Digital Social Science

This working group will engage how social scientists use digital tools, methods, and data sources in their research. This includes “big data” (whether from the internet, social media, geo-spatial techniques, or more traditional quantitative and textual sources); the use of visualization tools for the collection, organization and analysis of data; and other ways in which data and information science is intersecting or could intersect with the social sciences. Along with these opportunities come serious challenges—scientific, practical and ethical—that may result from the expanding use of these forms of knowledge.

Key questions addressed by the working group include:

  • What can “big data” tell us about our social world and how it works—and what can’t we learn from it? 
  • How can social science shape the norms and rules for how “big data” is collected and made available?
  • How can we establish partnerships between social scientists and the businesses that own proprietary data, as well as the algorithms that organize their collection and use, for scientific and public benefit—while at the same time protecting privacy of research subjects when “informed consent” is neither required nor expected?
  • How will new tools like information visualization, increasingly being used in fields like history, shape how social scientists are trained, and how they collaborate with each other?

The group brings together a range of interested scholars and constituencies—social scientists, data scientists, legal scholars, digital humanists, and relevant actors in the private and public sector—to more deeply understand the ramifications of these innovations in the study of society, and to discover and shape how they might be used in ethical and public-minded ways.


Victoria Stodden
Associate Professor of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Duncan Watts
Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research