Surprises and issues triggered by them

Life without surprises has the potential for great boredom. Consistent with this, we believe in learning more from 'brave failures' than from 'safe successes.' While we do not think that failure characterizes the results of our efforts here, we did not play it safe while venturing outside our usual comfort zones. We learned far more about the substantive areas we tackled, the methods we used, and the quirks in the data that we analyzed than we thought possible at the outset of this adventure.

Of course, while being surprised can be taken as an indicator of a knowledge deficit, the world is complex, and learning is a prerequisite for progress. While we do not summarize our results here - there are summaries in each of the chapters already - we do point to some of the surprises enriching our efforts by prodding us to think further.

SNA citation networks

Among the surprises with these networks was the amount of effort having to go into converting them into a form we could use. The takeaway message is simple: while data on, or for, large networks may be readily available, a lot of work may be required to make them usable. While this is generally true for all datasets, the effort seemed truly large with these data. Nothing substitutes for knowing one's data well. Datasets seldom can be taken off the shelf and used blindly in an 'as is' form.

Our motivation for looking at these data concerned an interest in the impact of physicists entering the social networks realm and 'their' impact on 'our' field. As we have noted, 'the invasion of the physicists' has been a concern in the SNA community. While real, this seems remarkably parochial in retrospect. When we identified a main path in the centrality literature starting with works by {social network analysts} ->• {physicists}, we thought 'Aha, we were right, the invasion led to a takeover.' But that path continued to {social network analysts} -> {physicists} ->• {neuroscientists}. We were not observing a takeover but transitions.

Moreover, these were more than simply transitions in the sense of sequential dominances. Rather, they signaled a far more complex intellectual world where similar concepts were mobilized in multiple realms. Parts of 'the centrality literature' had nothing to do with social networks: they were separate and independent developments. Who knew that SNA, atmospheric physics, and neuroscience could be part of what seemed a narrowly defined literature? This was fascinating, interesting, and sobering for us.

The patent citation network

One surprise here was just how clean these data are and, as we note, this is due to the rigorous review process for patent applications. Maybe these data could have been taken off the shelf, but it is always safer to look closely. And some processing of the data was needed anyway.

We knew that the era in which we have lived - our age range is quite wide - was and remains one dominated by computers and communication systems. Our analyses of the patent citation literature revealed, far more clearly than we expected, just how prominent these industries, together with their increased links to some of the other technological areas, have been in the modern world.

The Supreme Court citation network

As we noted in the Supreme Court chapter, we placed a bet on line islands being a useful way of identifying coherent parts of this citation network. It was nice to learn that this was a well-placed bet. In Chapter 6, we considered only the 'Native American' and 'Threats to social order' islands. While we noted that we did look at another line island devoted to railways and one for maritime law, we did not look at the remaining line islands. On tracing the Supreme Court decisions that we used when setting up our consideration of the patent citation literature, we found some of them in one of the 48 detected line islands. This connection between these two chapters came as a complete, and welcome, surprise, one leading us to include a Supreme Court line island in the patent chapter.

Delineating line islands was merely the first step in attempting to understand the workings of the court. We sought to understand these coherent patches by linking the decisions of the court to its prior history plus the social, economic, and political decisions of the times. This was far more complex than we anticipated, so much so that analyzing this as a stand-alone citation would have been a far too narrow enterprise.

This network was constructed with its links being the citations for decisions to earlier decisions. As such, the underlying presumption was that a citation is a citation. While we knew that there are negative citations in this network we thought this only took the form of some earlier decisions being overturned by later decisions. Our examination of the Dred Scott case revealed that this was only partially correct. The text of the opinions for cases can refer to some earlier decisions negatively. This was and remains a troublesome surprise regarding the nature of the data.

The football network

The biggest surprise with these data was the great difficulty in assembling them. At the outset, getting them seemed a straightforward, but tedious, enterprise. This illusion was shattered with the realization that there were no completely reliable data sources out there.

Initially, we thought we were collecting data for one large network. Indeed, the initial write-up for the data appendix included a statement to that effect. We soon realized that we were dealing with a collection of networks, some of which were occasionally joined. Yet these data do pertain to a coherent general system of moves. We were stunned by the large number of clubs across the globe involved in player moves for those reaching the EPL.

The glory of having hypotheses is that they can be tested. It was no surprise that some would be unsupported while others would be supported. After all, that is the nature of the game. However, we were convinced that our hypothesis regarding the impact of the Bosman Decision being minimal was correct. It failed spectacularly. Yet we could find some evidence allegedly supporting it. This served as a reminder that the preponderance of the evidence matters most, and finding some evidence consistent with a hypothesis does not amount to a test of that hypothesis.

Part of the current conventional wisdom considers the money flowing into football at the top levels as creating great unfairness by enhancing greatly the fortunes of wealthy clubs and diminishing the life chances of other clubs. Our surprise is the survival of this view, given that the historical levels of inequality have not changed. All that has changed are the mechanisms for creating and maintaining inequality.

The spatial network

At the outset, we were most persuaded by the narratives of The Nine Nations of America and American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. We thought our analyses of the county data for the USA would, in the main, conform to most of their narratives. Of course, we shared the presumption that the statistical order imposed by Census Bureau regions was little more than a chimera. Our surprise came in the form of how little of the 'regional' narratives remained. The spatial layout of diversity across the USA at the county level is far more complex than these authors suggested. It was not a surprise that there was less patchiness and more regional coherence than the analysis of Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth about the 'Real' America implied.

 
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