November 02, 2004

Social Networks

In a recent article in Wired Bruce Sterling comments on the role that social networks might play in the evaluation of impact and the identification of funding partners. A couple of points from that article:

He notes that "Allocating money for scientific research has always been highly problematic. Science just doesn't sit still for the usual forms of cost-benefit analysis..." and then goes on to postulate that social network maps of citations and peer review can provide a proxy for the all elusive impact. He then leaves us with an unfinished discussion of a scenario in which the scientist in the middle of a strong network is funded while his (gender assignment is mine, read into it what you will) less connected colleague is left unfunded.

My initial reaction is "great - now we can really reinforce the middle of the road". A number of pernicious assumptions underlie this analysis:

First - there is the assumption that past performance is a good indicator of future performance. This is self-fullfilling.

Second, and perhaps related - there is an implicit assumption that new ideas will come from well established sources (individuals?...)

Third - there is an implicit assumption that citations and peer review are good proxies...

I was attracted to the article for another reason - I am trying to fund new ideas. Can I use social networks to find new sources of funding. What is the map I need to connect my ideas with funding sources?...