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1257th OGM and Open Lecture

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  “The Science of Social Networks"

  Professor Pip Pattison AO FASSA FRSN

  Deputy Vice Chancellor
  University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday 4 October 2017
Time: 6.00 for 6.30 pm
Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney
Entry: $20 for non-members, $10 for Members and Associate Members of the Society, which includes a welcome drink.  Dress code: business
Dinner (including drinks): $80 for Members and Associate Members, $90 for non-members. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before.
Reservations: https://nsw-royalsoc.currinda.com/register/event/37
Enquiries: "royalsoc at royalsoc.org.au" Phone: 9431 8691
All are welcome.

We are social animals and what we think, feel and do is affected by the social networks in which we live work and play. In this talk, I discuss the problem of understanding structure in social networks: its potential origins; how we can model it; and its consequences.

I begin with a brief account of the theory of networks and then describe ways we can model their behaviour. The approach construes global network structure as the outcome of dynamic, interactive processes occurring within local neighbourhoods of a network. I describe a hierarchy of models and how they may be applied to real social networks using data obtained through various types of network sampling schemes.

Using several illustrative problems, I demonstrate how the models can be used to enrich our understanding of network structures in a variety of contexts, including how they shape the processes taking place within them, such as the transmission of infectious diseases. The value of the approach includes a capacity to quantify uncertainty and assess the extent to which a model captures key social network features.

Professor Philippa (Pip) Pattison is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at the University in Sydney, responsible for the University’s strategy and vision for teaching and learning and students’ educational experience. A quantitative psychologist by background, Professor Pattison began her academic career at the University of Melbourne, and has previously served as president of Melbourne’s Academic Board and as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

The primary focus of Professor Pattison’s research is the development and application of mathematical and statistical models for social networks and network processes. Recent applications have included the transmission of infectious diseases, the evolution of the biotechnology industry in Australia, and community recovery following the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Professor Pattison was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1995. She was named on the Queen’s Birthday 2015 Honours List as an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to higher education, particularly through contributions to the study of social network modelling, analysis and theory, and to university leadership and administration.

The Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum 2017

“The future of rationality in a post-truth world”

Date: Wednesday, 29 November 2017, 9am–5:30pm (8:30am registration)
Venue: Government House, Sydney

Booking: not yet available

Outline (more details to come)

Rationality is one of the greatest steps forward in the development of human civilisation. What do we mean by “rationality”? It is an approach based on the philosophical proposition that reason rather than sense or belief is the basis for certainty in knowledge. It had its origins in ancient Greece, was rediscovered in the Renaissance and further developed in the Enlightenment. It is based upon the position that the human mind has the capacity to analyse data, extract meaning from it and to build a body of logically-consistent knowledge that we believe to be true, while accepting the ever-present risk of error. It encourages the critique and falsification of theories to develop, improve and refine knowledge continuously. Rationally-determined knowledge is one of the pillars of scientific enquiry and is a cornerstone of virtually all the institutions of modern, open societies.

“Post-truth” (the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016) dismisses rationally-determined knowledge. Rather, it appeals to emotion and personal belief and selectively picks information, true or not, to reach whatever conclusion is desired. It appears to have emerged from a once-fashionable but now largely discredited post-modernist position of “multiple truths”. These “alternative facts” are then used to shape public opinion, using whatever forms of dissemination are most effective, particularly those that make no effort to establish the veracity of the information that they distribute.

Rationality and, in particular, the scientific method is under attack. How can and should we respond? We live in a world in which people have ready access to all kinds of information, misinformation and deliberate lies, through social media and online search engines. People can know more but also not know more, as truth and fact are increasingly drowned out by an avalanche of lies and distortions. The algorithms of Google and Facebook and their like lock us into knowledge bubbles of truth and lies that pander to our prejudices. Experts are no longer experts but another opinion, another form of advocacy from a lobby group of evidence-based ideologists feathering their own nest. Evidenced-based advice and action are reversed and the fundamental tenets of science are being questioned. Ideology and prejudice drive evidence and selectivity. Has the world gone mad? Is the world any different to the past? Has human nature and the way we perceive and respond to the world changed? Or are we just seeing human behaviour manifested in different forms in the modern social context? What can and should we do about this?

These are the issues to be addressed at this year’s Forum of the Royal Society of NSW and the Four Academies. In particular, the 2017 Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum will examine the implications of the rise of a post-truth approach to shaping public opinion. Does it, as some claim, have the potential to undermine the institutions upon which open, democratic societies are built? Does it advantage the propagandists and those who wish to pursue sinister agendas? What responsibilities do the media (in particular, the newly emerging mass-media) have in presenting information to the public? What should – or can – those who believe in evidence-based, objectively-determined policy do about it?

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