The Working Group on Computational Social Science at Columbia University, in partnership with the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) and the Data Science Institute (DSI) explores profound and urgent questions about how the information revolution will transform society as a whole.
The incipient field of computational social science continues to generate an array of interdisciplinary projects, often pursued in partnership with computer scientists, statisticians, and mathematicians. Some involve leveraging tools of prediction and machine learning to assist in tackling policy problems. Others entail applying recent advances in speech and image recognition to classic and novel problems in the social sciences. These projects often require methodological innovation or scaling proven techniques to new levels, as well as designing new metrics and interfaces to make research findings intelligible to scholars who lack coding skills but have deep domain expertise.
The field of computational social sciences raises inescapable questions about the politics and ethics of data science research, particularly when it focuses on sociopolitical problems with applications in government and the private sector. Just as with the field of genomics, to which computational social sciences has been compared, it may well take a generation before we see researchers who combine high-level competence in data science with equivalent expertise in anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences.
As of the present, we have yet to see an “Asilomar moment,” in which researchers pause to consider both the historical record and future risks before plunging ahead. Instead, there are vast experiments – many conducted in secret, in the private sector, and with no IRB – limited only by what researchers believe an informed public would consider “creepy.” Columbia serves as a convener for these kinds of conversations, developing professional training grounded in a sophisticated understanding of both the research itself and how it relates to law, philosophy, and ethics.
The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) is Columbia University’s research institute dedicated to the social sciences. ISERP pioneers research and integrates knowledge and methods across the social sciences. ISERP supports researchers, faculty, students, and social science research through research development, education and training programs, centers, workshops and administrative support. ISERP works within the intellectual community of Columbia University to generate, find external support for, and publicize innovative basic and applied social science research.
The Data Science Institute at Columbia University is training the next generation of data scientists and developing innovative technology to serve society. With nearly 200-affilated faculty working in a wide range of disciplines, the Institute seeks to foster collaboration in advancing techniques to gather and interpret data, and to address the urgent problems facing society. The Institute works closely with industry to bring promising ideas to market.
Matthew Connelly is an American Professor of International and Global History at Columbia University in the City of New York. He received his B.A. from Columbia (1990) and his Ph.D. from Yale (1997). His areas of expertise include the global Cold War, official secrecy, population control, and decolonization. He is the author of Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, and articles on international and domestic politics for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, and The National Interest. Connelly is also the founder and principal investigator of History Lab.
Harlowe Wang is the Program Coordinator for the Institute on Social and Economic Research and Policy. She received her B.A. and B.S. from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2015) and her M.T.S. from Harvard University (2018). Prior to ISERP, she worked for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Yampatika, an Environmental Education organization in Steamboat Springs, CO.