SAGE Campus, a suite of online data science courses tailored for social scientists, has been launched in response to an emerging skills gap among social scientists looking to work with big data. The Royal Statistical Society partnered with SAGE Publishing for two of these courses, as SAGE head of methods intervention, Katie Metzler, explains.
You may have heard the phrase 'data is the new oil', which Clive Humby, mathematician and architect of Tesco’s Clubcard, is credited with saying first in 2006. The comparison between data and oil refers to its value being extracted through refinement; or in the case of data, through analysis. But unlike oil, data is being produced at a faster and faster rate every day. As Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, put it: 'A billion hours ago, modern homo sapiens emerged. A billion minutes ago, Christianity began. A billion seconds ago, the IBM PC was released. A billion Google searches ago … was this morning.'
The capacity to collect and analyse massive datasets and the 'data exhaust' produced by our increasingly digital lives has many researchers excited about the possibilities to ask and answer fundamental questions about individuals and collectives. SAGE has been exploring the impact of the 'data revolution' on academic social science and the opportunities presented to develop new kinds of publishing and products.
To learn more about how big data is being used in social science research now, SAGE and the University of Essex conducted a survey of over 9,000 academics globally. Analysis of this survey (published in the White Paper 'Who is doing computational social science? Trends in big data research') revealed that although there was a considerable appetite among researchers to work with big data, a number of barriers stood in their way, including:
- Finding collaborators with the right skills and knowledge and forming successful research collaborations
- Gaining access to big data for the purposes of academic research
- Finding appropriate tools and software for working with big data, and learning how to use those software
- Learning new programming and analytic skills needed to work with big data.
As a response to the reported skills gap among social scientists looking to work with big data, SAGE launched SAGE Campus, a suite of online data science courses tailored for social scientists in the fall of 2017.
We partnered with The Royal Statistical Society to create two courses for SAGE Campus: An Introduction to Python for Social Scientists and Interactive Visualization with R for Social Scientists. The courses we’ve worked on together have been translated from successful RSS face to face training into online courses, and updated to focus on the needs of social scientists. Social science academic experts have been involved at every stage of development, from creating a syllabus to developing the content and reviewing the course at each phase of the design. After the successful delivery of these first courses, we’re also planning to work together with the RSS to launch additional courses in the future, starting with an Intermediate Python for Social Scientists course.
It’s not the first time that SAGE and the RSS have joined forces: SAGE sponsored the 'Data science for social good' stream at the 2017 RSS conference, and we have hosted numerous events at the society in the past (Luckily for us, we need only walk through London's Bunhill Fields cemetery, where English statistician Thomas Bayes lies, to arrive at any RSS events).
What strengthens our partnership is that our missions are similarly aligned. One of the goals of the RSS is to educate society to be more statistically literate, so that people’s understanding of data, risk and probability can inform their daily decision-making, leading to better outcomes. SAGE believes passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable. At the end of 2017 Ziyad Marar, SAGE president of global publishing, gave the keynote address Publishing innovations in the age of big data at London Info International 2017. Ziyad explained that our role as a publisher is to: 'build bridges to knowledge… from creation to understanding'. 'Bridging the gap between big data and social science', he concluded, 'will be good for creating healthy minds and healthy cultures'.
As the practice of both teaching and conducting research continues to evolve, our aim is to provide the expert guidance and publishing innovations which will support researchers well into the future. The launch of SAGE Campus is a major step towards this goal and we look forward to a continued partnership with the RSS, and seeing the impact that the courses have on the development of future social science research.