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The Google Books project doesn’t (yet) reflect cultural evolution

The Google Books project is a wonderful, vital enterprise with the potential to open up new quantitative ways to deeply explore culture, history, and language. And so it was with much anticipatory rubbing of hands together that we dove into the data set to see what we could find about the evolution of language. And then, after some standard suffering, and with much …

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Our compost ecosystem: Breaking down Vermont’s food scraps

Every year, the folks at MassMutual Life Insurance get together for “Data Days for Good”, where team members work to help a local agency or organization with a data science project. Through a research partnership between the University of Vermont Complex Systems Center and MassMutual, I learned about the Data Days for Good initiative, and in the spirit of that event, I turned …

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Divergence, derailment, and diversity of #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter discussions

Hashtags on Twitter have become well established as a way for people to come together around seemingly any topic. Hashtags allow us to collectively tell jokes (#IceCreamAMovie), mark celebrations (#HappyNewYear), refer to sports (#SuperBowl51, #IPL),  and engage in (or enrage about) politics (insert your hashtag here). Hashtags are clickable catchphrases. For social and …

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Socio-technical instruments for public health

How do we quantify the well-being of a population in real time? Traditionally, we’ve done so with a mixture of key economic indicators, from GDP to consumer confidence indices. But are people happy? Do they believe their lives—their personal stories—are going well? Do they have hope for the future? More than 2 billion people use social media such as Twitter, …

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What do your Instagram photos reveal about your mental health?

“Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.”—Sally Mann “In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.”—August Sander When you’re feeling sad, the people around you probably know it. Moody playlists, slumped shoulders, drawn-out sighs—there are many ways we signal to the rest of the world when we’re having a …

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A bird’s-eye view of #WomensMarch

On January 21st, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington gathered enormous crowds in collective protest of the newly inaugurated President of the United States, Donald Trump. Meanwhile on Twitter, people used the hashtag #WomensMarch to magnify and respond to the on-the-ground movement. Here at the Computational Story Lab, we found ourselves wondering about a few things. How …

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Connecting every bit of knowledge

What is the shape of all knowledge?  How has knowledge grown over time?  Can we anticipate ways in which knowledge will grow? Knowledge is certainly hierarchically structured but it’s also richly scaffolded and networked with concepts and ideas linking within and across domains. We can attempt to answer some of these questions by computationally exploring the Network of …

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The shapes of stories

Stories help us encode and understand our collective existence, underpin cultures, and help frame the possible. Describing the ecology of all human stories is an essential scientific enterprise.  With the advent of the internet and massive digitization this vital work has become, in part, a data-driven one. There are many aspects of stories to characterize and here we take …

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Finding the shapes of games

Each game is a story If you pay much attention to news of any kind, it’s almost impossible to go a day without hearing about some sporting event going on in the world. Annual competitions like the Super Bowl and Major League Baseball’s World Series mark the culmination of grueling seasons for athletes and fans alike. Almost every hour of every day plays host to some sporting …

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The happiest character on Seinfeld was …

... Kramer! Ohhh YEAHHHHH! Whether he was analyzing underwear performance (“My boys need a house!”), advising a friend on marriage (“Is it alright if I use the bathroom now?”), or unabashedly offering his honest opinion (“You just need a nose job!”), Jerry Seinfeld’s awkwardly outspoken neighbor brought the funny. Inspired by writer Larry David’s real-life neighbor Kenny …

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