Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge

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.

Contact:

Dr Eric Meyer

Tel: +44 (0)1865 287218

Email: eric.meyer@oii.ox.ac.uk

Overview

Background

The recent excitement about what is being called 'big data' represents an opportunity for the social sciences to advance the understanding of human behaviour using massive amounts of data. There are major implications for the social sciences: for example, the social sciences which have traditionally relied on understanding relatively small samples using tools such as surveys can now make use of real-time transactional data on the level of whole populations, enabling them to become much more powerful in answering certain types of questions.

While there is clear attention being paid to the potential of big data, the applications of big data in the social sciences have, thus far, not been well documented: we know very little of how big data is actually being used in the social sciences beyond scattered accounts of the promises of big data, and even less about how access to big social science data is provisioned. Now that social science uses of big data are appearing at an increasing pace, the time is ripe to study what is happening to big social data, where it is being used and, most importantly, how big data is being accessed and where it is travelling. 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 it is being accessed and used to create new knowledge about the social world and the behavior of human beings.

Objectives

The central issue of this research is to arrive at robust insights with practical implications about how big data about people and their social interactions is accessed, and how big data enables the discovery of new knowledge about society and behaviour: in short, what are the social and scientific implications of large-scale 'big data' as it becomes more widely available to social scientists in academia, public institutions, and the private sector? The project will rely on in-depth studies of exemplar cases to understand how social scientists in academia, industry, and government are accessing and using big data to answer old questions at larger scales as well as asking and answering new questions about society and human behavior. The main objectives of the project are to:

  • Undertake case studies of social science uses of big data with a focus on means and modes of access.

  • Support the development and documentation of new methodologies for working with big social science data, such as access, data management, analysis, and visualization techniques.

  • Facilitate engagement with social scientists working with big data through workshops and other events.

  • Organize a conference on big data in the social sciences.

  • Produce findings that report the project's evidence and make policy recommendations.

Support

This project is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

People

Project Lead

Researchers

Webcasts

Blog

  • 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 [...]

  • hacking a path through the Personal Data Ecosystem

    Linnet Taylor on 12 Dec 2013 15:58PM

    Last week the World Economic Forum sponsored a high-level workshop on the idea of the ‘personal data ecosystem’ and how it might look in different contexts. The event raised some interesting conflicts regarding the way different sectors conceptualise, [...]

  • 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 [...]

  • Surveil the rich, observe the poor: big data at the Internet Governance Forum 2013

    Linnet Taylor on 25 Oct 2013 09:48AM

    This year’s IGF was, unsurprisingly, permeated by the issue of surveillance. Almost every discussion landed on it sooner or later, led partly by the Forum’s headlining of issues of cybersecurity and online freedom.  This led to the use of the term ‘big [...]

  • sharing big data: let it be complicated.

    Linnet Taylor on 22 Oct 2013 04:40AM

    I’m at the Internet Governance Forum 2013 in Bali this week, which kicked off this morning with a discussion on ‘Growth and user empowerment through data commons’ The panel was myself, Alan Paul of the World Economic Forum, and Amparo Ballivian of the [...]

  • Data for growth vs. data protection? an EU debate

    Linnet Taylor on 1 Oct 2013 14:50PM

    At the 2013 European big data conference in Brussels, where a mix of private and public sector leaders are discussing how to use big data to make Europe more competitive. It’s a very wide-ranging discussion which has gone from academic research data [...]

  • Scientific field or hairball? big data research as an academic reality

    Linnet Taylor on 19 Sep 2013 13:19PM

    I’m at the European Conference on Complex Systems in Barcelona today, reflecting on whether big data is, or could become, a field of its own. People here are presenting on diverse topics such as financial risk, gendered decisionmaking in politics, the [...]

  • Big Data and Public Policy Workshop

    Eric Meyer on 15 Sep 2013 12:41PM

    On 13 September 2013, I attended a great workshop at the Harvard Faculty Club organized by my colleagues Vicki Nash and Helen Margetts of the Oxford Internet Institute and the journal Policy and Internet on the topic of “Responsible Research Agendas for [...]

  • Big Data: Tools and Access

    Linnet Taylor on 17 Apr 2013 13:10PM

    This is a group post from a session held at the Big Data: Rewards and Risks for the Social Sciences conference in March (http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events/?id=557). Participants in the group were Chris Birchall, Michael Khoo, Cornelius Puschmann, Kalpana [...]

  • workshop, Towards a Sociology of Data: OII, January 11th

    Linnet Taylor on 7 Dec 2012 14:36PM

    Here’s a very last-minute call for anyone interested in attending a workshop on the sociology of data. It’s half a day at OII, January 11th. Check out the invitation and send us 300-500 words if you’re interested.

  • Quis custodiet provisores ipsos?

    Linnet Taylor on 26 Nov 2012 16:41PM

    To a smart lecture on cyber-security at the Dutch national policy council (WRR), by Ron Deibert of Citizen Lab. Deibert spends his time thinking about the ways that organisations and governments may be using our data for surveillance and control, and [...]

  • OII workshop on big data – inviting applications

    Linnet Taylor on 20 Nov 2012 13:34PM

    The Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, in collaboration with the Sloan Foundation and the Digital Social Research directorate of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC), will be holding a 2-day workshop, 21-22 March 2013 for social [...]

  • The internet archiving puzzle: who can capture the web, and what happens if they do?

    Linnet Taylor on 15 Nov 2012 12:06PM

    On Tuesday I went to a workshop on Big-Data Analytics for the Temporal Web run by LAWA (Longitudinal Analytics of Web Archive data). LAWA is an EU-funded project to develop new archiving techniques for the web, and is the European counterpart to the US [...]

  • Did big data win the US election?

    Linnet Taylor on 7 Nov 2012 12:13PM

    Much has been made of the role of big data in this year’s US elections. The New York Times has reported how both campaigns have been mining even the most private personal data to try to get an edge in terms of mobilising voters, and Stephen Baker [...]

  • CFP: Small data in a Big Data world

    Eric Meyer on 25 Oct 2012 13:21PM

    The following call for papers comes in from my friend Lois Scheidt. They will be taking a critical look at big data, and what it means for the practice of research. CFP “Small Data” in a “Big Data” World, Panel at International Congress of Qualitative [...]

  • AoIR Presentation

    Eric Meyer on 25 Oct 2012 12:12PM

    The slides here were ones we presented about the end(s) of eresearch and the beginings of big data at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Internet Research 13 (http://ir13.aoir.org/) meeting in Salford. The End(s) of e-Research from Eric Meyer [...]