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Network Theory - the Emergence of the Creative Enterprise

Network Theory - the Emergence of the Creative Enterprise

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Published by nkrgupta
A fascinating article on "Network Theory" written by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, published in the "SCIENCE" magazine
A fascinating article on "Network Theory" written by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, published in the "SCIENCE" magazine

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Published by: nkrgupta on Nov 07, 2008
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639
I
n the
 Foundation Trilogy
, Isaac Asimov placed psychohistorian Harry Seldon sofar into the future that Earth, the birth- place of the Galactic civilization, has beenforgotten (
1
). Indeed, Star Trek’s teleportingcharacters appear far more grounded in real-ity than Seldon’s mathematical equationsthat accurately predict the multigalactic soci-ety’s fate thousands of years into the future.Today, when reports about quantum telepor-tation fill the pages of the best physics jour-nals, we wonder how long it will be until areal Harry Seldon produces an accuratemathematical theory of human behavior.It may be hard to believe, but conditionsfor such a quantitative approach are increas-ingly in place. Indeed, records of humanactions are already stored in numerous data- bases. E-mail and phone records documentour social and professional interactions; travelrecords and GPS navigation systems captureour travel patterns and physical locations;credit-card companies maintain records of our shopping and entertainment habits.Although in the wrong hands, these data setsrepresent Orwellian tools of power, for scien-tists they offer incredible insights into human behavior. Combine this capability with thesophisticated tool of network theory (
2
 – 
),which analyzes relations between millions of individuals, and you get a glimpse of anunprecedented opportunity to quantifyhuman dynamics. Although a mathematicaltheory of social complexity remains a pipedream, it is not as farfetched as it may haveappeared in 1942, when
 Foundation
was first published. Proof of this can be found in thestudy by Guimerà
et al 
. on page 697 of thisissue (
8
). By taking advantage of publiclyavailable data sets from both artistic and sci-entific fields, the authors offer powerfulinsights into the mechanisms governing col-lective human behavior.Traditionally, the achievements of indi-viduals such as Darwin and Einstein havedominated the public’s image of science, yettoday some of the most groundbreaking work is collaborative in nature (see the figure). Buthow do such creative teams come about? Arethere discernible differences between collab-orations that are sparklingly creative and those that are less inventive? Guimerà
et al 
.use network theory to answer these ques-tions. Their starting point is a collection of fascinating data sets: a century-long record of Broadway musicals and the publicationrecords of several fields of science. Thesedata sets allowed them to reconstruct the col-laborative history of the individuals who con-tributed to a particular show or research pub-lication. The investigators document a chang-ing creative enterprise in which advancesrequire an increasing number of contributors.The history of Broadway is particularly illu-minating: The team size responsible for pro-ducing a show increased until the 1930s, after which it leveled off, fluctuating at around seven contributors for the past 70 years. Incontrast, science continues to search for itsoptimal collaborative setup: The number of 
SOCIOLOGY
Network Theory—the Emergenceof the Creative Enterprise
Albert-László Barabási
The author is in the Center for Complex Network Research and the Department of Physics,University of Notre Dame,Notre Dame,IN 46556,USA.E-mail:alb@nd.edu
www.sciencemag.orgSCIENCEVOL 30829 APRIL 2005
Published by AAAS
 
