Perspectives on Computational Analysis

(MACS 30000)

Course Description - Massive digital traces of human behavior and ubiquitous computation have both extended and altered classical social science inquiry. This course surveys successful social science applications of computational approaches to the representation of complex data, information visualization, and model construction and estimation. We will reexamine the scientific method in the social sciences in context of both theory development and testing, exploring how computation and digital data enables new answers to classic investigations, the posing of novel questions, and new ethical challenges and opportunities. Students will review fundamental research designs such as observational studies and experiments, statistical summaries, visualization of data, and how computational opportunities can enhance them. The focus of the course is on exploring the wide range of contemporary approaches to computational social science, with practical programming assignments to train with these approaches.

Perspectives on Computational Modeling

(MACS 30100)

Course Description - Students are often well trained in the details of specific models relevant to their respective fields. This course presents a generic definition of a model in the social sciences as well as a taxonomy of the wide range of different types of models used. We then cover principles of model building, including static versus dynamic models, linear versus nonlinear, simple versus complicated, and identification versus overfitting. Major types of models implemented in this course include systems of nonlinear equations, linear and nonlinear regression, supervised learning (decision trees, random forests, support vector machines, etc.), and unsupervised learning. We will also explore the wide range of computational strategies used to estimate models from data and make statistical and causal inference. Students will study both good examples and bad examples of modeling and estimation.

Perspectives on Advanced Computational Topics

(MACS 30200)

Course Description - This course focuses on applying computational methods to conducting social scientific research through a student-developed research project. Students will identify a research question of their own interest that involves a direct reference to social scientific theory, use of data, and a significant computational component. The students will collect data, develop, apply, and interpret statistical learning models, and generate a fully reproducible research paper. We will identify how computational methods can be used throughout the research process, from data collection and tidying, to exploration, visualization and modeling, to the final communication of results. The course will include modules on theoretical and practical considerations, including topics such as epistemological questions about research design, writing and critiquing papers, and additional computational tools for analysis.