I had a very interesting experience yesterday. Very interesting. Perhaps life-changing. You see a couple of weeks ago, I received a call from someone in the computer science department informing me they had a visitor coming to campus from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory who wanted to meet with me. “Ah,” thought I, “finally my 250 line C++ Kaplan-Meier Product-Limit Estimator program is going to get the recognition it deserves.”* Actually, I had no idea what this guy could want, but I said yes to the appointment, out of both courtesy and curiosity.
Turns out, he was very interested in an old paper of mine which was about a diffusion model I worked up in my dissertation, lo these many years ago. How he would have even come upon this paper was beyond me, but we had a very interesting conversation about it, related work, and what further could come out of it. It was one of the more engaging intellectual discussions I’ve had in a long time.
But, here’s the most interesting part. I was conveying some of my frustration about the paper and the reception of it. I mentioned that I had never been able to publish the paper** and his eyes about popped out of his head. He said, “the computational science people would eat this stuff up!” All these years gone by and it turns out I have been in the wrong discipline the entire time!
As the conversation progressed, I had the third or fourth repetition of a realization that the overlap between sociology and other fields is growing rapidly and we don’t even know most of the time how that is happening. I’ve had the duty of attending a series of interviews and job talks for the economics department this year, and I swear about half the time, I can’t figure out the difference between what they are doing and what a sophisticated quantitative sociologist would do (and in some cases has already done). I’m not only surprised what passes for economics these days, but now I’m starting to wonder what passes for computer science, physics, and even some of the humanities these days. One starts to wonder what the unique contribution of sociology is going to be a few years from now.
* If you have any idea what that sentence means, I would like to propose marriage.
** Efforts which included bringing another author of this blog on to the paper in an effort to make it actually readable….