Scientists have a very weird humor. No need to argue. Back in the day, my statistics prof would put humorous (or so it seemed to him) questions in the final exam. For example, he asked for the probability of opening your dorm room within five tries out of a key chain of twenty-some keys, before and after a party. Yes, the humor is hidden in the fact that campus parties can go wild beyond recalling your own name. Funny. Well, sorta.
So here’s today’s little humor in social network analysis, fresh from the folks at xkcd.com. Of course, humor’s got a grain of truth. But we’ll see about that in the summer when we’ll talk about managing networks.
Steven Strogatz is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. He’s been working on networks for a long time, most famously on small-worlds networks. Six degrees, y’all know.
In his latest post on the Opinionator Blog hosted by The New York Times, Strogatz introduces the layman to balance theory in networks. His post depicts the famous saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend as a balanced triangle. What an easy and elegant introduction that is, definitely worth a read.
And certainly a must read for students taking MVN10.
Some things are hard to translate. The writings of Niklas Luhmann are certainly among them. His work on a grand theory of society (Theorie der Gesellschaft) offers a highly idiosyncratic language that is hard to follow and even harder to translate, indeed. No wonder orgtheory.net poses the Luhmann Challenge to give “an example of an empirical phenomenon or puzzle that was clarified, explained, or resolved using autopoeisis or any other of Luhmann’s concepts.”
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Luhmann. I rely a great deal on his work in my own dissertation, which already its title reveals: Structures and Dynamics of Autopoietic Organizations. Translating his language from German to English has never been a pleasure. Just think about the concept of Anschlusskommunikation which, in blunt words, points out that communication now and here comes about previous communication and already serves future communication. Anschlusskommunikation, one neat little German word, no English translation. Connecting communication? Connectivity of communication? Nothing really fits.
It’s not just the missing translation for many of Luhmann’s concepts, it’s the very Anschlusskommunikation of his writings to other scientific communities that’s missing. The real challenge with respect to Luhmann, in may opinion, is to be inspired by his work, and then leave him behind to continue in your own direction. Connecting communications may just be the way to do that.
Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are going viral (or bacterial, as they muse themselves) with their Podcast. Following the success of their books, they employ the same catchy subtitle is to reveal the hidden side of everything from an economics perspective.
The first episode is on the benefits of wearing a helmet in American Football and the safety features of cars (a.k.a. the death-proof Mercedes) versus some of the more or less unintended and even detrimental consequences thereof. It’s certainly interesting to hear that wearing a helmet largely prevents on-field deaths of football players, while at the same time a helmet is nowadays used as more of a weapon in tackling the opponent. However, if you’ve ever taken an economics class, most of what Levitt and Dubner are pointing out is pretty obvious. For example, the latest episode of the podcast is mostly about endogeneous effects. Cars and lemon, we know, we know.
Still, the podcast is worth listening to, and there is no more convenient way to subscribe to it on iTunes. I just hope they manage to cut down the episodes from a now looong 26 minutes to 10, maybe 15 minutes. Stay within a commute to the office and you’ll have people’s attention to the end, that’s my advice.
This morning, I get an e-mail from a student concerning her search for literature for the term paper she is currently working on, pretty please and all. She specifically asks whether or not I would put her in contact to former students who have been working the same problem she’s trying to tackle. I cannot fight it, but laziness is the first thought coming to my mind. Why won’t she do as we teach, dig deep into the literature herself?
Before I answer her in more or less subtle manner to do the work on her own, pretty please myself, I realize that she’s actually the smart kid in the crowd. I’m not so much afraid of plagiarism, mainly because all that she wants is to be introduced officially. Closing triangles, weaving networks. She could have gone behind my back, exploring and exploiting all the cheats in the chest. But she didn’t. She’s about to work smart, not hard. Kudos. Looking forward to that term paper.