SNA project proposal

For my first social network analysis project, I selected Neil deGrasse Tyson as a famous scientist on Twitter to create an egocentric network. He follows far fewer entities (43) than those that follow him (9.41 million). I’m curious about the significance of the entities that he has chosen to follow and any interrelationships between them. Other famous scientific figures (and celebreties) seem to follow similar patterns of following few entities while having many followers, so this would suggest that these users obtain limited information from their news feed and primarily use tweets to disseminate information. Other randomly selected famous scientists include Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging lead, following 342 and 57.6k followers; Michio Kaku, physicist, following 51 and 622k followers; or Richard Dawkins, biologist, following 368 and 2.46 million followers. The first two scientists might intersect with Tyson’s world, but Dawkins is a controversial figure in a different field (biology and evolution). However, Dawkins is included in the 43 as well as Pee Wee Herman (entertainer), while Porco and Kaku have not be followed. However, Tyson did mention Porco in a tweet about Cassini’s end (Sept 19), which had been retweeted 548 times.

The most basic research question is what does an egocentric network of a famous scientist look like? What types of entities does he choose to follow and can they be classified into a few buckets: other scientists, media organizations, government agencies, any unknown individuals, or random famous individuals (Pee Wee Herman)? Would this information support a hypothesis for a larger project that Twitter might be similar to LinkedIn for certain types of users: a professional network rather than friends and family? And the sociological research question: is there a correlation between entities followed and status (such as famous people with a threshold of followers in the millions)? For example, does it indicate greater status for Tyson to mention Porco in a tweet, but she doesn’t have enough status to be followed?

The relationships between the ego and alters may be supplemented through other manual research to discover more information (such as publishing a scientific paper together using a scholarly database, appearing on the same panel at a conference, or a media appearance for a media entity). In addition, other data points may be gathered from a sampling of retweets and mentions for the last week.

I’m hoping to see some clusters based on the buckets of entities. For the example, the scientists might be linked to each other through social media ties or academic work. The comedians might be linked together by appearing in the same event with a science theme or  linked to the other scientists through a media appearance (such as Stephen Colbert’s show). Charles Kadushin, Graham Wright, Michelle Shain, and Leonard Saxe had an interesting study of social integration for young American Jews. It reminded me that these clusters tend to be based on homophily, creating sub-networks. Also, I’m wondering if Tyson’s network might result in a small world model (like the previously discussed six degrees of separation and Kevin Bacon).

Kreb’s article on “Mapping Networks of Terrorist Cells” makes the point that the network may be incomplete because I can’t simply ask why for following certain entities and also dynamic because the network has increased by 1 since last week.  In addition, Kadushin (2012) brings up an ethical question about social network research: would Tyson be annoyed at being the focus of this network project or be amused?

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