Social science trains its adherents to be cautious. The dictionary meaning of “to determine” is “to cause (something) to occur in a particular way or to have a particular nature.” We are very careful is ascribing causation, though it is of course of the greatest interest. Lawyers are said to use word like surgeons use scalpels. But the lawyers sent out on Asian missions by the UN appear to use words like meat cleavers.
I had heard about papers on Islamic science policy being picked as best papers and given prominence over conventional social science papers at an international conference organized by a Malaysian university. But my first direct experience of this indigenization trend came at the international conference I spoke at last week at Manipal University. A faculty member from a university in Nepal presented a paper that sought to position communication policy within some kind of Hindu scriptural framework. I thought it was just a harmless oddity and tuned out, until I heard the professors in the audience make earnest attempts to respectfully engage with the reformulation of communication policy according to scriptures. The questions were about the nation state, which is the necessary context of policy, which was the theme of the conference.
With two MIT alumni on staff, LIRNEasia keeps an ear out for the good things happening at this premier engineering school. They have just announced the creation of a new Institute for Data, Systems and Society, intended to bring together researchers working in the mathematical, behavioral, and empirical sciences to capitalize on their shared interest in tackling complex societal problems. Our colleagues at Yuan Ze University in Taiwan have already established a big data center. We’ve tried to get this process started in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too. Hopefully, the MIT move will energize these conversations which are proceeding with due deliberation.
Taking research to policy is our thing; social science is a means to that, not an end. Yet, we cannot help but think of how weak an instrument social science has become, especially in South Asia. Here is something I wrote in relation to some internal discussions a few months back: Expressed demand for social science may be difficult to demonstrate, but there can be little doubt that social science is critically important for informed policy making and implementation. As evidence-based policy making receives greater acceptance, demand will increase for high-quality social science graduates or for repurposing of graduates from other fields. .
This year’s CPRsouth focused on systematic reviews. Completed and in-process studies were presented and a whole day of the Young Scholars’ Program was devoted to the topic. On the last day, I was tasked with moderating a panel of those who had worked on SRs. One reason we did this was to ensure that the weaknesses of the tool, as well as its strengths, were fully explored. Here is the first question I posed to the panel: 1.
Why we do research is because we get surprised, sometimes. Here is a fascinating discussion on mobile use in public space in the Eastern US, comparing archival film from decades ago with current video of the same space. Many surprises, but this is the kicker. In fact, this was Hampton’s most surprising finding: Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men. It’s not just on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.
US government gets behind big data. We agree, we’re getting into big data too. Difference is that in our countries there are not that many big data streams. Big data refers to the rising flood of digital data from many sources, including the Web, biological and industrial sensors, video, e-mail and social network communications. The emerging opportunity arises from combining these diverse data sources with improving computing tools to pinpoint profit-making opportunities, make scientific discoveries and predict crime waves, for example.