Scaling and universality in collective social phenomena

December 16.12.13,
17:00, room 250, Lugano Campus
Professor Santo Fortunato
Aalto University, Finland

The availability of big datasets on social phenomena has opened new exciting perspectives for researchers. Especially the Web, with its jungle of social Websites and data repositories, has transformed the way we  study social behavior at all scales, leading to the new discipline of computational social science.  Large numbers enforce the adoption of statistical techniques, aiming at the identification of regular patterns from the apparently erratic behavior of single individuals.
The concepts and techniques of statistical physics have proven to be very helpful to uncover and understand such regularities in collective social behavior. Here I will give two examples of social phenomena exhibiting scaling and universality, alike critical phenomena in physical systems. I will show how, after suitable normalization, the performance of candidates in proportional elections and of scientific papers, measured by the number of votes and citations, exhibit universal distributions, regardless of the country where the elections was held and the topic of the paper.
Such examples indirectly confirm the social atom hypothesis, i.e. the emergence of regular collective behavior from local interactions between people, regardless of peculiar details of the individuals.
About the speaker

Santo Fortunato is associate professor of computational science at Aalto University, Finland. Previously he has held positions at the University of Bielefeld (Germany), where he got his PhD in theoretical particle physics November 2000, at Indiana University and at the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Turin (Italy). His research focuses on complex systems, in particular networks, statistical physics of large-scale social dynamics and science of science, i.e. the study of the activity of scientists based on their citation and collaboration dynamics. In 2011 he has received the Young Scientist Award for Socio- and Econophysics from the German Physical
Society.  Additional information about Professor Fortunato may be found by visiting: