Answering ‘What is Computational Social Science?’

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In this first video synthesizing some of the important themes covered at 2016’s second International Conference on Computational Social Science, or IC2S2, various academics and practitioners address the question of what is computational social science?

The event itself, as Brian Uzzi from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University explains in the introduction, brought together  academics, industry experts, open data activists, government agency workers and think tank analysts –explore questions critical to the future of applying computer science and big data techniques to social science research.

Duncan Watts, a professor at Kellogg, opens his answer to that question by citing the story of the blind men and the elephant:  “everyone’s feeling a different part of the elephant and coming to some different conclusion.” After touching on the history of the term, he describes how the term ‘computational social science’ now focuses on computational analysis of larger data sets.

This focus, as Princeton’s Matthew Salganik explains later in the video, is a complement and not replacement for other research methods. Nonetheless, Salganik stresses, the explosion of data and the ability to harness that represents “a fundamental transition that’s occurring whether social scientists take advantage of it or not.”

The video also includes comments from two industry practitioners of computational social science, Hanna Wallach of Microsoft and Eytan Bakshy of Facebook. Wallach, for her part, stresses that the social science part of the construction allows for more of an explanation of what’s being observed rather than just a prediction of what the data say will happen next.

The next IC2S2 conference takes place in Cologne, Germany on July 10-13. For more information, visit

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