Archive for January 5th, 2011
Apologies for my lack of blogging, I’ve been doing some reading over christmas (I trust everybody had a good christmas) and I wanted to share my thinking on the methodological approaches of both psychology and complexity. I think there is a fundemental issue here as to how we approach Webscience (are we going with Webscience, webscience Web Science or web science these days?) and the role of the different subject areas we’ve be learning about.
The traditional psychological approach shares much with the type of research we learn about in research methods. The positivist idea of isolating a variable and testing it either in the lab or via observation. Complexity differs as components (people, web pages) are affected by their interrelationships. So, isolating a particular part of the system for testing makes little sense as the effects of one variable in isolation say nothing about the collective effects.
If you watch the September Royal Society presentations, Nigel introduces webscience as a multidisciplinary area covering a whole range of subject from the structure of the web to humanities. In the complexity literature, however, there is a fundemental rejection of a positivist approach to dealing with complex systems. This is not to say there is no benefit to be gained, just that the two subject areas are tackling different questions;
Positivist experimentation – what happens at the interface between the web and the individual
Complexity – how does the network function as an entitiy in itself
So the question I have is what are we actually studying when we talk about webscience? Are we taking what we know of complex systems formation and then working out what effects that will have on people or, are we viewing people as part of the system in which case removing them to conduct experiments is impossible without altering the system.
My essay writing efforts have been along these lines – what are the methodological constraints of each approach and can they inform each other in a holistic explanation of the system…