ERC starter grant to develop a network theory of attitudes

Delighted to announce an ERC starter grant to develop a network theory of attitudes. Here’s the abstract:

Understanding the coordination of attitudes in societies is vitally important for many disciplines and global social challenges. Network opinion dynamics are poorly understood, especially in hybrid networks where automated (bot) agents seek to influence economic or political processes (e.g. USA: Trump vs Clinton; UK: Brexit). A dynamic fixing theory of attitudes is proposed, premised on three features of attitudes demonstrated in ethnomethodology and social psychology; that people: 1) simultaneously hold a repertoire of multiple (sometimes ambivalent) attitudes, 2) express attitudes to enact social identity; and 3) are accountable for attitude expression in interaction. It is proposed that interactions between agents generate symbolic links between attitudes with the emergent social-symbolic structure generating perceived ingroup similarity and outgroup difference in a multilayer network. Thus attitudes can become dynamically fixed when constellations of attitudes are locked-in to identities via multilayer networks of attitude agreement and disagreement; a process intensified by conflict, threat or zero-sum partisan processes (e.g. elections/referenda). Agent-based simulations will validate the theory and explore the hypothesized channels of bot influence. Network experiments with human and hybrid networks will test theoretically derived hypotheses. Observational network studies will assess model fit using historical Twitter data. Results will provide a social-psychological-network theory for attitude dynamics and vulnerability to computational propaganda in hybrid networks.

The theory will explain:

(a) when and how consensus can propagate rapidly through networks (since identity processes fix attitudes already contained within repertoires);

(b) limits of identity-related attitude propagation (since attitudes outside of repertoires will not be easily adopted); and

(c) how attitudes can often ‘roll back’ after events (since contextual changes ‘unfix’ attitudes).


The proposed project capitalizes on multi-disciplinary advances in attitudes, identity and network science to develop the theory of Dynamic Fixing of Attitudes In NETworks (DAFINET).

Specifically, DAFINET integrates advances in identity research from social psychology, models of attitudes from ethnomethodology (a branch of sociology), and multilayer network modelling from network science to propose a novel theory of opinion dynamics and social influence in networks. DAFINET will have impact in a broad range of disciplines where attitude propagation and social influence is of concern, including in economics, sociology, social psychology, marketing, political science, health behaviour, environmental science, and many others.

Attempt at network stress testing in R

I’ve been asked by reviewers to stress test two networks following Jeong &  Barabási (2000). Critically the reviewers asked for an exploration of how network diameter changed as progressively larger numbers of nodes were randomly dropped from the networks.

Although the netboot library makes it trivial to do a case-drop bootstrap on a network, it reports a limited set of network statistics and diameter is not one of them.

Here’s an attempt to run a stress test on network diameter for a small (1000 node) randomly generated ring network. I’m sure there are more efficient ways of doing this, and I’m concerned that the algorithm might struggle with the large real-world networks I’ll be applying it to, but I’m proud of the pretty output for now:


#Function graphdropstats accepts graph object and number of cases to drop
#drops ndrop cases(vertices) (using uniform random distribution to identify nodes to drop)
#then returns statistic on subgraph, in this case diameter
# V(graph) gives list of nodes in graph
# vcount(graph) gives number of vertices, but more efficient to get this from length of V(graph)

graphdropstats <- function(graph,ndrop){
 keepnodes<-V(graph) #vector of vertex ID's in graph
 keepnodes<-keepnodes[-droplist] #vector of positions in keepnodes to drop

#generate graph for testing

## sampling with nreps replications, dropping ndrop nodes at random and saving statistics; 
## and incrementing ndrop each time until ndropstop
allresults<-vector("numeric", nreps)

for (ndrop in 1:ndropstop){
 result<-vector("numeric", nreps)
 for (i in 1:nreps) {
 result[i] <- graphdropstats(graph1,ndrop)
if(ndrop > 1) allresults<-rbind(allresults,result)

allresults <- allresults[-1,] #drop first row of matrix which otherwise is blank
matplot(allresults, type='p', pch=15, col=c("gray70"),xlab="N vertices dropped at random", ylab="Network diameter")
lines(index, rowMeans(allresults), col = "red", lwd = 2)

#Edit 27/3/2018: bugfix

This gives us this plot:

…. which is pretty much what I’m looking for.  It shows, as expected, that ring networks are highly vulnerable to node dropout. Compare to a 1000 node scale-free network:

Fingers crossed that it’s efficient enough to run on large co-authorship networks!


