Aalto’s Data Management Group develops cross-disciplinary collaboration in computational social science

Marta Kołczyńska was a visiting researcher at the Department of Computer Science of Aalto University from 21 April to 23 June, 2019. Marta is a post-doctoral researcher in sociology at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. During the visit, she collaborated with the group of Aristides Gionis on applying computer science tools to social science data, which crystallized into two problems.

The first deals with the ways of measuring social polarization using survey data measuring political attitudes, such as support for the welfare state or immigration, or trust in state institutions. Social polarization refers to the extent to which groups of individuals are divided and distant from each other with regard to certain characteristics, such as economic status or political attitudes. While increases in social polarization around ideological issues or policy preferences are considered one of the threats facing contemporary democracies, the methods of measuring polarization of attitudes have thus far been rather limited. During the collaboration the team explored the application of clustering techniques and feature selection to cross-national survey data with measures of political attitudes from the European Social Survey, and is continuing to work on devising polarization measures to capture the societal dynamics that European societies undergo.

The second problem deals with the role of status in digital communities. Wikipedia is unique in that it is manifestly meritocratic and status is determined solely by the value of the contribution to the community in the form of improving entries, reacting to vandalism, and upholding community values. The team collected data on promotions to adminship on English language Wikipedia as well as characteristics of the candidate and the voters since the initiation of the process in 2003. These data will be used to analyze the role of different status dimensions in the Request for Adminship process.