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Green Templeton College | Oxford

Living by Numbers: Big Data and Society

This series of four lectures raised questions about the nature of developments associated with the availability and analysis of large datasets (big data) and the implications for core aspects of everyday life.

What is the digital future and how will it significantly change our lives and how we do research?

Questions relating to uncertainty over the assembly and holding of data, its communication and usage, methods of analysis, and potential beneficiaries were at the heart of the lecture series which aims to discuss the assumptions, expectations, trends and research methods carried forward by the increasing digitisation of everyday life.

  Download the lecture series briefing note

  Download the 2016 lecture series poster


Susan HalfordMonday 25 January 2016
Twitter and Social Life: Tales from the Frontline of Social Media Research

The phenomenal growth of Web-based social media data provokes great interest and activity from researchers across a range of disciplines.

For most, if not all, the lure of these data is that they offer important insights into the social world: digital traces of the things that people say and do in everyday life, at scale, in real time and over time.However, in the emergent field of social media analysis the challenges of working with these data are becoming increasingly apparent.

This lecture outlined the disciplinary, methodological and ethical challenges of working with social media data and explored some of the routes through which these might be addressed

Speaker: Professor Susan Halford, Director Web Science Institute, University of Southampton.

More information about Professor Susan Halford.

Professor Helen MargettsMonday 1 February 2016
Politics by Numbers: How Social Media Shape Collective Action

The internet and social media bring political change, allowing 'tiny acts' of political participation which can scale up to large-scale mobilisation of millions - but mostly fail.

These new forms of mobilisation increase instability and uncertainty in political systems, challenging policy-makers in both democratic and authoritarian regimes. But they also generate new sources of large-scale data.

Drawing on research carried out for the new book Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action (Margetts, John, Hale and Yasseri, 2015, Princeton University Press), this lecture discussed how social media is changing political systems - and how data science tools and methodologies might be used to understand, explain and even predict the new 'political turbulence'.

Speaker: Professor Helen Margetts, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute and Professor of Society and the Internet, University of Oxford

More information about Professor Helen Margetts.

Tim LangMonday 8 February 2016
Big Data, Food Consumption and Food Policy

This lecture explored the significance of the emergence of big data in the world of food.

Collation of data has long been a feature of the food system, but big data does signal a new round in the long tussle between food capital, the state and food democracy. The technical shift in big data creates new opportunities for the transfer of food power between consumers, government and commerce. Public policy is not currently helping the democratisation of these opportunities, despite rhetoric of consumer sovereignty. A new food citizenship is elusive.

This lecture proposed that the 21st century food challenge is no longer a matter of plentiful supply of cheap affordable foods, as the productionists conceived it in the mid 20th century.
Big food data reminds us that the battle for food control is both about information and minds not just nutrients, bodies and ecosystems. And it is still about which policy direction to follow. Big data does not reduce the options but does add urgency.
Speaker: Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London.

More information about Professor Tim Lang.

John bellMonday 22 February 2016
Big Data and Biomedical Research: Developments and Implications

Speaker: Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford.

More information about Professor John Bell.