So, i’ve been puzzling for a while over my thoughts on the numerous papers that have come out over the past few years by Christakis, Fowler et al using the Framingham Heart Study data. If you didn’t catch the story that recently ran on their work in the New York Times Magazine, i’d highly recommend taking the time to make your way over there at some point. The article does a pretty good job of summarizing what they’ve published and raising some of the pertinent questions that have been posed previously (both in print and not).
The one that’s had me thinking for a while is that the nature of the data really didn’t do much to allow for observing transitive triples (the notion of “a friend of a friend tends to be a friend”) – one of the more common observable patterns known in the networks literature. If you stare at their graphs long enough, you can find a couple, but not many. Why does this matter? Well, as pointed out in the NYTMag piece, their “three degrees of influence” argument – that people can be influenced by their friends’ friends’ friends on the variety of outcomes they’ve measured (even without the intermediary friends demonstrating the “transmitted” tendency) – may be slightly overstated if, in fact, their respondents are more likely to be connected to their friends’ friends than the data are capable of capturing.
Ironically though, the transitivity bit wasn’t what i came to post about at all. If you’ve heard Fowler in the Seed Salon or elsewhere of late, he’s really onto the DNA question that’s raised at the end of the NYTMag article. This is the real question i wanted to raise here. Do you have a take on the (new-found?) interest in genetics in the social sciences (see for example the special issue of AJS on the topic*)? There’s obviously a lot to unpack there, but i’m finding myself really slow in wrapping my head around how/if this marriage will best play out. i have my research question or two that i think could really benefit from the integration, but i also just don’t yet have a clear picture of how i think it should/will work. Do you**?
*Just to put it out there. That special issue came from a team of folks at the Columbia site of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health and Society Scholars Program. i mention this because i just completed my RWJ H&SS fellowship at Columbia in the spring.
**OK, so the comments section of a blog may not be the ideal place to “solve” my puzzlement. However, maybe you can point me to your favorites who’ve dealt well with this integration. Or pimp your own perspective. i’m all for opening the floor for relevant self promotion!