by Kieran Healy on May 19, 2005

11-year-old Katie Brownell, the only girl on her Little League team in upstate New York, “pitched a perfect game”: last Saturday, annihilating the opposing team “in an 11-0 shutout before a stunned crowd of about 100 parents and friends in the bleachers of the Oakfield Town Park.” Now, I am indifferent to baseball, but it has the virtue of being one of those sports that allow for the possibility of a well-defined “perfect game” of some sort. There are fewer of these sports than you might think — they’re generally confined to games where the player has to do something similar over and over again and never make a mistake. Watching a performance like that is quite a different experience from seeing a well-played football game or watching a track race where the winner does everything right. The tension builds in a different way. In the best cases, it takes some time for the crowd even to realize that something special might be on the cards. And of course in this case there’s the whole “who’s laughing now” angle, which I imagine some screenwriter somewhere is already bashing out a treatment of:

bq. Ms. Bischoff said her daughter had been an avid baseball player since she was about 6, and learned the game from two older brothers. But she said Katie’s first year as the only girl in the Little League was trying, and her teammates sometimes told her she should play softball with the other girls.

My G!

by Eszter Hargittai on May 19, 2005

Google arrives at Yahoo! 1999.

MyYahoo! in 2000

[Image extracted from the Web Archive.]

For something that’s been around for so long (personalized portal pages) My Google isn’t offering much at this point. But how interesting that they have picked sites like Slashdot as one of only a dozen options to feature for now. I would like to see the behind-the-scenes of what led to these twelve particular items being featured. Some are quite obvious (e.g. redirection to Google movie searches or Google Maps), but others probably have to do with deals. Gosh, all this reminds me of my article in 2000 on the role of portals in channeling user attention online. I discuss the implications of the underlying commercial decisions in this piece.

Reinventing the wheel

by John Quiggin on May 19, 2005

Eszter’s post on physicists doing social network theory raises the issue of ‘reinventing the wheel’. In this case, the physicists are breathlessly announcing results that sociologists have known about for years.

That’s obviously silly, but I don’t think reinventing the wheel is entirely a bad thing. Whenever I start on a new research topic, I like to spend a bit of time thinking about the issues on the basis of first principles, before I start reading the literature to see what others have done. The benefit of this is not that you’re likely to discover anything fundamentally new, but that it makes it easier to see what is central to the literature and what’s merely the accidental result of its development history (Professor X, the founder of the field, stressed assumption A, so all subsequent writers pay homage to it, and so on). Of course, this is only useful if you can subsequently engage with the existing literature.

My short summary “By all means have a go at reinventing the wheel, but don’t try to patent it[1]”

fn1. Apart from anything else, this guy has already done it

Update As James Farrell reminds me over at my blog, I’m reinventing my own wheel here.

Isolated social networkers

by Eszter Hargittai on May 19, 2005

Some physicists have come out with a paper on the Eurovision song contest. Of course, we at CT like to be ahead of the curve and thanks to Kieran’s ingenuity reported similar findings over a year ago. So much for this being “new research”.

There has been much excitement about and focus on social networks in the past few years ranging from social networking sites to several high-profile books on the topic.

Interestingly, much of the buzz about recent work covers research by physicists. It’s curious how physicists have expanded their research agenda to cover social phenomena. I thought their realm was the physical world. Of course, since social phenomena are extremely complex to study, as a social scientist, I certainly welcome the extra efforts put into this field of inquiry.

What is less welcomed is watching people reinvent the wheel. Sure, partly it’s an ego thing. But more importantly, it’s unfortunate if the overall goal is scientific progress. Much of the recent work in this area by physicists has completely ignored decades worth of work by social scientists. If we really do live in such a networked world where information is so easy to access, how have these researchers managed to miss all the existing relevant scholarship? Recently Kieran pointed me to an informative graph published by Lin Freeman in his recent book on The Development of Social Network Analysis:

People whose overall work focuses on social networks are represented by white dots, physicists by black ones, others by grey circles. As is clear on the image, the worlds exist in isolation from each other. It would be interesting to see year-of-publication attached to the nodes to see the progression of work.

I have been meaning to write about all of this for a while, but John Scott from the Univ. Essex addressed these issues quite well in some notes he sent to INSNA‘s SOCNET mailing list a few months ago so I will just reproduce those here. (I do so with permission.)

[click to continue…]

Tony Banks is not dead

by Harry on May 19, 2005

Tony Banks is to become a peer. And Chris Smith. It’s a long way from the GLC. Check out the list here.

Estelle Morris too, presumably forgiven for setting the appalling precedent of taking responsibility for errors committed under her watch. And Gillian Shephard, the only Education Secretary in the past ten years I’ve heard nice things about from all sides.