A new journal for a new science

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.