Contractor to teach Workshop in Trento, Italy

Director of SONIC Lab, Noshir Contractor, will be teaching a workshop on Social Networks concepts and analysis techniques in Trento Italy next week. The course will introduce and illustrate social networks as a suitable conceptual tool to depict and empirically analyze complex datasets characterizing the cloud-computing era. More information can be found at the University of Trento’s website.

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Teaming up with genomics to solve outbreaks

Jennifer Gardy of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, presented a case study where she and her colleagues used a technique combining genome sequencing and social network analysis to contain a tuberculosis outbreak. Taking place in a medium-sized community in British Columbia, the researchers turned to the technique after finding traditional epidemiological methods rather ineffective. Combining social network analysis with genome sequencing allowed the researchers to paint a more detailed picture of the epidemic’s underlying structure.

The researchers eventually determined that the outbreak was likely not instigated by genetic changes to the pathogen, but instead likely due to tendencies in the community interaction. Additionally they were able to determine that a few key individuals acted as superspreaders, and these people were socially well connected and sympotmatic for long periods of time. This information is being used in a current outbreak investigation where public health officials are trying to target socially popular people for screening as a priority.

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SONIC hosts Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day visitors

The SONIC lab was bustling on April 28 with children visiting campus for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. SONIC led two workshops designed to teach children, ages 10-16, basic concepts in network science. The kids explored network concepts such as degree, balance, and brokerage by examining Harry Potter’s friendship network. Then, they had a chance to apply their newly-learned skills when they constructed their own friendship networks out of M&Ms and pretzel sticks. The workshops were a hit, and we’re hoping to see some of the participants back in a few years in the classes of 2016-2022!

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Noshir Contractor Presents at University of Missouri

SONIC director, Noshir Contractor, and Professor Stanley Wasserman, of Indiana University, present a special panel and discussion of social network analysis and application at University of Missouri.

The discussion centers on collaborative research and its organization, and will be held Wednesday, April 27, 1-3 p.m. in 572 Bond Life Sciences Center, at University of Missouri.

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CaringTV: A support network based on e-services

The CaringTV interface during a program broadcast from their studio in Laurea University, Helsinki.

Aino lives alone in a small town in Finland.

She is 72 years old. The nearest doctor is more than five miles away and she doesn’t have a car.

Even though she doesn’t have a computer or use email, Aino does have a touchscreen (equipped with a video camera) that connects her to the world.

It’s something called CaringTV.

“It’s a lifeline for every day,” says Aino, who only speaks Finnish. “If they remove the device, I would feel like something was missing.”

CaringTV is a technological platform for the elderly, developed by Laurea University of Applied Sciences, TDC Song, Videra Oy and Espoo City. Its goal? To deliver welfare services to Finland’s growing elderly population through an ordinary TV set — a device used commonly by seniors.

Every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Aino sits in front of a touchscreen and video camera to tune into CaringTV’s interactive programs. These programs range from physical exercises to singing, from spiritual discussions to trivia games.

The above set-up is provided to every CaringTV client — they can tune into programs or call friends using their individual touchscreens at home.

The CaringTV interface also offers “point-to-point” video calling for clients. To access her friend list, all Aino has to do is tap “Puhelinluettelo” on her screen and she can connect to anyone immediately.

Although CaringTV’s main purpose is focused on improving the quality of life for Finland’s elderly population, the social aspect is by no means a secondary goal.

“The social contact is important, almost the main point in CaringTV,” says researcher Katja Tikkanen.

According to Tikkanen, many of the CaringTV clients (previously strangers) have transitioned from virtual friendships to friendships in the real world. The interface serves as a means of support and connection for Aino, who doesn’t have to live totally alone anymore.

“After watching the programs, we will usually stay on the channel to chat with each other,” she says.

Katie Zhu (SONIC) received a grant from the Medill School of Journalism to travel to Helsinki and investigate living labs and their societal implications. She plans to research the CaringTV network further in her work at SONIC and investigate the questions of how support is provided and how friendships are developed among clients.

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Social network analysis fights crime on Chicago’s west side

Chicago Police Target Most Violent Gang in Harrison District
Social Network Analysis Aides Efforts to Dismantle Gang Network
Chicago Police Department press release , 2011-02-13

Superintentent Weis emphasized the utility of Social Network Analysis for identifying perpetrators of violence so that gang factions may be dismantled. The Analysis also reveals the relationships between victims and offenders in shooting and homicide incidents, highlighting that both parties often are known to each other through personal disputes, and that violence is not random but intentional. … Social Network Analysis effectively enables law enforcement to identify at-risk individuals and make appropriate outreach.

