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Liz Rosdeitcher
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Last modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Network Science, a journal developed at Indiana University, examines friendship, politics and more

Aug. 21, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- With the inaugural issue of Network Science, a new journal published by Cambridge University Press, coordinating editor Stanley Wasserman brings together scholars from fields across the academic spectrum whose interests converge upon the quickly evolving field of network science. The journal finds a natural home at Indiana University, particularly in a year in which the topic for the Themester initiative across the Bloomington campus is "Connectedness: Networks in a Complex World."

Network Science

Network Science cover

Print-Quality Photo

Wasserman, who has joint appointments in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, himself a methodologist, designs studies and analyzes data for researchers in varied areas including management, community psychology and public health. His book "Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications" is a classic in the field, still in print after almost 20 years, and is used widely in university courses.

"This is the beginning of Network Science," its editors announce in their introduction to the journal. And while the roots of the discipline have a long tradition in social and behavioral science research going back to the 1920s, network approaches in the past two decades have surfaced in a wide range of areas, with methods and applications drawn from across the natural, social and information sciences.

The idea for the journal was launched about four years ago, said Wasserman, Rudy Professor in the Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Statistics. "A group of us thought there was a distinct niche for a journal based on the network paradigm, but not specific to social science. I took it to Cambridge, and they thought it was a great idea."

"The resulting journal," said David Tranah, editorial director of mathematical sciences at Cambridge University Press, "has a wide scope that includes disciplines from across the sciences and social sciences, and incorporates publishing technology and procedures from both. We anticipate a bright future for this evolving discipline, and for its journal, Network Science."

IU has been a hotbed for network science for the past decade. Among the editors and associate editors of Network Science are three IU faculty members. Many researchers at IU study networks, particularly in the School of Informatics and Computing. The first International School and Conference on Network Science, which is now held annually around the world, took place in Bloomington in 2006.

"Systems, as they are studied by network scientists, consist of relational information, the relational ties that link the little bits to other little bits," Wasserman said. "And that's really the big difference between what network scientists do and what everybody else does. We have relational data, often big amounts of relational data."

The network under investigation might be biological, social, economic or mathematical. It could examine the spread of ideas, products, diseases, a cultural fad or new technology. Yet, at the center of network science is the idea that connectivity, systematicity and dependence between the units or actors of a network is essential to greater understanding of those units and their organization.

Network science as an academic discipline has exploded since 1995. First studied quantitatively by behavioral scientists, networks are now modeled by many different types of researchers. Physicists, biologists, computer scientists and engineers now do network research. Mathematicians and statisticians, who have greatly influenced its development, have a renewed role and interest, with the massive amounts of data now being gathered on people, organizations or social actors. Economists and political scientists also realize that information flows through networks and can be used to generate more accurate theories and better predictive outcomes.

In the 21st century, with the recognition of the interconnectedness and globalization of the world along with the growth of the Internet and social media, network methods seem an increasingly fitting and appropriate way to examine many aspects of the social and physical world, and the individuals, organizations and cellular processes within it.

Among the topics covered in the first issue of Network Science, which came out this spring, are:

  • Friendship networks and social status among a large collection of students in U.S. high schools and junior high schools, an article by two physicists.
  • Covert networks and the tools needed to study groups characterized by low visibility and efforts to conceal associations between actors within them.
  • Network dependencies in international trade.
  • A closing "End Note" on political partisanship in the U.S. Congress, concluding that current levels have not been seen since the early 1900s.

Wasserman mentions possible topics for future issues: the significant network research in the field of public health, for example, which investigates the links between social networks and the physical and mental health of individuals. Studies of smoking, drinking and obesity -- perhaps most notoriously described in the 2009 New York Times Magazine article, "Are your friends making you fat?" -- also consider the function of social networks with respect to health, attitudes, culture and behavior.

He describes studies of teenage delinquency and of the spread of homophobia in teenage populations. Researchers in these studies "will go out and get data on kids," Wasserman said, "but what is really important are the friends they have and what their attitudes are. In order to really study who behaves the way they behave and why, you need relational data. This is social influence in action."

To speak with Wasserman, contact Liz Rosdeitcher at 812-855-4507 or Network Science can be viewed online.