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Kara Kedrick, John Miller, Kevin Zollman, Russell Golman and Simon DeDeo are members of the core team behind the Institute for Complex Social Dynamics.

Carnegie Mellon University Launches Institute for Complex Social Dynamics

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

The Institute for Complex Social Dynamics(opens in new window), a new Carnegie Mellon University institute announced today, will develop and use mathematical and computational models to deepen our understanding of complex social systems. Investigating behavior on social media within criminal organizations and across scientific practice are just a few examples of the types of projects the institute will pursue.

Kevin Zollman(opens in new window), the Herbert A. Simon Professor of Philosophy, will direct the institute.

“Dietrich and CMU have strengths in computation, agent-based modeling, network theory and rational choice. I have wanted to combine all of these to understand key aspects of the social world for a long time," said Richard Scheines(opens in new window), Bess Family Dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences(opens in new window). "With the generous support of The Dietrich Foundation(opens in new window) and the leadership of Kevin Zollman, I am really excited to now be able to launch an initiative like this in our college.” 

The Institute for Complex Social Dynamics will incentivize faculty, graduate and undergraduate students across the university to collaborate on research that seeks to understand social phenomena like segregation, political partisanship, the way communication networks form and evolve, and many others.

“This new institute highlights Carnegie Mellon’s strengths in understanding both the good and the bad in large-scale, complex social phenomena," Zollman said. "By providing a clearinghouse for this work, the institute will develop the next generation of scholars to employ a variety of scientific and humanistic methods to tackle the most difficult social problems."

Core members(opens in new window) of the institute include Zollman; associate professors Simon DeDeo(opens in new window) and Russell Golman(opens in new window) and professor John Miller(opens in new window) of the Department of Social and Decision Sciences(opens in new window); Nynke Niezink(opens in new window), assistant professor in the Department of Statistics & Data Science(opens in new window); and Cosma Shalizi(opens in new window), associate professor in the Department of Statistics & Data Science with joint appointments in the Machine Learning Department(opens in new window), the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition(opens in new window) and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy(opens in new window). Kara Kedrick(opens in new window) is serving as the inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow in Complex Social Dynamics.

In addition, the institute includes several affiliate members from across the university, including faculty from the School of Computer Science(opens in new window), Heinz College and Tepper School of Business(opens in new window).

The following is a sample of initial research projects at the Institute for Complex Social Dynamics.

Niezink, Shalizi and Zollman are collaborating on “Social Networks,” a project that examines the implications of social networks on social dynamics.

“We are all embedded in various social networks, both online through social media and offline through all the social settings we are part of,” Niezink said. “Our networks change over time and, simultaneously, shape who we are. For example, our opinions, our values but also the opportunities we have access to are affected by who we know. At the same time, who we are also shapes our networks. The interdisciplinary environment the institute provides is key to understanding this interplay.” 

DeDeo, Golman, Miller, Niezink, Shalizi and Zollman are pursuing “The Wisdom and Madness of the Crowd,” which investigates contemporary society’s reliance on collective wisdom, including the knowledge of when crowds are wise and when they are not.

DeDeo, Golman, Miller and Zollman also are working together on “Understanding the Emergence of Sociality,” which explores what gives rise to social behaviors and what might lead to abrupt social change.

“The new analytic techniques being embraced by the institute give us the possibility of understanding the origins of both social behavior and social institutions," Miller said. "The elements that drive the origins of these systems often persist long into the future, giving us new insights into our current social world."

The Institute for Complex Social Dynamics will hold a kickoff event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, Dec. 1. Institute members will present a series of short talks about their ongoing research.

Nynke Niezink head shot

Nynke Niezink


Cosma Shalizi head shot

Cosma Shalizi

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