Wednesday, 29 October 2008

How Kevin Bacon cured cancer

This interesting program, which was clearly intended to popularise science, screened on the ABC last night. Disappointingly though, sociology was conspicuous only by its absence (and the same could be said of the graph theory of Leonard Euler). Network science was heralded as "the science of the 21st century", and Duncan J Watts provided a major focus for the program. Now I just happen to also own a copy of Watts' book, Six Degrees: the Science of a Connected Age, in which an intellectual debt to sociology is frankly acknowledged. Simmel is specifically mentioned on account of his theory of triads as the fundamental unit of group structure (p58), and this long sociological pedigree extends right through to today, as evidenced by the Journal of Mathematical Sociology and actor network theory.
Elsewhere on this blog I have referred to actor network theory in critical terms, which by extension makes me less sanguine than the makers of this documentary that network science is going to necessarily have a positive democratising effect by reminding us all that every problem is essentially a "small world" problem because of our interconnections. Indeed, the program counteracts its own intentions in these respects by demonstrating the increasing penetration of network science into the Westpoint Military Academy. Its proselytisers at Westpoint even credit it with helping them to capture Saddam Hussein.
Another point of interest for me was how it is particular hubs, or nodal points if preferred, that are instrumental in how a network distributes its flow of information. By extension, referencing my earlier post, one could use BlogPulse as a bibliometric tool to determine the major hubs in the Continental philosophy blogosphere, by tracking conversations to see who most consistently captures the attention space in the first instance.
But I should finish by returning to my point that the program was not reflexive enough to situate its complicity in maintaining the hegemony of science as a public discourse. Watts mentions Asimov's Foundation series in his book, Asimov's novels positively reference sociology, and another scientist mentions Asimov again [without mentioning sociology] in the film, reminding us that we are living in a world where science, and even science fiction, are afforded more public legitimacy than sociology. Although that thought is quite depressing, it is still worth watching the program as evidence of the phenomenon of homophily, where that which is similar tends to cluster in a network. I regard homophily as a heuristic relative of the term I like to bandy about, seriality.

1 comment:

Annamaria said...

Hi Acheron - DVD is available - first copies! - from these people:

just ask for it - its not up on the site there yet

its the long version with additional extras

All the best,