Duncan Watts, a sociology professor at Columbia, describes his research thusly:
My research centers around the development of new models of large, complex networks that capture the general features of networked social systems, and a coherent set of metrics for characterizing them. The overall goal is to explore the role that network structure plays in determining or constraining system behavior, focussing on a few broad problem areas in social science such as information contagion, financial risk management, and organizational design. I am concerned with issues such as systemic robustness and stability with respect to cascading failures, efficient distributed information processing, and effective procedures for conducting global searches in networks using only local information.Luckily for us, he takes that dry-sounding knowledge and applies it some of our most pressing issues, like How did Justin Timberlake become this generation's Michael Jackson? And how might the next generation's Justin Timberlake come about? This NY Times article is a mixture of Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Levitt, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Paul A. David (whose article "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY" on path dependence in the adoption of the QWERTY keyboard is easily one of my favorite academic articles of all time and really should be required reading for anybody who has ever pondered how a society arrives at choices it makes), and signals the arrival of Watts on my radar screen. I look forward to checking out his books and reporting back on them in this space.