Social Science on steroids

The next big (and I do mean BIG) thing in the social sciences is Computational Social Science (PDF, Science, Vol 323, 6 February 2009; subscription required). As human interaction increasingly occurs “in the network”, we are creating massive amounts of data tracing human interaction and behavior. The Science article asks and answers the question: “What value might a computational social science—based in an open academic environment—offer society, by enhancing understanding of individuals and collectives?”

My interest is in “How might libraries and librarians facilitate the development of a robust field of computational social science, within our own institutions and across the academy?”

I often have a vague uneasiness that social sciences get left out of discussions about the future of libraries, and digital libraries in particular. The “hard” sciences get plenty of attention, as they tend to be the first to move towards adoption of digital content and delivery. The humanities get plenty of attention for developments in digital humanities. As computational social science develops, libraries ought to be paying attention and participating.

One logical role for libraries is in the area of data curation. One challenge identified in the Science article is the fact that “existing data sets are scattered among many groups, with uneven skills and understanding of data security and widely varying protocols.” Libraries would provide a logical site for the trusted preservation of these kind of data, and for developing and implementing the necessary privacy protections.

Some examples of emerging centers for computational social science include:
Center for Social Complexity, George Mason University
UCLA Center for Human Complex Systems (aka Computational Social Science)

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