Friday, April 25, 2008

Knowing the path and walking the path

One of the great and tragic lessons of my life so far is that the ability to distinguish four major categories of network centrality and code them all in an Excel spreadsheet does not, in and of itself, bring me the ladies. Denial, anger, depression--somewhere amidst these precursors to acceptance comes a revelation. Perhaps network centrality will show me who is getting the ladies, so that I can learn from them, or, failing that, construct an argument demonstrating some measure by which I am superior to them.

Looking at the network of sexual relationships among Jefferson High School students (which I mentioned last time), it doesn't take a PhD to see that these kids spend plenty of time away from their spreadsheets:
No matter how liberal I am, surely my desire for public health must respond to the above network. Measures of connectivity and centrality impel me to have a talk with the "key players" of the sex network. Their reproductive health (and the health of many of their classmates) depends on it. Yes?

Actually, no. This teenage sex network does make a great emotional appeal: hire a network analyst so that you can target key players in your advocacy campaign. However, the central point made by authors of the above map, over the course of 40 pages, is exactly the opposite:

"Epidemiologists, unable to observe or measure directly the structure of sexual networks, have tended to latch onto a single idea: specifically, the idea that the number of partners matters for STD diffusion dynamics.... Our data suggest that a shift in social policy toward comprehensive STD education for all adolescents, not just those at highest risk, would be significantly more effective than current intervention models."

In other words, when it comes to teenage sex, don't waste any time targeting key players in the network. The teenage sex network, by its very nature, tends to connect in a way that makes the very notion of "key player" irrelevant. So concludes the paper "Chains of Affection" by Bearman, Moody, and Stovel.

Not all networks connect in this way. Sometimes it does pay to hire a network analyst and target key players in your advocacy campaign. Specifically, if Bob and Alice complete the partner-swap we see here (and others do likewise), then my services are definitely called for.

Kids turn out to be better than adults at avoiding these sorts of messes.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.


Rodger Bailey said...

Bruce, I found your blog while looking for "relationships" and "connections" and I delighted with your slant and your style.

I'm concerned about a large group of independent professionals in the caring professions (self-help, personal-growth, coaches, etc. . .) who are late adopters of high-tech solutions. I have been informally 'researching' their needs through dialog in a blog (

I have discovered that a few central issues give them reluctance to embrace the Internet as a business and marketing tool (of course, I recognize that I cannot get an absolutely clear picture of their reluctance to use the Internet, by using a blog to research it).

One of those central issues is they fear the loss of the connectedness with their clients. So, any solution I design for them needs to have relationship and connectedness as central solutions for them.


Andreas said...

Bruce - not as much a comment on your post as the sexualrelationship data: I am wondering whether the data is correct... I only count two homosexual relations (one female-female and one male-male. And both of these reports to have had sex with at least one of the opposite sex. That indicates two bisexuals and none homosexuals. Surely thats way to few to be correct?