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Mini Dragon Group (ages 6-7)

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Oliver Parker
Oliver Parker

Connected The Surprising Power Of Our Social Ne...

A social network "like a group, is a collection of people, it includes something more: a specific set of connections between people in the group. These ties, and the particular pattern of these ties, are often more important than the individual people themselves. They allow groups to do things that a disconnected collection of individuals cannot. The ties explain why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And the specific pattern of the ties is crucial to understanding how networks function." So write Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard University with joint appointments in the Departments of Health Care Policy, Sociology, and Medicine, and James Fowler, an associate professor at the University of California, in the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems and Department of Political Science. Social networks can be a large multigenerational family, coworkers in an office, a college dormitory, an entire community, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers.

Connected The Surprising Power of Our Social Ne...

In a series of thought-provoking chapters, Christakis and Fowler delineate with fascinating vignettes and scientific research the manifold ways in which social networks influence the spread of happiness, the search for sexual partners, the maintenance of health, the functioning of markets, and the struggle for democracy. In the process, they have fashioned a science of social networks which offers us new and interesting slants on the interconnected world we live in and often take for granted.

Prof. CHRISTAKIS: Well, I mean, I think the basic point to stress is that in some sense we're all embedded in these vast social networks and that - and that the fact that human beings live out their lives in these intricate, extensive social networks is not a coincidence. Some other work that James and I have done suggests that there are ancient genetic roots to this kind of connectedness. And in a way we think of networks as a kind of - as a kind of matrix in which we're all embedded, or if you will, like the Force in "Star Wars," you know, it surrounds us, it affects us all, it's there everywhere. And, you know, most people nowadays are accustomed to talking about networks and they think about online networks that they can see but what they may not realize is that they're actually embedded in these living, breathing networks that surround us all, all the time, and have always done so.

Prof. CHRISTAKIS: No, I was just going to say, so in essence what we are saying is that what really matters to a lot of these phenomena is who you know, not where you are. And these kinds of phenomenon, these social phenomenon that might spread, let's say, via social contagion, require a network path so they can reach from person to person and person to person to person and person to person to person. And I should stress, if I might, that many of the things that we talk about might seem very intuitive, that, you know, for example, what you're - the people you're in direct contact with might affect your behaviors is really not too surprising.

Prof. FOWLER: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And the great thing about that is, is that, you know, we know from great studies now that the way that works is that the fish - they're not watching the whole school, they're just watching the fish next to them. And with human beings at the same, except that for us it's not physical proximity. It's social proximity. It's who we know, who we're connected to that really matters in terms of cohering the whole group.

Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, gained fame a few years ago for some important research into this new field. For years, the Framingham Heart Study has tracked the vital stats and psychological states of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts; researchers have studied this data set for what it says about health habits. But Christakis and Fowler went further. In order to follow up with the Framingham subjects over a period of years, it turned out, the original researchers had asked for the names of family and friends and kept detailed notes of these connections. Christakis and Fowler pieced together these notes to reconstruct the social networks of thousands of connected friends, spouses, neighbors, and siblings. Crunching the numbers from the Framingham health data and using computer graphics, they observed how traits spread through the social network over time: the modern epidemic of obesity advanced, smoking receded to the peripheries, and both happiness and misery appeared to be contagious.

"Our work over the past few years, examining the function of human social networks and their genetic origins, has led us to conclude that there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness," said Christakis. "The flow of good and desirable properties like ideas, love and kindness is required for human social networks to endure, and, in turn, networks are required for such properties to spread. Humans form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs."

In the 1980's, James Gleick's Chaos introduced the world to complexity. Albert-László Barabási's Linked reveals the next major scientific leap: the study of networks. We've long suspected that we live in a small world, where everything is connected to everything else. Indeed, networks are pervasive--from the human brain to the Internet to the economy to our group of friends. These linkages, it turns out, aren't random. All networks have an underlying order and follow simple laws. Understanding the structure and behavior of these networks will help us do some amazing things, from designing the optimal organization of a firm to stopping a disease outbreak before it spreads catastrophically.In Linked, Barabási, a physicist whose work has revolutionized the study of networks, traces the development of this rapidly unfolding science and introduces us to the scientists carrying out this pioneering work. These "new cartographers" are mapping networks in a wide range of scientific disciplines, proving that social networks, corporations, and cells are more similar than they are different, and providing important new insights into the interconnected world around us. This knowledge, says Barabási, can shed light on the robustness of the Internet, the spread of fads and viruses, even the future of democracy. Engaging and authoritative, Linked provides an exciting preview of the next century in science, guaranteed to be transformed by these amazing discoveries.

As public health, medicine and health-care systems grow in a global, inter-connected context, medical educators are challenged to produce conceptual frameworks that organize the vast knowledge accumulated (l). What has become apparent is that no single, traditional discipline or viewpoint holds the key to understanding health in today's world (2,3). Consequently, considerable attention is being given to integrating the multiple and diverse contributions of health science, prevention and practice into a single framework (4-6). The concept of social networks provides an organizational model for integrating the contributions of biomedical, social and computational sciences into a single paradigm that can help us to better understand health dynamics, practices and delivery.

A new Ohio State study adds a surprising twist: Tomatoes are actually even more powerful cancer fighters once they've been mixed with fat and subjected to intense heat. The finding is contrary to conventional food science wisdom that processing depletes vegetables of nutrients.

But how many and which nodes do you need to eliminate? And what if your knowledge of the network is imperfect? The best connected terrorist is probably also the best protected, and it is hard to tell who is likely to give a disease to others. These questions were answered for theoretical models that mimic real-life networks by by Lazaros K. Gallos and Panos Argyrakis (Greece), Reuven Cohen andShlomo Havlin (Israel), and Armin Bunde (Germany). In their paper "Stability and topology of scale free networks under attack and defence strategies", published in volume 94 of the Physical Review Letters, the scientists considered scale free networks in which the probability of a node beingdestroyed in an attack on the network depends on its degree. The better connected a terrorist you are, the better protected you are, and the smaller the probability that you will be eliminated. Conversely, if we are dealing with a social network, the better connected you are, the more visible you are, and the higher the probability that you will be attacked.

The results of the study show that you can bring down a network by eliminating surprisingly few of the nodes - even when you know little about it. If you have a reasonably good way of guessing which are the 1% highest connected nodes, then you can destroy the network by eliminating only 25% of the nodes. In other words, if you've got an inkling as to who are the most connected terrorists, orthe persons most likely to spread the disease, then, if you go about it cleverly, arresting 25% of the terrorists, or immunising 25% of people, is enough to bring down the terrorists or contain the disease. If you know everything about the network, the percentage can decrease to 7%. Moreover, the scientists found that even if you do not manage to completely destroy the network, you can severelydamage it by taking out a small number of nodes. 041b061a72


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