Josh Cowls

 Josh Cowls

Josh Cowls works on the Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge project, having previously completed an MSc at the OII.


Josh Cowls joined the OII as a Research Assistant in 2013, to work on the Sloan Foundation-funded project on Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge.

Previously, Josh obtained a BA in History and Politics from the University of Exeter and an MSc in the Social Science of the Internet from the OII. For his MSc thesis he investigated whether and how the online social network Twitter impacts on the traditional agenda setting relationship between the media, politicians and the public.

Josh also has experience in front-line politics, having worked in the Policy Unit of a UK political party and on US presidential and senate campaigns. His research interests include the impact of big data sets on democracy and government, and the new forms and functions of the public sphere facilitated by online social networks.

Research interests

big data, political participation, e-government, agenda setting theory, social networks

Positions held at the OII

  • Research Assistant, September 2013 - August 2015
  • MSc Student, October 2012 - August 2013


Past projects

  • Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities

    January 2014 - March 2015

    The Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities project works with data derived from the UK domain crawl from 1996 to 2013, in order to develop a framework for the study of web archive data and produce a major history of the UK web space.

  • Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge

    October 2012 - May 2014

    The project will follow 'big data' from its public and private origins through open and closed pathways into the social sciences, and document and shape the ways they are being accessed and used to create new knowledge about the social world.



Conference papers

  • Schroeder, R. and Cowls, J. (2014) Big Data, Ethics, and the Social Implications of Knowledge Production. Paper presented at Data Ethics Workshop, KDD@Bloomberg, August 24 2014, New York, NY.


  • Cowls, J. (2014) Mapping the UK Webspace: the topology of a national web domain. Presentation to 'Web Archiving and Archived Web — a new Research Method, a new Object of Study?', Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark, June 2014.



  • The Globalist

    16 April 2015 Monocle

    Monicle's broadcast news programme talks to Josh Cowls about the EU antitrust case against Google. (15.30 on the clock)

  • The Briefing

    25 March 2015 Monocle 24

    Josh Cowls talks about diplomacy on twitter after the US Ambassador to Libya left the site as a result of online attacks after she tweeted about an air strike. (from 20.00)

  • Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: who are the world’s most popular football clubs?

    9 December 2014 Guardian Sportblog

    Why the global football clubs are put so much store on scoring via social media. Josh Cowls talks about the online relationships between clubs and their supporters around the world.

  • Why big data has some big problems when it comes to public policy

    28 August 2014 Washington Post

    A feature on the this year’s Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference mentions a presentation by Josh Cowls.

  • The Bill Heine Show

    1 June 2014 BBC Radio Oxford

    Josh Cowls joined the Sunday morning discussion show on local BBC Radio Oxford talking about the upsides and downsides of social media. (c17:44 on the clock)


  • Big Data – What’s New(s)?

    Josh Cowls on 26 Jun 2015 11:19AM

    The following is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield this week, presenting work by myself and Ralph Schroeder. The question of what drives news coverage far pre-dates the Internet and the rise of social [...]

  • The MPs whose Wikipedia pages have been edited from inside Parliament

    Josh Cowls on 21 Apr 2015 20:26PM

    Grant Shapps is in the headlines after being accused of self-serving edits made to his own entry on Wikipedia, as well as unflattering changes made to rivals’ pages. But he may not be the only politician giving himself a virtual facelift. Analysis [...]

  • Big Data: the New Water or the New Oil?

    Josh Cowls on 18 Dec 2014 07:37AM

    In definitional terms, big data is, as we are repeatedly told, a matter of volume, velocity, variety and sometimes veracity. But perhaps as a result of a fifth v, the vagueness of this definition, those discussing the present and future impact of big data [...]

  • Big Data in the Humanities: lessons from papyrus and Instagram

    Josh Cowls on 27 Oct 2014 21:08PM

    I’m currently in Washington DC to attend the IEEE International Conference on Big Data. The first day is set aside for workshops, and I’ve just attended a really insightful one on ‘Big Humanities Data’. The diversity of work [...]

  • Social media and public opinion: what’s new?

    Josh Cowls on 23 Jul 2014 16:28PM

    I’m currently writing up a paper for submission to the Internet, Politics and Policy 2014 conference to be held by the OII in September. My paper – which draws substantially on interviews conducted as part of the Sloan Foundation-funded [...]

  • Streisandfreude: how the right to be forgotten may become an excuse to be remembered

    Josh Cowls on 14 Jul 2014 15:42PM

    The past fortnight saw the first ripples of reaction to the European Court of Justice’s assertion of a citizen’s ‘right to be forgotten’ online. Following the court’s ruling, Google began the implementation of a process [...]

  • Big Data in Bellagio: who counts, what counts, and how do we count?

    Josh Cowls on 13 May 2014 10:13AM

    One of the early discussions emerging at our ‘Big Data for Social Change’ at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio surrounds how the act of capturing of big data impinges on our understanding of it. There are three strands in particular which [...]

  • Piecing Together the Value of Big Data

    Josh Cowls on 31 Mar 2014 13:37PM

    During the construction of a jigsaw or model, there is invariably a moment in which one’s perception shifts from the level of ‘parts’ to the level of ‘whole’ – when, as it were, the bigger picture becomes clear. [...]

  • Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator

    Josh Cowls on 19 Feb 2014 16:11PM

    “What social data can tell you: pretty much everything” proclaimed Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, in a popular post on LinkedIn earlier this week. We can perhaps forgive Azhar the hyperbolic lead-in, but hisarticle as a whole indulges in [...]

  • “Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?

    Josh Cowls on 28 Jan 2014 16:51PM

    “Like Noah’s ark, (there was) every kind of creature in every walk of life. They included a town wit, a grave citizen, a worthy lawyer, a worship justice, a reverend nonconformist, and a voluble sailor.” The above description comes from [...]

  • Cyber-revisionism: Parties’ Attitudes to Web Archiving Are a Worrying Sign for Digital Democracy

    Josh Cowls on 11 Dec 2013 09:53AM

    Following an earlier, somewhat rantier post on this blog when the news originally broke, I’ve written a more academically-oriented piece on British political parties’ cyber-revisionism with Mor Rubenstein, a current MSc student here at the [...]

  • Big Data’s People Problem

    Josh Cowls on 28 Nov 2013 10:32AM

    To Google Campus in east London to hear what a number of practitioners thought were the most controversial questions surrounding the use and abuse of big data. After a couple of lightning pitches from big data startups (if you dream of using augmented [...]

  • The Challenge of Big Data: A Day at the British Library

    Josh Cowls on 28 Oct 2013 16:05PM

    On Friday I attended the British Sociological Association’s Presidential Event at the British Library, titled ‘The Challenge of Big Data’. The venue couldn’t have been more symbolically appropriate: the British Library collection holds more than 150 [...]