Experimenting with Data Visualization in VR

To learn more about the potential for VR to transform data visualization, Katie Metzler worked with SAGE colleagues, Diana Aleman and Andrew Boney and the team at Datavized, a startup based in New York City, on a project to turn data from one of SAGE’s data products, SAGE Stats, into a 3D VR experience.

Nesta to set up new Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Nesta confirmed they are to launch a new Centre for Collective Intelligence Design this summer. The centre will seek to harness the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with a particular focus on the combination of human and machine intelligence.

SAGE Ocean Speaker Series #2 - Violence, VR & Video Data - Experimental Research into Violent Events

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We’re pleased to announce the next event in the SAGE Ocean Speaker Series. Session 2 will see Mark Levine discussing his recent work which includes the use of virtual reality to study the behaviour of bystanders in violent emergencies. 

This is a unique opportunity to hear Mark talk about his experimental research first-hand and to ask him any questions you may have. 

Mark is a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Exeter and his work explores the role of social identity in pro-social and anti-social behaviour. Want to know more? Follow Mark on Twitter

Call for Speakers!

If you're interested in speaking at one of our future events and engaging with the social science, publishing and tech communities in London, we'd love to hear from you.

Please send us a message and we'll get back to you with more information.

Humans broke the internet, understanding them better might help fix it

By Timo Hannay

Here's a multiple-choice question: Is the internet (a) the most open, egalitarian and empowering means of communication ever devised, or (b) a dystopian nightmare populated by hucksters, trolls and miscellaneous abusers of human rights? The answer is, of course, (c) all of the above and much else besides. This stark contrast between the internet's light and dark sides has become a defining characteristic of the digital age, but is not an inevitable consequence of the mostly innocuous technologies on which it's built. Rather, it is the product of their bewilderingly diverse and eccentric user base – otherwise known as humanity.

SSRC launches Social Data Initiative & Facebook provides academics with access to data

Last week marked a milestone for social science and industry partnerships, with Facebook announcing an initiative to give scholars access to its data in order to help them assess social media’s impact on elections.

The move, which sees the tech giant partnering with the Social Science Research Council and seven major nonprofit foundations, has been largely welcomed by the research community as a positive step towards enabling academic research and establishing regulation. However, some ethicists have, understandably, expressed concern around privacy and consent issues.

Simultaneous to the Facebook announcement, the SSRC announced the formation of a new Social Data Initiative to “examine the problems, explore questions about the responsible use of social network data, and generate insights to inform solutions”. A welcome and much-needed response to the revelations around the misuse of Facebook data.

 Facebook account

The Facebook initiative is the first to utilise A New Model for Industry-Academic Partnerships, devised by Gary King and Nate Persily as a way to make industry data available to social science researchers via an independent, transparent peer-review process.

Through this model, Facebook and the initiative’s funders will select an independent commission of trusted academics, which will be overseen by the SSRC. This commission will then receive access to Facebook data and use this to identify appropriate research questions within a general topic area (in this case the impact of social media on democracy). Once the questions have been agreed, the commission will announce an open grant competition, inviting independent academics to apply for funding and (privacy-preserving) data access. Proposals will go through a peer review process, conducted by a subcommittee of the commission. Researchers who are awarded funding and data access will then be free to publish their findings as they see fit, without Facebook’s pre-approval.

Funding will be provided by a range of politically diverse US-based foundations: the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Beyond social media

King & Persily’s model offers an innovative approach to a major problem, for industry and academia alike. For technology companies, it provides an opportunity to engage with social scientists and embed informed social objectives within business decisions, ultimately improving governance and social outcomes.

For social scientists, it could be the catalyst for a new era of social research. Whilst there has been significant appetite within the social science community to engage with big data research for sometime, gaining access to the right kind of data has proven a consistent barrier.

And it’s not just social media and technology companies that hold vast quantities of human data. Organisations of all kinds have been collecting and storing information about groups and individuals for years. From CCTV footage to credit card records, this data holds great potential to advance scientific discovery and improve our understanding of society. Of course, making this kind of data available has significant risks and challenges - from the protection of individual privacy and proprietary company information to ensuring the independence of the scientific process. King and Persily’s proposal might not be a perfect solution, but it’s certainly a welcomed step in the right direction.

Next steps

Beyond the Facebook partnership, the formation of the Social Data Initiative should be seen as an important milestone for social science research and industry-academic partnerships in general. But there are many more opportunities to improve support for social scientists working with big data.

In addition to programs like this, we believe that collaborations between social scientists and technologists on an individual level can also provide substantial opportunities for furthering social research. To this end, we are planning a number of events in 2018/19 to bring together people from academia, tech and policy to help form new collaborations and ensure a continued conversation around the future of social science. This includes working with Facebook and O’Reilly to run the second Social Science Foo Camp in 2019.

We also believe it is vital that social scientists are equipped with the necessary skills and tools to answer these new types of research questions. SAGE Ocean is developing a range of resources to support researchers and help the social science community make the most out of the opportunities big data holds.

Timing is everything

To quote Gary King: 

"One might reasonably wonder whether now is, in fact, the time to discuss a data sharing program between internet companies and academics... [but] now is precisely the time to have this conversation and to set up structures that protect users’ privacy while allowing independent academic analysis of social media data."

We couldn't agree more.

Have an opinion? Let us know your thoughts. We’re launching a new “Ask the experts” blog series to showcase your viewpoints on the latest news in social science and big data research.

Our first question is: “What impact do you think Facebook’s “data breach” will have on academic research and academic researchers?”

Send your one to two paragraph response to ocean@sagepub.com by the 23rd April for the opportunity to be featured.

