• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Sociology on the Internet

On 8th — 11th June the International Conference on Computational Social Science, organised by the University of Aalto took place in Helsinki, attended by many of the leading lights in this new area of academic research where the meeting between sociology and computer science has the potential to design better societies.

On 8th — 11th June the International Conference on Computational Social Science, organised by the University of Aalto took place in Helsinki, attended by many of the leading lights in this new area of academic research where the meeting between sociology and computer science has the potential to design better societies.

In computational social science, researchers use computer technology to study social systems and changes on the basis of vast amounts of data, collected through data mining, or creating mass scale experiments. It brings together sociologists, economists, psychologists, mathematicians, physicists and computer programmers.

As the first of its kind, the conference attracted a large number of international stars in the field of contemporary digital society research.

Six colleagues from HSE St Petersburg presented their research. Olessia and Sergei Koltsov from the Internet Studies Lab (LINIS) gave a paper in the section on contemporary methods of computer analysis of texts, while Daniel Alexandrov, Vadim Voskresensky, Alexei Gorgadze and Ilya Musabirov (Laboratory of Sociology in Education and Science) presented two pieces of analysis about groups on the Russian social networking site VKontakte at a poster session. 

Their presentations went down well with the audience, and Alexandrov and Gorgadze’s research on social network relationships among ethnic groups on VKontatkte was mentioned by Andreas Flakh (Groningen) in his plenary speech on polarisation in social networks. It’s important to point out that two participants and co-authors of the research were HSE students - Alexei is a first year Master’s student and Vadim is a fourth year sociology undergraduate. 

Two participants and co-authors of the research were HSE students

Daniil Alexandrov, Deputy Director and Dean of the School of Social and Human Sciences said, ‘We know how hard it is to predict the weather and the vast amount of data we have to process constantly in order to do so. Social sciences are currently undergoing revolutionary changes similar to those meteorology and climatology experienced a while ago and biology and genetics have just gone through. For some time we have had algorithmic biology, and now we’ve got algorithmic economics. The inhabitants of Earth leave numerous digital trails, their movements are tracked by mobile network control towers and by flows of Twitter messages. Searches on the internet for medicines or the nearest chemist leave traces on search engines. Computational social science will soon be playing a leading role in analysis of the real economy and socio-political processes. You only have to see the stream of articles on it in Science and Nature and the level of interest they arouse. We heard editors of journals talking about the field’s bright future at the conference.’

‘We were extremely lucky to have been accepted to this conference, said Sergei Koltsov, deputy director of  LINIS. ‘We were there with such stars as Duncan Watts (Microsoft Research), Lada Adamic (Facebook), Jure Lescovec (Stanford), Laszlo Barabasi (Northeastern university), Nicholas Christakis (Yale), Robin Dunbar (Oxford) and many others. These scholars are known far beyond the academic community. It was an honor for us to present a paper at such a gathering.’

We still has to learn to apply sophisticated mathematical models to real-life social tasks and to real social data which are often incomplete

Computational social science still has a long way to go to design better societies, or even their separate sub-systems, thinks Sergei Koltsov. We still has to learn to apply sophisticated mathematical models to real-life social tasks and to real social data which are often incomplete , noisy and present difficulties for defining ground truth. One of such problem that Sergei investigates is related to LDA, a popular algorithm for automated extraction of topics from large text collections. In principle, it can be a powerful tool for social scientists by providing them with a quick way to grasp the topical structure of millions of blogs, newspaper articles, medical records or other meaningful texts. But there’s a hitch: LDA gives you completely different results every time you run it on the same data. That is, you cannot say anything reliable on their topical composition. All social scientists could do was observe the algorithm’s flaws as they were unable to offer solutions. The situation began to change when physicists came into the game uniting the efforts between mathematicians and social scientists. “That’s what computational social science is about, says Sergei, it is about interdisciplinary collaboration and synergetic results”.  His method of stabilization the algorithm developed in the Laboratory for Internet Studies was well received at the conference. “We got useful feedback from colleagues from the UK, Finland, Qatar and Singapore. We hope that some of these new contacts will grow into collaboration”.

Vadim Voskresenky, the fourth year sociology undergraduate said, ‘I was amazed by the range of different specialists at the conference. I could never imagine a conference where sociologists could discuss their work on equal terms with physicists and programmers before. But that’s what happened. Their different educations didn’t divide people but brought them together and enabled them to advise one another on how to refine their research. The atmosphere was extremely friendly, and helped us all to find colleagues for further joint research work or just to have interesting conversations in the coffee breaks and over dinner. I was delighted by how many people were curious about our research. They came over and asked questions. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people and discuss our project. We got useful advice about what to do with it next.’




