Let scientists and the public connect properly

Julia Hobsbawm, Author and Professor of Networking

I’m not a scientist, but I recognise the undervalued role network science and social network analysis has in helping us understand the power of networks for creating good and dynamic flows of ideas between people.

In an Age of Overload, the risk of too much inexplicable and unexplained information can cause a kind of tuneout and burnout in people and excessive networks which focus on electronic rather than face-to-face connection can cause Groupthink. I believe we need more Social Health, which is brokered knowledge and networks at a small scale which foster greater understanding and which are based on network science principles of network effects and spread.

Network science helps us understand that human networks (the active participatory verb ‘networking’ takes on a new cultural significance if we do understand network science better) follow a set of interactions which open up a whole series of possibilities.

The best network models have more porous diversity built in. The so-called  ‘brokerage and closure’ and ‘the strength of weak ties’ by the US sociologists Ronald S. Burt and Mark. S. Granovetter, show that having diverse networks with lots of gaps and unusual links can enhance our access to people and ideas.

The forging of relationships between science and the public to create meaningful bonds could be a very good model for socially healthy connected-ness. This means bringing the public together with a diverse range of scientists, to share ideas and have real, human conversations with each other. Connecting to the ideas of network science nudges us along the way to making science a more fundamental part of culture.

Julia Hobsbawm is Hon.Visiting Professor in Networking at Cass Business School, City of London University and in Business Networking at the University of Suffolk. She is the author of Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload (Bloomsbury)

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