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Turing Lecture: The Data Science of Politics

With Professor Helen Margetts
30 Mar 2016
With Professor Helen Margetts

This is a recording of Professor Helen Margetts’ Turing Lecture: Social Science and Ethics at the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s National Institute for Data Science.

Political science has traditionally lacked data. The empirical study of politics was born out of history, based largely on thick descriptions of political institutions and systems of government. In the post-war era, the science in political science developed from investigations into political behaviour where opinion surveys provided the quantitative meat, aside from actual voting data which was difficult to link to other data sources. Since then, the internet and social media have wrought dramatic change to political systems, bringing new forms of mobilization which increase instability and unpredictability in both democratic and authoritarian regimes – and also generate new sources of large-scale data. This lecture discusses how data science might help us to understand, explain and even predict this new ‘political turbulence’, by making use of data generated by politics co-ordinated, communicated and organized through social media. Drawing on research carried out for the new book Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action (Margetts, John, Hale and Yasseri, 2015, Princeton University Press), the lecture discusses how data science could be used to tackle enduring questions of political science and maximise the utility of political participation and civic engagement for democratic policy-making.

About the Alan Turing Institute

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s National Institute for Data Science. The Institute’s mission is to: undertake data science research at the intersection of computer science, mathematics, statistics and systems engineering; provide technically informed advice to policy makers on the wider implications of algorithms; enable researchers from industry and academia to work together to undertake research with practical applications; and act as a magnet for leaders in academia and industry from around the world to engage with the UK in data science and its applications.

The Institute is headquartered at The British Library, at the heart of London’s knowledge quarter, and brings together leaders in advanced mathematics and computing science from the five founding universities and other partners. Its work is expected to encompass a wide range of scientific disciplines and be relevant to a large number of business sectors.

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