TITLE: Computational Research Lets Us Ask New Questions, Political Science Edition AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 06, 2016 12:43 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The latest example comes from FiveThirtyEight.com, an organization that is built on the idea of data-driven approaches to old problems:
Almost all data about politics that you encounter comes from polls and surveys of individuals or else from analysis of geographic units such as precincts, counties and states. Individual data and geographic data do not capture the essential networks in which we all live -- households and friendships and communities. But other and newer kinds of data -- such as voter files that connect individuals to their households or network data that capture online connections -- revolutionize how we understand politics. By the end of this election cycle, expect to see many more discoveries about the social groupings that define our lives.
Computational research enables us to ask entirely new questions -- both ones that were askable before but not feasible to answer and ones that would not have been conceived before. Even if the question begins as whimsically as "How often do Democrats and Republicans marry one another?" Back in December 2007, I commented on this in the context of communications studies and public relations. One of our CS master's students, Sergey Golitsynskiy, had just defended an M.A. thesis in communications studies that investigated the blogosphere's impact on a particular dust-up in the public relations world. Such work has the potential to help refine the idea of "the general public" within public relations, and even its nature of "publics". (Sergey is now a tenure-track professor here in communications studies.) Data that encodes online connections enables us to explore network effects that we can't even see with simpler data. As the 538 piece says, this will revolutionize how we understand politics, along with so many other disciplines. -----