See also:

HSE Researchers Study Emerging Adulthood in Russia

Sociology today distinguishes more developmental stages of growing up than just childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, as commemorated in Leo Tolstoy’s trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. For the past two decades, sociologists have been exploring the concept of emerging adulthood, a transitional stage that occurs between adolescence and early adulthood. Researchers at the HSE Institute of Education have discovered that in Russia, one out of every two young respondents, with females more frequently than males, falls within the emerging adult category. The study findings have been published in Emerging Adulthood.

News Finds You: HSE Researchers Study Media Consumption of People Who Avoid News

News avoidance is a global phenomenon that affects millions of people around the world. Despite their conscious refusal to consume media content, many argue that the most important news still finds them. Researchers at the HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology have studied how people perceive the ‘news-finds-me’ effect. The results of the study were published in the Bulletin of Moscow University.

Good Deeds Bring Moral Satisfaction to Russians

Researchers from HSE University have analysed why people feel happier when they help others. It turns out that joy is caused by different reasons, depending on who we help — relatives or strangers. In both cases, happiness brings moral satisfaction from doing a good deed, but helping loved ones is also associated with satisfying the need for belonging and acceptance, while helping strangers provides a sense of autonomy. The results of the research were published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Alcohol Consumption Patterns Vary Across Social Groups in Russia, According to HSE Research

Although there is a larger percentage of drinkers among high-status professionals and executives compared to low-status workers, the former consume less alcohol. This is one of the findings of a study carried out by researchers of the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences and published in Voprosy Statistiki.

‘Studying at HSE Was a Chance for Me to Get to Know Some Supportive Seniors, Knowledgeable Professors, and Wonderful Friends’

On August 4, 2023, a pre-defence of the thesis on ‘Refugee-Host Community Conflict over Assimilation, Integration, and State Legitimacy: The Case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh’ by Md. Reza Habib will be held at HSE University. The preliminary defence will take place at a joint meeting of the HSE School of Sociology and the International Laboratory for Social Integration Research. Md. Reza Habib shared his experience of studying and preparing his PhD with the HSE News Service.

Factors Affecting Alcohol Consumption Are Shaped in Childhood

Economists and sociologists who study alcohol consumption patterns often link them to people's living conditions and human capital such as education, work experience, and knowledge. Researchers of the HSE Laboratory for Labour Market Studies and the HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology have found that non-cognitive skills developed in childhood and adolescence can have a major effect on the likelihood of alcohol abuse later in life and can diminish the role of education in this respect. The paper has been published in the Journal of Comparative Economics.

Capabilities as an Indicator of Poverty

Using a multidimensional approach, sociologists from HSE University have identified some vulnerable categories of the population that have rarely been the focus of research on poverty. According to their calculations, pensioners and people with disabilities also fall into the ‘poor’ category. The study was published in the Russian Journal of Economics.

People Spend 1/6th of their Lifetime on Enhancing Their Appearance

An international team including HSE researchers has conducted the largest ever cross-cultural study of appearance-enhancing behaviours. They have found that people worldwide spend an average of four hours a day on enhancing their beauty. Caring for one's appearance does not depend on gender, and older people worry as much about looking their best as the young do. The strongest predictor of attractiveness-enhancing behaviours appears to be social media usage. The study findings have been published in Evolution and Human Behaviour.

Alcohol Consumption by Young Russians Drops by Half, Study Says

Sociologist Valeria Kondratenko used data from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey-HSE (RLMS-HSE) to demonstrate that the percentage of young Russians aged 14 to 22 who consume alcohol decreased by 2.3 times from 62.1% to 26.9% between 2006 and 2019. This paper also explores the correlation between the alcohol consumption habits of children and those of their parents. A paper with the findings of this study has been published in the Bulletin of RLMS–HSE.

Obesity in Men Associated with Individualism, Study Finds

Researchers of the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), jointly with colleagues from research centres in Germany, Australia and China, examined the relationship between national variations in obesity rates and cultural dimensions. The associations they found were tested empirically through analyses conducted across 51 countries worldwide. Individualism appears to be associated with a higher prevalence of obesity, but only in the male population. The study findings have been published in Social Science & Medicine.