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.

About the speakers

  • Professor Helen Margetts

    Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

    Helen Margetts is Professor of Society and the Internet and Director of the Oxford Internet Institute of the University of Oxford. She is a political scientist specialising in digital era governance and politics, investigating political behaviour, digital government and government-citizen interactions in the age of the internet, social media and big data. She has published over a hundred books, articles and major research reports in this area, including Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action (with Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri, 2015); Paradoxes of Modernization (with Perri 6 and Christopher Hood, 2010); Digital Era Governance (with Patrick Dunleavy, 2006); and The Tools of Government in the Digital Age (with Christopher Hood, 2007). In 2003 she and Patrick Dunleavy won the ‘Political Scientists Making a Difference’ award from the UK Political Studies Association, in part for a series of policy reports on Government on the Internet for the UK National Audit Office (1999, 2002, 2007, 2009), and she continues working to maximise the policy impact of her research. She sits on the Digital Advisory Board of the UK Government Digital Service and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government. She is editor-in-chief of the journal Policy and Internet. She is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.