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Restructuring the Social Sciences: Reflections From Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science


DOI: 10.1017/S1049096513001534

King, Gary. “Restructuring the Social Sciences: Reflections From Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47.01 (2013): 165–172. Web.

p.165: The social sciences are undergoing a dramatic transformation from studying problems to solving them; from making do with a small number of sparse data sets to analyzing increasing quantities of diverse, highly informative data; from isolated scholars toiling away on their own to larger scale, collaborative, interdisciplinary, lab-style research teams; and from a purely academic pursuit focused inward to having a major impact on public policy, commerce and industry, other academic fields, and some of the major problems that affect individuals and societies. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.166: A promising side effect of this change in research style is that the most significant division within the social sciences, that between quantitative and qualitative researchers, is showing signs of breaking down. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.166: Social scientists are now transitioning from working primarily on their own, alone in their offices—a style that dates back to when the offices were in monasteries—to working in highly collaborative, interdisciplinary, larger scale, lab-style research teams. The knowledge and skills necessary to access and use these new data sources and methods often do not exist within any one of the traditionally dened social science disciplines and are too complicated for any one scholar to accomplish alone. Through collaboration across fields, however, we can begin to address the interdisciplinary substantive knowledge needed, along with the engineering, computational, ethical, and informatics challenges before us. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.167: Fortunately, social scientists from both traditions are working together more often than ever before, because many of the new data sources meaningfully represent the focus and interests of both groups. The information collected by qualitative researchers, in the form of large quantities of field notes, video, audio, unstructured text, and many other sources, is now being recognized as valuable and actionable data sources for which new quantitative approaches are being developed and can be applied. At the same time, quantitative researchers are realizing that their approaches can be viewed or adapted to assist, rather than replace, the deep knowledge of qualitative researchers, and they are taking up the challenge of adding value to these additional richer data types. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.167: The divergent interests of the two camps also converge as the need for tools to cope with, organize, preserve, and share this onslaught of data, the search for new understandings of where meaning exists in the world and how it can be represented systematically, and the rise of inherently collaborative projects where researchers bring their own knowledge and skills to attack common goals. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.168: by common assent (although often in very different languages), by far the most important component leading to success identied was community. The world’s best research centers each had an enviable research community that caused individual scientists to want to join in and contribute. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.169: In the rst year after the Murray moved to IQSS, it collected more than 10 times the number of data sets as had been collected in the previous 30 years at Radcliffe, at lower cost, and with vastly increased access to data for our researchers and others. At the same time, we directed some of the archive’s nancial resources to more productive research activities. The synergies from this activity are apparent in the ecosystem of research projects from around the world that have grown up around dataverse, the many scholars who contribute to and work collaboratively with this open source software project instead of building their own solutions from scratch, and the millions of dollars in federal and other grants that have supported these activities. The Dataverse Network now offers access to more social science research data than any other system in the world. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.171: Because most of the advances in the social sciences have been based on improvements in empirical data and methods of data analysis, some argue that the theorists (economic theorists, formal theorists, statistical theorists, philosophers, etc.) have no part in this type of center. This makes no sense. In every social science field, and most academic fields, a friendly division exists between theorists and empiricists. They compete with each other for faculty positions and on many research issues, but all know that both are essential. -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014

p.172: The fact that the big data revolution has enabled more progress on the empirical front does not reduce what theorists can contribute -- Highlighted mar 12, 2014