Big Data Research: What’s Holding Us Back?

Categories: Big Data, SAGE Posts

We social scientists are at the threshold of a period of dramatic change — change that comes with both opportunity and challenge.

Mark Kenney

Everyday a massive amount of information is being created and collected through new digital technologies. These vast social, transactional and administrative data sets present researchers with the opportunity for potentially ground-breaking analyses and insights. So why have the social sciences been slower to embrace the big data revolution than some other disciplines?

As Mark Kenney states, change comes with both opportunity and challenge. In order to collect, process, analyse and draw inferences from big data, social scientists may need to learn new tools, new methods, and new skills.

According to findings in the White Paper Who Is Doing Computational Social Science? published by SAGE, a majority of researchers already engaged with big data stated finding collaborators with the right skills and knowledge to be a problem, with nearly 29% stating it to be a major problem. Nearly two thirds said they had a problem learning new software or new analytical methods for themselves, primarily due to lack of available time. These problems were echoed by those who hadn’t yet engaged in research of this kind, but were planning to in the future.

Big Data research

Challenges facing big data researchers

So how are researchers trying to overcome this skills gap?

40% of respondents in the white paper survey stated that they would like to attend big data training in the future, with a specific interest in text mining and R and Python programming. A large number of those who had already carried out big data training in the last 12 months had done so via massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online courses, perhaps because many social science research methods degree programmes do not yet include programming and data science skills.

How has SAGE responded?

The large number of respondents keen to enroll on data science training shows that there is an appetite for bridging the skills gap. As a result of these findings, SAGE is launching a series of online data science courses aimed at social scientists which have been created in partnership with world-leading academics and universities. Topics covered will include Python, data visualization with R, text analysis and more.
Visit to find out more.

About the author
Katie Metzler is Head of Methods Innovation at SAGE Publishing. Katie is responsible for content strategy and innovation for SAGE’s award winning online platform for researchers, SAGE Research Methods, which includes SAGE Research Methods Cases, SAGE Research Methods Datasets and SAGE Research Methods Video. In addition to heading up the London commissioning team for the SAGE Research Methods platform, she is part of a new team at SAGE whose mission is to improve social science by equipping every researcher with the skills and tools they need to work effectively with big data and new technology.

Follow Katie on Twitter @KMetzlerSAGE

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