I was in the airport (a fairly common hang out for me) waiting for a plane and I picked up a copy of the new book by Alex “Sandy” Pentland called “Social Physics”. Sandy is the head of the MIT Human Dynamic and Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and has been on the forefront of computer and communication sciences. The new book is a great read on a new discipline emerging in studying idea flow and organization in new ways and treating the subject as a quantitative science. Patterns of information exchange can be studied in new ways that lead to a greater understanding of how to incentivize productivity and optimize performance of different organizations. I highly recommend the book for those who think often about big data problems and anyone who is interested in how ideas move and are manifest in decision making across sectors.
There is a group in the business school that are studying network dynamics of collaboration at CSU and using similar thinking in their analysis of quantifying social interactions in new ways. Steve Hayne and James Folkestad have catalogued all of the sponsored research projects as a basis to understand the collaborative dynamic network on CSU. The analysis allows for a qualitative and quantitative view of the state of interdisciplinary research at CSU. I don’t want to steal their thunder but I took away from it that we have seen a slight retraction of interdisciplinary collaborations (based on funded projects on campus) in the last five years, potentially a product of austere fiscal times. Another observation on the network is the analysis of “cut ties” that are people who are integrating nodes of interdisciplinary research on campus. There has been a reduction in cut ties over the same time period.
While early in the development, the field of social physics I believe has much to offer us on campus and I have encouraged Steve and James to forge on while we work on new ways to build interdisciplinary networks into our research practices and opportunities. I had a chance to proffer this at the recent One Health Club Dinner this week, a new series launched to help move a new campus wide initiative forward. I believe that understanding and facilitating the creation of a vibrant interdisciplinary network could be a key goal of the One Health Club Initiative. This activity should be agnostic to the priorities that emerge within the initiative as they address “how we do it”, not just “what we do”.