***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** OK, this week I am going to be really, really lazy. The digest editor's top four picks are my top four as well.  Let me explain why.

History fascinates me and this is a big election year. The pundits are going crazy. It is clear that none of the standard models used to predict election outcomes are predicting worth a damn. Is the US or the world as a whole entering a phase state? If so, from what to what is a hugely interesting question.

01. Crisis response: The new history , Nature

Excerpt: The nature of discontinuous change is often misunderstood. It is
sometimes said — this is literally how traditional economists defend their
failure to predict the ongoing financial and national-debt crises — that no
one can be expected to foresee such radical departures from the quotidian. They
emerge, like a hijacked aircraft, out of a clear blue sky. Yet social and
political discontinuities are rarely, if ever, random in that sense, even if
their immediate triggers have a certain arbitrary character. Rather, they are
abrupt in the same way, and for the same reasons, that phase transitions are
abrupt in physics. In complex systems, including social ones, discontinuities
don't reflect profound changes in the governing forces; they derive from the
interactions and feedbacks between the component parts. Discontinuities are
therefore precisely what you would expect if you consider today's societies from
a complex-systems perspective.

* [1] Crisis response: The new history, Philip Ball, 2011/12/21, DOI:
10.1038/480447a, Nature 480, 447–448

[1] http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/480447a

I'm a sucker for stuff about bees. Add a brain science angle. What's not to like. Plus,

"In both, separate populations of units (bees or neurons)
integrate noisy evidence for alternatives, and, when one population exceeds a
threshold, the alternative it represents is chosen"

Sounds a hell of a lot like the Republican primaries to me.

02. Stop Signals Provide Cross Inhibition in Collective Decision-Making by
Honeybee Swarms , Science

Abstract: Honeybee swarms and complex brains show many parallels in how they
make decisions. In both, separate populations of units (bees or neurons)
integrate noisy evidence for alternatives, and, when one population exceeds a
threshold, the alternative it represents is chosen. We show that a key feature
of a brain—cross inhibition between the evidence-accumulating
populations—also exists in a swarm as it chooses its nesting site. Nest-site
scouts send inhibitory stop signals to other scouts producing waggle dances,
causing them to cease dancing, and each scout targets scouts’ reporting sites
other than her own. An analytic model shows that cross inhibition between
populations of scout bees increases the reliability of swarm decision-making by
solving the problem of deadlock over equal sites.

* [2] Stop Signals Provide Cross Inhibition in Collective Decision-Making by
Honeybee Swarms, Thomas D. Seeley,  P. Kirk Visscher· Thomas Schlegel,  Patrick
M. Hogan,  Nigel R. Franks,  James A. R. Marshall, 2012/01/06, DOI:
10.1126/science.1210361, Science Vol. 335 no. 6064 pp. 108-111

[2] http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1210361

These two speak to issues I've wondered about for years. Back in the 1980s, I was writing advertising for computers and communications that assumed making data infinitely available to everybody would usher in utopia. What we got instead was winner-take-all markets and, if Eli Paliser is right, market fragmentation right down to one-on-one, don't disturb me in my cocoon.

03. The Open Knowledge Foundation: Open Data Means Better Science , PLoS Biol

Excerpt: Data provides the evidence for the published body of scientific
knowledge, which is the foundation for all scientific progress. The more data is
made openly available in a useful manner, the greater the level of transparency
and reproducibility and hence the more efficient the scientific process becomes,
to the benefit of society. This viewpoint is becoming mainstream among many
funders, publishers, scientists, and other stakeholders in research, but
barriers to achieving widespread publication of open data remain. The Open Data
in Science working group at the Open Knowledge Foundation is a community that
works to develop tools, applications, datasets, and guidelines to promote the
open sharing of scientific data.

* [3] The Open Knowledge Foundation: Open Data Means Better Science, Jennifer C.
Molloy, 2011/12/6, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001195, PLoS Biol 9(12): e1001195.

[3] http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001195


04. To Know, but Not Understand: David Weinberger on Science and Big Data , The


Thomas Jefferson and George Washington recorded daily weather observations, but
they didn't record them hourly or by the minute. Not only did they have other
things to do, such data didn't seem useful. Even after the invention of the
telegraph enabled the centralization of weather data, the 150 volunteers who
received weather instruments from the Smithsonian Institution in 1849 still
reported only once a day. Now there is a literally immeasurable, continuous
stream of climate data from satellites circling the earth, buoys bobbing in the
ocean, and Wi-Fi-enabled sensors in the rain forest. We are measuring
temperatures, rainfall, wind speeds, C02 levels, and pressure pulses of solar
wind. All this data and much, much more became worth recording once we could
record it, once we could process it with computers, and once we could connect
the data streams and the data processors with a network.
 How will we ever make sense of scientific topics that are too big to know? The
short answer: by transforming what it means to know something scientifically.

* [5] To Know, but Not Understand: David Weinberger on Science and Big Data,
2012/01/03, The Atlantic


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324
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