640
coauthors in each scientific field hasincreased monotonically during the pastdecade. It is anyone’s guess when and where itwill reach a maximum.Until the late 1990s, the bulk of network research focused on static properties, whichdo not change with time (
9
). Yet a proper understanding of most networks requires thatwe characterize the assembly process thatgenerated them. Indeed, a map of such net-works is not sufficient to understand thestructure of the World Wide Web—we mustdescribe how documents and links are added and removed (
3
). Uncovering all interactions between proteins is only the first step toward understanding cellular networks—we mustalso explore the importance of gene duplica-tions and mutations that shape the interac-tions between proteins and genes (
10
).Similarly, to comprehend the structure of thecollaboration map, we must understand how people form friendships and alliances. Giventhat in the professional world friendships are just as crucial as hard-nosed professionalinterests, modeling the evolution of creativeteams may appear to be impossible.Guimerà’s results indicate otherwise: Theyshow that a simple model successfully cap-tures many qualitative features of the net-work underlying the creative enterprise. Intheir study, they distinguish between veter-ans, who have participated in collaborations before, and rookies, who are about to seetheir names appear in print for the first time.Two parameters are key: the fraction of vet-eran members in a new team, and the degreeto which veterans involve their former col-laborators. If choosing experienced veteransis not a priority, the authors find that the net-work will be broken up into many smallteams with little overlap between them. Asthe likelihood of relying on veteransincreases, thanks to the extra links to earlier collaborators, the teams coalesce through a phase transition such that all players become part of a single cluster.Many professional networks—from theweb of actors in Hollywood to scientific collab-orations (
11
,
12
)—are scale-free (
13
), that is,although most individuals have only a few col-laborators, a few have hundreds and operate ashubs. The legendary Paul Erdös, the father of random network theory, with more than 500collaborators, was probably the best known hubwithin mathematics. The model that Guimeràand co-workers propose does indeed accountfor hubs, the emergence of which is rooted inthe rookies’desire to involve their friends innew teams. Indeed, the more collaborators anindividual has, the higher the chances are thathe or she will be invited to participate again.This process—called preferential attachmentin network theory—is responsible for the emer-gence of hubs through a rich-gets-richer  process (
13
) in which well-connected individu-als continue to be in high demand.How does this assembly process affect theteam’s performance? The results of theGuimerà
et al 
. study indicate that expertisedoes matter: Teams publishing in high-impact journals have a high fraction of incumbents. But diversity matters too: Teamswith many former collaborative links offer inferior performance. Thus, the recipe for success seems relatively simple: When form-ing a “dream team” make an effort to includethe most experienced people, whether or notyou have worked with them before. Thetemptation to work mainly with friends willeventually hurt performance.In Asimov’s classic story, Harry Seldon’stheory could not handle innovation. To stayon the predictive side, the Foundation went togreat lengths to freeze all technologicaldevelopment. Indeed, the most disruptivesocial changes humanity has experienced areintimately tied to new technologies, from thesteam engine to the Internet. It is tempting toconclude, therefore, that given the unpre-dictability of potential technologies, a theoryof human dynamics will have no chance of success until scientific innovation ceases. Amore constructive approach, and one taken by Guimerà
at al 
., takes us in the oppositedirection, bringing innovation into a scien-tific and mathematical perspective.Finally, will there ever be a Harry Seldonand a mathematical theory of human behav-ior? It is easy to maintain that human actions
Evolution of the scientific enterprise.
(
Left
) For centuries,creativeindividuals were embedded in an invisible college,that is,a communityof scholars whose exchange of ideas represented the basis for scien-tific advances.Although intellectuals built on each other’s work andcommunicated with each other,they published alone.Most great ideaswere attributed to a few influential thinkers:Galileo,Newton,Darwin,and Einstein.Thus,the traditional scientific enterprise is best describedby many isolated nodes (blue circles).(
Middle
) In the 20th century,science became an increasingly collaborative enterprise,resulting insuch iconic pairs as the physicist Crick and the biologist Watson (left),who were responsible for unraveling DNA’s structure.The joint publi-cations documenting these collaborations shed light on the invisiblecollege,replacing the hidden links with published coauthorships.(
Right
) Although it is unlikely that large collaborations—such as theD0 team in particle physics or the International Human GenomeSequencing Consortium pictured here—will come to dominatescience,most fields need such collaborations.Indeed,the size of collaborative teams is increasing,turning the scientific enterprise intoa densely interconnected network whose evolution is driven by simpleuniversal laws.
   P   H   O   T   O   C   R   E   D   I   T   S  :    (   L   E   F   T    )   N   E   W   T   O   N   A   N   D   G   A   L   I   L   E   O   /   A   I   P   E   M   I   L   I   O   S   E   G   R   E   V   I   S   U   A   L   A   R   C   H   I   V   E   S  ;   D   A   R   W   I   N   /   S   O   T   H   D   B   Y   ’   S  ;    (   M   I   D   D   L   E    )   A .   B   A   R   R   I   N   G   T   O   N   B   R   O   W   N   /   P   H   O   T   O   R   E   S   E   A   R   C   H   E   R   S  ;    (   R   I   G   H   T    )   L   A   R   R   Y   T   H   O   M   P   S   O   N   /   N   I   H
29 APRIL 2005VOL 308SCIENCEwww.sciencemag.org
P
E R S P E C T I V E S
Published by AAAS

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