Weis: Gang crackdown led to crime decrease
Police met with gang leaders, focused on social network
February 13, 2011, Andy Grimm, Chicago Tribune

Weis said the department has built a social network database that combines gang, vice and patrol officers’ insights at the street level and arrest data to show links between gang members, helping the department to better target enforcement.

University of Massachusetts sociologist Andrew V. Papachristos, who has studied Chicago gangs for his graduate research at the University of Chicago, said social network analysis has been successful in crime reduction efforts in smaller cities such as Boston and Cincinnati.

“We use the words ‘crime epidemic.’ … Well, if it is an epidemic, it should follow certain rules as to how it spreads,” Papachristos said.

Chicago police fight crime in new ways
Paul Meincke, WLS-TV ABC7 News, Monday, February 14, 201

Police are using what they call social network analysis. It starts with what street cops know, then that gets analyzed by computer which compares crime patterns and arrests going back in time.

“One thing we know about crime is it’s a lot like sex: who you mess around with is going to get you into trouble,” said Harvard Professor Andrew Papachristos.

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Social Network Analysis of Bullying in High Schools

2 girls laughing

The New York Times featured a fascinating recent report on who gets bullied, who does the bullying, and why.  You need to have a fairly sharp eye to notice from the NYT blog post that the paper is really about social network analysis, however!  The blog post, titled “Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying” doesn’t mention social networks until the last few paragraphs and keeps away from any technical terms.  (It does have some very interesting comments from NYT readers, however.)  To glean a little more about the social network analysis content, you can go directly to the full text of the scholarly article, “Status Struggles: Network Centrality and Gender Segregation in Same- and Cross-Gender Aggression” by Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee, published in the American Sociological Review.

Faris and Felmlee’s research challenges the common conception that bullying can be attributed to negative personality traits of the individual and generally comes from individuals who are maladjusted to their environment.  The paper points out that the bulk of research on aggression comes from psychology, which may explain some of the usual focus on individual agency rather than network effects.  Instead of looking for traits commonly possessed by bullies, Faris and Felmlee argue that “[a]s peer status increases, so does the capacity for aggression, and competition to gain or maintain status motivates the use of aggression” (pg. 49).  One of the primary arguments of the article is that high school students who are “more popular,” or who have higher betweenness centrality, have more status and thereby more power.  They are able to employ this power to aggressive ends in order to further their status or fend off challenges to their status by other students.

One of the most interesting findings in the study is that while there is a positive relationship between network centrality and aggression, this only holds true up until the very top of the social hierarchy.  When students become so central that they are present in about one of every four of the shortest paths (geodesics) between any two students, their aggression drops off noticeably (pg. 57).   The authors posit that individuals at the top no longer need to be aggressive to climb to the top of the hierarchy and that doing so might be interpreted as a sign of status insecurity or weakness.

Of course, as the full title above suggests, the researchers also looked into the effects of gender segregation on student aggression.  In largely gender-segregated environments, some students serve as a special type of network bridge by virtue of having multiple friends of the opposite gender.  Essentially, these students can provide same gender friends with access to weak ties that are particularly valuable to high school students: students of the opposite gender.  The students who serve as gender bridges are likely to be much more aggressive in their cross-gender relationships than comparable peers with similar centrality.

The full text of the article goes into much more detail about methodology and data collection, and also has a few network graphs that make it a little easier to understand the cross-gender relationships.  Even if your network analysis chops aren’t quite up to slogging through the detailed tables, the beginning of the article does a great job of succinctly summarizing the findings and offers a lot of interesting tidbits about high school students via references to other research.  For example, did you know that approximately one third of high school students engage in aggression, and an estimated 160,000 students skip school every weekday to avoid being bullied?

What do you think?  Do students at the very top of the social hierarchy no longer need to use aggression, or is there another explanation?  Could their immediate subordinates on the hierarchy chain, who have the highest levels of aggression recorded, pick up the slack for the very top status students in hope of currying favor or increasing their own status or the status of their microculture?

One of the things that might bear a little more examination in this paper is the definition of “aggression”.  The fact that students who date are 23% more likely to be “aggressive” and the gender bridge exhibiting increased cross-gender “aggression” suggest that some of the aggressive behavior is not necessarily carried out with hostile intent.  The framework of the paper gives a negative moral valence to aggression, while some of the aggression measured in the survey might not be so negative, or at least, might not be viewed as a negative as the students progress from 8th to 12th grade over the course of the longitudinal study.  In my personal opinion, I suspect that some of the cross-gender aggression is not so much negative behavior as a variable that has confounded more than just academic papers: flirting.

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