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Homa Hosseinmardi and Sam Wolken Speak at Annenberg Workshop

Homa Hosseinmardi and Sam Wolken of the Computational Social Science Lab (CSSLab) were recently invited to speak at the Political and Information Networks Workshop on April 25-26. This workshop was organized by the Center for Information Networks and Democracy (CIND), a new lab under the Annenberg School of Communication. CIND studies how communication networks in the digital era play a role in democratic processes, and its research areas include Information Ecosystems and Political Segregation (or Partisan Segregation).

Joe Biden’s (but not Donald Trump’s) age: A case study in the New York Times’ inconsistent narrative selection and framing

On the weekend of March 2-3, 2024, the landing page of the New York Times was dominated by coverage of their poll showing voter concern over President Biden’s age. There was a lot of concern among Democrats about the methods of the poll, especially around the low response rate and leading questions. But as a team of researchers who study both survey methods and mainstream media, we are not surprised that people are telling pollsters they are worried about Biden’s age. Why wouldn’t they? The mainstream media has been telling them to be worried about precisely this issue for months.

Hyperpartisan consumption on YouTube is shaped more by user preferences than the algorithm

Given the sheer amount of content produced every day on a platform as large as YouTube, which hosts over 14 billion videos, the need for some sort of algorithmic curation is inevitable. As YouTube has attracted millions of views on partisan videos of a conspiratorial or radical nature, observers speculate that the platform’s algorithm unintentionally radicalizes its users by recommending hyperpartisan content based on their viewing history.

But is the algorithm the primary force driving these consumption patterns, or is something else at play?

The YouTube Algorithm Isn’t Radicalizing People

About a quarter of Americans get their news on YouTube. With its billions of users and hours upon hours of content, YouTube is one the largest online media platforms in the world.

In recent years, there has been a popular narrative in the media that videos from highly partisan, conspiracy theory-driven YouTube channels radicalize young Americans and that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm leads users down a path of increasingly radical content.

New Insights on Common Sense Take the Spotlight on Canadian Radio

Mark E. Whiting was featured on Quirks and Quarks, a science and technology podcast on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio. The host, Bob McDonald, is a renowned Canadian science journalist who interviewed Whiting on his recent milestone. Their conversation, “Common sense is not that common, but it is widely distributed,” was aired on January 19, 2024.

The commonalities of common sense

Throughout human history, survival and the formation of complex societies have heavily depended on knowledge. Equally crucial are the assumptions about what others perceive as true or false, namely common sense. This is evident in everyday situations like adhering to road rules: Pedestrians naturally avoid walking into traffic, while drivers refrain from driving on sidewalks to bypass congestion.

Commonsensicality: A Novel Approach to Thinking about Common Sense and Measuring it

In general we believe that we possess common sense to a certain extent, but have you ever wondered if what you perceive to be common sense is also considered common sense to others?
In other words, is common sense actually common?

The answer remains elusive in large part due to a lack of empirical evidence. To address this problem, CSSLab Senior Computational Social Scientist Mark E. Whiting and CSSLab Founder and Director Duncan J. Watts introduce an analytical framework for quantifying common sense in their paper titled: “A framework for quantifying individual and collective common sense.”

Warped Front Pages

Seven years ago, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, media analysts rushed to explain Donald Trump’s victory. Misinformation was to blame, the theory went, fueled by Russian agents and carried on social networks. But as researchers, we wondered if fascination and fear over “fake news” had led people to underestimate the influence of traditional journalism outlets. After all, mainstream news organizations remain an important part of the media ecosystem—they’re widely read and watched; they help set the agenda, including on social networks.

Mapping the Murky Waters: The Promise of Integrative Experiment Design

My PhD journey began with a clear vision: to unravel the interplay between social network structures and their collective outcomes. I was particularly interested in the collective intelligence arising in those structures. With several projects already underway on this topic, I felt prepared. Perhaps optimistically, or some might think naively, I chose to tackle the literature review of my dissertation —often considered the “easy part”— during the first year of my PhD. always been interested in how people think, something that drew him to study literature as an undergraduate, and, now, to investigate the intersection between public opinion, local news, and politics. 

Are experimental designs one-size-fits-all? Or should they be modified to encapsulate the complexity of human behavior?

In the social and behavioral sciences, a theory provides a generalizable explanation that holds under a variety of specific conditions, and experiments are conducted to verify hypotheses which are derived from the theory. This process has become the dominant methodology under which scientific development occurs one experiment at a time, also known as the one-at-a-time approach.

Researcher Spotlight: Jorge Barreras Cortes

Having just earned his Ph.D. in applied math in December, Jorge “Paco” Barreras Cortes kicks off 2023 as a fully fledged post-doctoral researcher at the CSSLab. He has driven the Lab’s work on epidemic modeling since 2020, grappling with the types of data, machine learning, and network science quandaries that underpin the toughest challenges in the field. Read on to learn more about his research journey in this month’s Researcher Spotlight.

Call for Abstracts opens for IC²S² 2023

Abstract submissions are now open for IC²S² 2023, the premier conference for interdisciplinary researchers interested in using computational and data-intensive methods to address societally relevant problems.

