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Utilizing Big Data to Advance Research in Psychology, Anthropology, Linguistics, and Sociology

Cooperative Agreement Helps UAlbany Professor Explore Emerging Field of Computational Social Science

UAlbany Prof. Tomek Strzalkowski will examine how big data can be applied to social sciences research.

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 7, 2015) -- With advances in algorithmic methods to capture and encode insights into human behavior, University at Albany Computer Scientist Tomek Strzalkowski is exploring new ways that 'big data' analysis can be applied to nontraditional fields, such as social sciences.

Strzalkowski, the director of UAlbany's Institute for Informatics, Logics and Security Studies (ILS), has been awarded $499,930 through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's (ARL) Open Campus initiative to explore the manner in which new data capture techniques can help advance research in areas such as psychology, anthropology, linguistics, and sociology.

"Given the complexities of modern society, both domestically and internationally, the development of sophisticated tools in the computational social sciences will assume increasing importance as we address challenges in diplomacy, natural resource allocation, the migration of populations owing to drought, famine, and war, and a range of other issues," said Kim L. Boyer, Interim Dean of UAlbany's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS). "Prof. Strzalkowski's work in this area is of particular significance, as recognized by ARL with this award."

Tomek Strzalkowski
UAlbany Professor of Computer Science Tomek Strzalkowski

The goal is to develop computational tools that will accelerate scientific discovery in fields such as natural language processing, computational sociolinguistics, sociocultural issues in language, and social dynamics in groups.

“The unprecedented growth in size and complexity of data that is continuously generated about various aspects of human activity including communication, has severely challenged traditional social science methods that still depend on observation and hand coding,” said Strzalkowski, a professor of computer science at CEAS. “Yet at the same time, computational approaches to 'big data' analysis remain largely ignorant of social science theory.”

"The current models utilize brute force methods, that at best, replicate already known results, and at worst, produce questionable and unverifiable ‘discoveries,’" he added. "Our project aims to change this situation by advancing development of computational approaches firmly grounded in social science theory and guided by rigorous scientific methods."

The Institute for Informatics, Logics and Security Studies was established in December 2001. The Institute’s mission is to increase UAlbany’s reputation and visibility as a center of excellence in information technology research and education, contributing to various University-wide initiatives such as bioinformatics, information science, information assurance, and security. Through collaboration with key members of academia, government, and industry, the Institute is working to develop educational programs, advance pioneering research, create innovative technologies, transfer valuable knowledge and expertise, and foster an environment of cooperation and trust among its partners.

The Army Research Laboratory's Open Campus is a collaborative endeavor, with the goal of building a science and technology ecosystem that will encourage groundbreaking advances in basic and applied research areas of relevance to the Army. Through the Open Campus framework, ARL scientists and engineers will work collaboratively and side-by-side with visiting scientists in ARL's facilities, and as visiting researchers at collaborators' institutions. Central to the research collaborations is mutual scientific interest and investment by all partners; ARL's Open Campus is not a funding opportunity.

The global academic community, industry, small businesses, and other government laboratories benefit from this engagement through collaboration with ARL's specialized research staff and unique technical facilities. These collaborations will build research networks, explore complex and singular problems, and enable self-forming expertise-driven team building that will be well-positioned for competitive research opportunities, as well as expose scientists, engineers, professors, and students to realistic research applications and perspectives helping to ensure our nation's future strength and competitiveness in these critical fields.

The University at Albany's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS), formerly the College of Computing and Information (CCI), is home to UAlbany's Departments of Computer Science, Informatics, Information Studies, and Computer Engineering. As UAlbany seeks to expand its academic footprint, new multidisciplinary programs that build on the innovation established by CCI and its predecessors will allow the University to create novel paths of excellence in information, computing and, engineering studies and to better educate students to meet the demands of today's society.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.