Computational social science is an academic discipline that applies statistical approaches to social sciences research. In other words, software programs are used to analyze data and simulate social models and concepts. Computer-based social science investigates social behavior, phenomena and relationships through analyzing online data gleaned from social media platforms, online communities and popular websites.

The Basics

The field of statistical social science uses computational concepts and data management principles to create models and simulations that analyze and predict social phenomena. This includes advanced topics like systems dynamics and agent-based models. Social complexity in diverse countries is an important topic, so some computational social scientists engage in long-term analysis of major cultures and civilizations through the evaluation of historical data.

Social complexity also involves unique modern social phenomena, such as cyber-crime, digital dynamics and Internet etiquette and customs. Other computational social scientists focus on individual psychology, so they examine the cognitive foundations of information processing within the frameworks of cognitive phenomena like trust and emotions. Comparative computer-based social science involves using integrated methods for analyzing contrasting types of computational models of social phenomena such as linguistics, government and economic systems.

Basic Job Functions

Computational social scientists are usually employed by universities or research centers. They tend to act as a central knowledge resource for staff and the organization. They work closely with researchers to identify, develop and implement customized computational methods that support research and advance theories. They develop methods and improve application software that is utilized in analyzing and interpreting data. This means that they may be asked to assist with compiling, debugging, optimizing and profiling tasks in network or server environments.

Some design tutorials for new end users, others present hands-on workshops to researchers and some organize and host seminars that bring together technical professionals and computational researchers. Computational social scientists in universities are usually asked to help sociologists and other faculty with grant proposals by contributing proposal sections that introduce the relationship between their research and target results. Every day, they use their strong analytical and problem solving abilities to tackle new, unique challenges.

Core Skills

Computational social scientists need programming skills in order to support analysis efforts and interact with multiple programming environments. They must be able to understand and translate researchers’ scientific goals into technical requirements and project goals. Working as part of an interactive team and independently with self-initiative is important. They must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills because they must communicate with non-technical staff regarding complex issues and structured frameworks.

Computational social scientists must be fluent in data analysis, manipulation and management. This means that they must know how to implement algorithms in demanding data environments with various programming languages. They are expected to use complex computational tools and statistical techniques to develop new approaches to identify new social trends. They should have experience with SQL coding, relational database structures and Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods.

Becoming a computational social scientists will require the individual to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in the data sciences. Those who want to learn more should visit the Computational Social Science Society’s website here.