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 -
  • MSc Student, October 2012 - August 2013


Current 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.


  • 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 [...]