Quanteda Studio, MiniVAN and Digital DNA Toolbox awarded Concept Grants

 SAGE Concept Grants

We are delighted to announce the first three winners of our Concept Grants program.

Each has been awarded $35k to develop their ideas and help more social scientists to work with big data. 

The winners are:


Quanteda Studio is designed to be a powerful, flexible, and user-friendly text analytic software tool that requires no programming experience to use and will run as a web application. “Quanteda” is short for the quantitative analysis of textual data, and this new application will be built on the power of the open-source quanteda R package for processing and analyzing text.

Text mining and text analytics has exploded in recent years. Technically able data scientists have a wealth of sophisticated tools for mining information from the troves of available textual data, in the form of computer programming languages and software libraries written for those environments. The downside of this sophistication, however, is that users with no programming experience in R, Python, or Java have no access to these tools.

Quanteda Studio is being developed by Kenneth Benoit from the London School of Economics, the creator of quanteda and an expert applications and methods of text analysis for the social sciences. This new tool will make the power of quanteda widely accessible, enabling social scientists to access and use the package’s text analytics capabilities through a graphical user interface that requires no programming.

Kenneth Benoit said:

“I’m delighted to have been awarded this seed grant to develop a prototype, and delighted to be working with such an experienced and innovative partner of academic research and publishing as Sage.”


MiniVAN will be an easy-to-use tool that will support non-specialist social scientists in the visual analysis of their networks and in the online publication of their results.

Networks are becoming increasingly popular in the social sciences as interfaces for exploratory data analysis. The "Visual Analysis of Networks" (VAN) allows academics to explore large relational datasets without having to deal with the full complexity of graph mathematics. A key barrier remains, however, for the adoption of this approach: current VAN tools are either too complicated or unable handle the growing size of the datasets that are typical in the digital social sciences.

MiniVAN aims to solve this problem by providing a tool for the visual analysis of networks that is accessible to academics with little knowledge of mathematics or coding and yet able to scale up to output graphs containing hundreds of thousands of nodes.

MiniVAN is being developed by Tommaso VenturiniJonathan Gray and Guillaume Pique from the Public Data Lab (PDL), a European network of researchers which seeks to facilitate research, democratic engagement and public debate around the future of the data society. SAGE Publishing partnered with the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath to support the establishment of the Public Data Lab in 2017.

The MiniVAN project will draw on the team’s previous open source projects, including GephiSigmajs and Graphology - and will form part of this ecosystem of tools. In line with the Public Data Lab’s spirit of openness, the PDL is seeking to develop MiniVAN in collaboration with the digital social science community. If you have any ideas or needs for this tool, please get in touch via contact@publicdatalab.org  

Tommaso Venturini said:

“The Public Data Lab is honoured to receive the SAGE Ocean Concept Grant. Such funding provides a unique opportunity to extend our research on Visual Network Analysis and to deliver a tool that will help other social scientists to experiment with this technique.

The PDL believes in the active intervention of social scientists in the future of data society. Digital technologies are not just objects of study that we observe from the outside, but sociotechnical devices that we should investigate critically and repurpose creatively in order to facilitate social research and promote political participation.

SAGE's support will help us to open a discussion with scholars interested in network analysis and to develop an open-source tool that comply with their needs and wishes.”


The Digital DNA Toolbox will use bioinformatics techniques to provide researchers with a set of cutting-edge tools that can be used for many things, including assessing the veracity, trustworthiness, and reliability of content (and content producers) in online social networks and beyond.

Issues related to the diffusion of fake news, rumors, hoaxes, as well as the diffusion of malware and viruses in online social networks have become so important as to transcend the virtual ecosystem and interfere with our businesses and societies. Currently, we are unable to effectively deal with these issues. However, recent advances in theoretical data science, as well as the development of big data systems capable of processing the huge volume of online social networks data, gives us the unprecedented opportunity to tackle these critical and multidisciplinary issues.

The Digital DNA Toolbox will provide a novel approach to modeling online user behavior by extracting and analyzing DNA-inspired sequences from users’ online actions. These well-known DNA analysis techniques can then be used to discriminate between legitimate and malicious accounts.

DDNA is being developed by Stefano Cresci and Maurizio Tesconi from the Institute for Informatics and Telematics, Italian National Research Council.

Stefano Cresci said:

"We are very excited of the possibility to develop the digital DNA toolbox, thanks to the prestigious award of the SAGE Ocean Concept Grant. We firmly believe that current problems related to the assessment of credibility and reliability of content (and content producers) require a multidisciplinary approach. To this end, this funding will contribute to bridge the gap between big data and social scientists, empowering the latter with state-of-the-art algorithms and analysis techniques that would otherwise be confined within the computer science community. We look forward to working together with SAGE and other social scientists in order to deliver efficient, easy-to-use tools, and to make an impact on our society."

SAGE Ocean will be awarding Concept Grants again in 2019. To stay up to date with the latest news and ensure you receive the next call for applications, subscribe to the Big Data Newsletter.

SAGE Ocean Speaker Series: Kimberly A. Houser

We were extremely lucky to kick off the first edition of the SAGE Ocean Speaker Series last week with a talk from tech attorney and social media law professor, Kimberly A. Houser.

 SAGE Ocean Speaker Series #1
 Speaker series pizza

Kimberly presented her research into the use of big data by the IRS, sparking engaged debate from the audience around the legality of such practices; surveillance and privacy; machine learning and "black box" algorithms. There was also much discussion around the GDPR and its potential impact when it comes into force on the 25th May - another of Kimberly's current research topics.

It was a fantastic start to the series and we look forward to hearing from more social science, big data and technology experts over the coming months.

You can find out more about Kimberly's research into the IRS here.