Northeastern University

A new journal for a new science

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International airline routes can be used to model human mobility patterns, and thus the spread of infectious diseases. But one example of the utility of big data. Photo via Flickr.

Here’s a statistic for you: From internet and mobile phone use to credit card transactions and voting records, we now generate more socio-economic data each 1.2 years than we did during all of previous human history combined. That’s according to a McKinsey Global Institute Study cited in the first pages of the new open-access online journal, EPJ Data Science. With all that data, we’re bound to see changes in the traditional scientific approach, and the new journal hopes to provide a medium upon which to cultivate those changes.

Editors-in-Chief Alessandro Vespignani of Northeastern University and Frank Schweitzer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Zurich launched the journal this past May and say it is devoted “to all scientists with a generic interest in complex, human activity-related systems, their microscopic interactions and their macroscopic patterns — to those who are anxious to uncover the message in the data and willing to understand its fundamental origin.”

I talk a lot about interdisciplinarity on this blog — it’s a rather hot topic on most campuses these days. But the journal is actually putting its money where its mouth is, encouraging submissions that “do not easily fit within the more rigid disciplinary boundaries of traditional journals.”

So-called “data science,” write the editors, is an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor and thus it requires a space dedicated to its pursuit, unhindered by the traditional structures of academia. Instead of focusing on the technical challenges that naturally arise when dealing with millions of users, the journal’s editors hope it will instead explore the “new empirical laws” that are emerging as a result of these massive data sets. It will publish articles that focus on the scientific exploration of social systems, such as the political and public health spheres.

This will require “more than plotting data the right way,” write the editors. “New concepts need to be established.”

The journal has published eight articles so far, including one from Vespignani that predicted the winner of the last American Idol competition.



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