Emma Arsekin expands role as Senior Communications Specialist

As 2022 draws to a close, we celebrate Emma Arsekin, who will be continuing her work at the CSSLab in the new role of Senior Communications Specialist.With 2023 promising groundbreaking new research outputs, the CSSLab is excited to draw from Emma Arsekin's...

Researcher Spotlight: Coen Needell

As of August 2022, the CSSLab is excited to welcome Coen Needell to the team as a pre-doctoral researcher. In this Researcher Spotlight, he shares about his pathway through the field of CSS, his role in the Penn Media Accountability Project (PennMAP), and how he’s poised to contribute in the year ahead.

Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Linnea Gandhi

Kicking off our Ph.D. Student Spotlight series, Summer 2022 features Linnea Gandhi, a rising third-year Ph.D. student taking the lead in the CSSLab’s work on enabling cumulative science.

Researcher Spotlight: James Houghton

As a key figure in the CSSLab’s work on high-throughput virtual lab experiments, post-doctoral researcher James Houghton aims to refocus social science around large-scale, data-driven insights. In this researcher spotlight, he shares about his path to computational social science research, his work at the CSSLab, and the exciting future for his most recent project on small-group deliberation.

End-of-Year Check-In: Celebrating the CSSLab’s Students

The CSSLab’s research assistants and Ph.D. students play a vital role in advancing the Lab’s diverse research projects. As the Spring 2022 semester comes to a close, we would like to highlight and celebrate some of our students’ recent accomplishments, various pathways to the CSSLab, and exciting summer projects.

Applications open: Penn Summer Institute in Computational Social Science

The Penn Summer Institute in Computational Social Science (SICSS-Penn) is open for applications! SICSS-Penn will bring together early-career researchers and provide opportunities for networking with Computational Social Science colleagues, interdisciplinary research collaborations, and guest lectures.

Preparing student RAs for success on the tech job market

How does working at the CSSLab impact student researchers’ career goals and experiences on the job market? We asked two of the Lab’s graduate student research assistants, Keith Golden and Kailun Li, about their experiences at various stages of their job searches.

Researcher spotlight: Mark Whiting

Spearheading the CSSLab’s work on high-throughput virtual lab experiments on group dynamics, Mark Whiting is helping to define the paradigm of large-scale, data-driven social science research. In this researcher spotlight, he outlines his research trajectory and thoughts on the future of CSS.

From the Executive Corner: CSSLab’s One-Year Retrospective

On March 10th, the CSSLab celebrated one year of working to define the new field of computational social science. To mark its anniversary month, the Lab's Executive Director, Valery Yakubovich, reflects upon our mission to adapt the core principles of CSS research to...

Call for Abstracts for IC²S² 2022

The 8th International Conference on Computational Social Science (IC²S²) solicits submissions of ongoing research, including (a) work that advances methods and approaches for computational social science, (b) data-driven work that describes and discovers social,...

What Big Data Reveals About Online Extremism

Originally published by the Annenberg School for Communication PHILADELPHIA, November 22, 2021 — Homa Hosseinmardi and her colleagues at Penn’s Computational Social Science Lab studied browsing data from 300,000 Americans to gain insights into how online...

Researcher spotlight: Homa Hosseinmardi

As the lead researcher on the Penn Media Accountability Project (PennMAP), Homa Hosseinmardi tackles questions of online political radicalization and misbehavior using large-scale data. In this month's researcher spotlight, she shares about her experience navigating...

Building the plane while flying it: How COVID shaped the CSSLab

As if coordinating across three largely autonomous schools were not difficult enough, the COVID-19 pandemic forced researchers at the CSSLab to fundamentally rethink how to collaborate. Director Duncan Watts took on the challenge of building a research lab amidst this...

Facebook shows that even “big data” can hide big bias

With private companies increasingly controlling the production and consumption of information on their platforms, their data on user habits has grown especially valuable to researchers. However, these data rarely provide a complete picture of media consumption, since...

Nature: Special issue explores computational social science

Nature's special issue on computational social science is now available in digital format. The issue features the perspective piece “Integrating explanation and prediction in computational social science,” co-authored by Lab Director Duncan Watts. Read the full issue...

Upcoming: NetSci Computational Social Science Panel

On July 2nd, 10-12 EST, Nature editors Mary Elizabeth Sutherland and Federico Levi will host a virtual round table on Computational Social Science as part of the Networks 2021 conference. The speakers, including CSSLab Director Duncan Watts, have contributed to an...

Upcoming: IC2S2 Conference on Computational Social Science

The 7th International Conference on Computational Social Science (IC2S2), organized by EHT Zurich, will take place online July 27-31. The conference brings together researchers from different disciplines interested in using computational and data-intensive methods to...

The science of fake news

Co-authors David Rothschild and Lab Director Duncan Watts discuss extant social and computer science research regarding the belief in and spread of fake news. They focus on unanswered scientific questions raised by the proliferation of fake news' most recent,...

Rebuilding legitimacy in a post-truth age

Lab Director Duncan Watts and co-author David Rothschild discuss the challenges of a post-truth age, in which evidence, scientific understanding, or mere logical consistency have grown increasingly irrelevant to political argumentation. They argue that, while the...

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