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Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts (2013-2019)—is considered to be among the vanguard in the area of network theory. Currently, he is Principal Researcher and founding member of Microsoft Research Lab in Manhattan. Prior to this assignment, he moved to Yahoo Research in 2007 where he directed the Human Social Dynamics Group and before that he taught sociology at Columbia University (2000-2007) where he received a full professorship (2007-2009).

He has reshaped the scientific understanding of the dynamics of social influence, challenging the conventional wisdom that focused on the attributes of “influencers” and pointing instead to the structural factors—as well as accidents—that affect the spread of new ideas, technical innovations, and even disease. He was one of the first to recognize and utilize the opportunities in web-enabled platforms through controlled experiments, allowing for larger and more diverse populations than would be possible under traditional settings. One innovative study, which examined downloads of music in multiple “worlds,” revealed that highly predictable outcomes based on social influence lead us to place too much confidence in “common sense” meanings we attribute to patterns. In fact, these are far less predictable in any particular world.

His PhD dissertation, The Structure and Dynamics of Small-World Systems illustrated how a very small number of random ties can give even highly clustered networks the connectivity of a completely random network. This seemingly technical discovery was a game changer that launched the evolution of “the new science of networks.” This explained the concept of the “six degrees of separation,” which had puzzled scientists for over 50 years following the 1929 publication of Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy’s short story “Chain-Links” that appeared in the collection Everything is Different. This inspired the title of Watt’s most recent trade book Everything is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us.

His scientific papers have appeared in leading journals, including Nature, Science, PNAS, Physical Review Letters, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the American Journal of Sociology, on topics spanning a wide range of disciplines including physics, math, sociology, computer science, economics, management, information science, epidemiology, molecular biology and neuroscience. Two of his books Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (2004), and Small Worlds: The Structure of Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (2003), have been widely credited for sparking the public fascination with networks.

Professor Watts’ innovative applications of network analysis and online data to the study of human behavior and social interaction has led him to become one of the most prominent and respected network scientists in the world. He holds a PhD from Cornell University in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (1997).

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