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ASU researchers choose collaboration over isolation


June 28, 2010

Disconnect over dialog and integration tends to be the norm among social and computer scientists; even though they can study similar topics, they rarely collaborate.

At a workshop nearly 3,000 miles away from ASU, two ASU researchers found they had a mutual interest in enhancing their study of social phenomena and bringing more research opportunities to the university.

William Griffin, a professor at the School of Social and Family Dynamics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Huan Liu, a professor at the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decisions Systems Engineering, both presented at the “Social Science and Social Computing: Steps to Integration” workshop in Honolulu, Hawaii, last May.

They didn’t know each other before the workshop, but while in Hawaii they discovered how collaboration between them could improve their respective research on the what, why, when and how of social behavior.

“ASU is at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research, so we understand the importance of collaboration with other research and academic units,” said Griffin, the former director of ASU’s Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, a member of the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems. “We cannot predict human behavior any better than we could 100 years ago. However, by combining our expertise and science theories we can build a large-scale study and create more realistic behavioral models that wouldn’t be possible if we worked in silos.”

At the workshop of 17 invited scholars, Griffin discussed how several components are necessary to construct insightful models of complex social systems and how the absence of any of these components fails to reproduce the complexities inherent in social phenomena. He also expressed how computer scientists could improve their research by including social science theories and methodologies.

Liu presented his current work with cultural anthropologists. They are studying individual and group usage of social media, such as blogs and social networking sites to better understand their needs and the challenges they face.

“Anthropologists have studied human behavior for a long time, and I felt we could learn from their expertise and adopt some of their theories,” said Liu. “For decades, we have worked on our own and they have worked on their own, yet we have a common interest. Because of social media it was natural for us to combine our two fields of study. People are living part of their lives in cyberspace, and we want to learn the sociological patterns behind their Internet use.”

The “Social Science and Social Computing: Steps to Integration” workshop was organized under a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. It focused on the interface between social sciences and computer science.

“The computer models that I have developed, or the kinds developed by Liu, permit a type of scenario construction that is impossible to create without combining social and computer science," Griffin said. "The idea of combining these traditionally separate disciplines into a unified area is not new; what has now happened, however, is having the critical mass of scientists from each area willing to work together on a set of common scientific problems.”

Griffin added that he and Liu are looking for ways they can collaborate on their current projects and will seek out future research opportunities that combine their interests and expertise.

Scott Southward
Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems
480-965-4192