Sunday, September 9, 2007

Brains, politics, and PhDs

According to this study, liberals more easily handle change than conservatives. I'm not on campus, but I'm not sure that CMU gets that journal anyway. I'd be interested to read the study, because I'd like to know if they controlled for education, or if they ran the same study varying educational levels while keeping political bent constant. I would assume that to get approved for publication they would have at least controlled for age.

My curiousity re: education is because awhile back I read something (sorry, forgot source) saying that people who had PhDs had less "mature" brains because they had to constantly learn new things, or something. Which would explain why it seems a lot of professors tend to retain childlike qualities. And how most of us go to grad school to avoid growing up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The many faces of Milgram

In the networks seminar class, we are currently discussing Milgram's small world experiment, and the various papers written about it. The small world experiment being that a bunch of people across the U.S. were selected to have a big packet sent to them. This packet directs them to send the packet through a chain of "handshakes" (people acquainted on a first-name basis) to get to a stockbroker in Boston.

What I had forgotten was that this character is the same guy who did the obedience to authority studies. The rather disturbing study that suggested that people don't mind causing pain to other beings, so long as a guy in a lab coat says it's OK. The funny thing is that the authority studies took place in 1963, four years before the small world experiment. Obviously, "Milgram studies" wasn't enough of a household name by 1967 to get people who received the folder to immediately toss it, saying "Whatever, this guy may say he wants me to get this packet to some dude in Boston, but really he's just going to kill my family."
The small-world study, of course, has some holes in it, but our conclusion was "pretty good for a sociologist in the 60's". They didn't have the resources available to us data-mining folk (according to [2], the Nebraska portion of the study had a budget of $680), and they weren't really interested in the statistics as much.

Dodds et. al [1] replicated the experiment on a much larger scale. I'm sure they had to go to a lot of IRB red tape to get that sort of permission, too. Thanks in part to Milgram, of course.

[1] P. Dodds, et al. An Experimental Study of Search in Global Social
Networks. Science 301, 827 (2003).

[2] J. Kleinfeld, The Small World Problem, Society, 39(2), 61-66 (2002)

Seminars and semester

I'm in two seminars now, which I intend to use for blog fodder. We'll see how long that lasts, since I obviously have bursty blogging habits. The first seminar is Statistical Models and Methods for Networks, taught by Steve Fienberg, and the second is Analysis of Social Media, led by William Cohen and Natalie Glance (of Google Pittsburgh). Both seem very promising, as the syllibi list a number of papers that are in my embarrassingly large "should read but haven't gotten around to" pile. Plus, since grades are based on class participation (and perhaps a one-hour presentation), they should be low-stress, compared to other courses I've taken.

This semester Christos and I will be putting together a tutorial on graph mining for ICWSM 2008. (We're currently putting together the abstract/bios, so the actual tutorial page will be up soon!) I also have a number of research projects going on, including putting together a paper from my summer work at PricewaterhouseCoopers, actually looking toward a thesis topic, and getting some new datasets. In my spare time I'm compiling into social-network-form election campaign donation data, as my good deed to the machine learning community (and out of personal curiousity). As of now I just need to get it into MATLAB readable format and get about half a gig of webspace so I can post the compressed files. Also this semester I will be continuing my involvement in Dec/5, helping run the first few TG's as the torch is passed to new members.