in CSS, CSS Reading Notes, English

Bit by Bit Book: New Social Research Methods

This book by Salganik answers some important empirical research methods questions in computational social science. These five inquiries constitute the meat of the book (chapters 2 to 6):

  • How to learn social behavior from observational data
  • How to do online surveys and combine the findings with digital trace data
  • How to take advantage of digital experimentation for research
  • How to harness crowdsourcing and citizen science for social research
  • How to make sure the research is following ethical principles

It is a methods book for empirical social research in the digital age. It revisits and augments the methods of observational studies, surveys, experiments, and discusses crowdsourcing and citizen science, seeking answers for traditional social scientific questions and interested in building theories, using “new tools” and “new data sources”. It evaluates digital traces “as instrumentation” rather than “as a new object of study”.

Not to be confused, having I said that it is a methods book or a “how to” book, it neither “provides” a step-by-step recipe that you “can” blindly follow, nor it goes into technical details in implementing any of the issues discussed. Quite the contrary, the author discusses the need, opportunities, and challenges in new methods, and uses a simple language in describing, explaining and making sense of the issues. Besides, Salganik gives references to many exemplary studies (tables of such studies!) while discussing how they tackle with the methodological problems at hand. One can further read the original publications cited if interested.

The book format is also very cool in which it applies the principles discussed in it. That is, the author allows its readers to contribute the book while learning about their reading and contribution behavior. Salganik might be doing some experimentation with us as well 🙂