resulted in an overall shift in opinion in their model system. They also
introduced "hyper influentials" and monitored their effects, tried grouping
individuals together into sub-networks, and adjusted the degree at which
attitudes shift.

"Anytime some notable social change is recognized, whether it be a grassroots
cultural fad, a successful marketing campaign, or a dramatic drop in crime
rates, it is tempting to trace the phenomenon to the individuals who "started
it," and conclude that their actions or behavior "caused" the events that
subsequently took place," the authors write.

However, they explain: "...under most of these conditions influentials are less
important than is generally supposed, either as initiators of large cascades,
or as early adopters."

Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodds, "Influentials, Networks, and Public
Opinion Formation." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2007.

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