The world is not well. As we witness rampant dysfunction in our social, political, and economic institutions, many observers wonder why social science is not saving the day (and if computer science will manage a rescue instead). We can blame forces outside the academy, but the practical impotence of the social sciences also reflects the difficulties of social measurement and conservatism of our practices. So, what is social science to do? In a dispatch from the data science frontier, Dr. Nick Adams shares his vision of a future where social science's long under-tested meso-level theories of symbolic interaction and social psychology meet the big complex text and sensor data needed to give them new life and constructive power. Highlighting innovative methods scaling qualitative explanation to quantitative analysis, Adams sounds a bold call for the kind of social science this moment requires.
Nick Adams, PhD, was a full-time research fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS). He is a sociologist, and his substantive work analyzes protester and police interactions as revealed through 8,000 news accounts of nearly 200 US Occupy campaigns. His TextThresher software provides the human-powered machinery to process these data in high quantity with high quality. A builder of research communities across UC Berkeley's campus, Nick founded and leads the Computational Text Analysis Working Group at Berkeley’s D-Lab and BIDS' Text Across Domains (Text XD) initiative. He also serves on the Social Science Research Council’s Committee on Digital Culture and is a contributing editor to Mobilizing Ideas, the online journal of social movements research.