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Hey! Here’s a cool new book of stories about the collection of social data

I took a look at a new book, “Research exposed: How empirical social science gets done in the digital age,” edited by Eszter Hargittai and with chapters written by 17 authors, most of whom teach communication at various universities around the world. I don’t know anything about communication as an academic field, so I can’t really comment on how the content of this book relates to the literature, but as an outsider I found just about all of it interesting.

It’s an amazing book because it’s full of stories, full of first-person detail about how the research got conducted and why it was done. I have no idea how Hargittai managed to managed to get these researchers to convey so directly what they were doing. She could write another essay about how she put this project together—I’d like to read that one too! The unified style of the chapters suggests to me that Hargittai deserves a lot of credit for the content of the book as well as its structure.

I also appreciate that the authors of these chapters stay close to their ultimate research questions. So much of hi-tech social research is surrounded by hype: consider the experiment that was performed on 63 million facebook users, or the study that used fancy network analysis to purportedly prove the social contagion of obesity, or those much-publicized books about inner-city life that are full of possibly made-up details, or the general fomo attitude regarding big social data. I get the impression that these chapters are about the research, not about turning the authors into folk heroes and Ted talk stars.

Two books that go well with this one are “Bit by bit: Social research in the digital age,” by the sociologist Matt Salganik (see review here) and “A quantitative tour of the social sciences,” edited by Jeronino Cortina and myself (see here).

The three books all address data-based social research in different ways. Our book is about models, some theoretical and some statistical, as they get used in five different social sciences. Salganik’s book is about research methods, and Hargittai et al. focuses on data collection. Together these three books could be the foundation of a wonderful interdisciplinary social science class. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are many interdisciplinary social science classes in the world—but we can dream.

P.S. Thanks to Zad for the above picture of Ace, who looks intrepid and ready to go out into the field to gather some data.

5 Comments

  1. Now that is a valuable contribution. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Martha (Smith) says:

    Naw, Ace doesn’t look “intrepid and ready to go out into the field to gather some data”. Ace looks like a cat who is a little bit curious about that person aiming that thing at her/him, but isn’t willing to make the effort to leave that oh-so-comfy spot to go closer to investigate.

  3. Frenetic Skeptic says:

    Thanks for these recs! Wish you would review your own book with the same scrutiny :)

    • Andrew says:

      Frenetic:

      Are you kidding? I do review my own books with that scrutiny. Most of the reviewing is done while we’re actually writing the book. I go over every damn word. And then there’s the appendix, “How to get the most out of Bayesian Data Analysis,” in our Bayesian Workflow book, where we go through the chapters of BDA3 and tell the reader what parts are important and what parts to skip.

  4. Robert P. Goldman says:

    For people looking for more information about the book, here’s the Publisher’s website: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/research-exposed/9780231188777

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