  • [DOI] R. Albert, H. Jeong, and A. Barabási, “Error and attack tolerance of complex networks,” Nature, vol. 406, iss. 6794, p. 378–382, 2000.
    @article{Jeong2000, title={Error and attack tolerance of complex networks}, volume={406}, url={}, DOI={10.1038/35019019}, number={6794}, journal={Nature}, publisher={Springer Nature}, author={Albert, Réka and Jeong, Hawoong and Barabási, Albert-László}, year={2000}, month={Jul}, pages={378–382}}


Transcription nirvana? Automatic transcription with R & Google Speech API

For as long as I’ve been doing qualitative analysis I’ve been looking for ways to automate transcription. When I was doing my masters I spent more time (fruitlessly) looking for technical solutions than actually doing transcription. Speech recognition has come a a long way since then; perhaps it’s time to try again?

I came across a blog post recently that suggested it’s becoming possible using the Google Speech API. This is the same deep-learning model that powers Android speech recognition, so it seems promising.

After setting up a GCloud account (currently with $300 free credit; not sure how long that will last) installing the R libraries and running some text is simple:

#install package; run first time or to update package....

Once you’ve authorized with GCloud (a single line of code) the transcription itself requires a single command:

gl_speech("path to audio clip")

I tested it with a really challenging task: a 15 second clip of the Fermanagh Rose from the 2017 Rose of Tralee:

Then run the transcription:

audioclip <- "<<path to audio file>>"
testresult<-gl_speech(audioclip, encoding = "FLAC", sampleRateHertz = 22050, languageCode = "en-IE", maxAlternatives = 2L, profanityFilter = FALSE, speechContexts = NULL, asynch = FALSE)

Which spat out :

 startTime endTime word
1 0s 1.500s things
2 1.500s 1.600s are
3 1.600s 2.600s boyfriend
4 2.600s 2.700s and
5 2.700s 3.200s see
6 3.200s 3.600s uncle
7 3.600s 7.100s supposed
8 7.100s 7.300s to
9 7.300s 7.400s be
10 7.400s 7.500s on
11 7.500s 12.200s something
12 12.200s 12.700s instead
13 12.700s 13s so
14 13s 14.600s Big
15 14.600s 14.900s Brother
16 14.900s 15.400s big
17 15.400s 15.800s buzz
18 15.800s 16.300s around
19 16.300s 17.300s Broad
20 17.300s 17.600s range
21 17.600s 17.900s at
22 17.900s 24.300s Loughborough
23 24.300s 24.700s bank
24 24.700s 25.100s whereabouts
25 25.100s 25.100s in
26 25.100s 25.600s Fermanagh
27 25.600s 27.700s between
28 27.700s 28.300s Fermanagh
29 28.300s 28.800s Cavan
30 28.800s 29.700s and
31 29.700s 29.800s I
32 29.800s 30.100s live
33 30.100s 30.400s action
34 30.400s 30.600s the
35 30.600s 30.900s road
36 30.900s 31.500s on
37 31.500s 31.800s for
38 31.800s 32s the
39 32s 32.200s Marble
40 32.200s 32.300s Arch
41 32.300s 32.400s Caves
42 32.400s 33.800s and
43 33.800s 34.400s popular
44 34.400s 34.600s culture

Honestly, that’s not bad — although not quite useable. It’s certainly a good base to start transcribing from. I was not expecting it do deal so well with fast speech and regional dialects. Perhaps transcription nirvana will arrive soon; not quite here yet, but quite astonishing that such powerful  language processing is so easily accomplished.

An intriguing computer-based metaphor for culture

Psychologists have exploited computers as metaphors for the human brain ever since their invention. Concepts like “short term memory” and “long term memory” as functional cognitive units that pass information from one to another owe their provenance to computer metaphors.

These metaphors, however, are based on particular technical instantiations of computing; there are unimaginably many ways to instantiate computers as technological objects, including in DNA, slime, and liquid crystal. Even the cloud based systems powering technology experiences today are radically different from the self-contained computing units that spawned the computer-based metaphors at the heart of cognitive psychology. For example,  web-pages hardly ever exist on a single server anymore. When called they are constructed on-the-fly from databases and servers with the illusion of being a unitary object. This very webpage was constructed with 93 calls to four domains; each of those calls would have been served by a server accessing multiple databases in order to fulfill the request. A simple blog page is constructed on-the-fly by literally hundreds of processes hosted on multiple servers.

The information-processing metaphor of the human brain is based on the standalone serial computer; and in practice those barely exist anymore. New forms of computing, like “cloud-computing”, radically disrupt these metaphors.

pingfs (ping file system) is a file storage  system that stores data in the internet itself, as packets bouncing between routers in a network. As a  packet is received it is bounced back as a new packet. No local storage exists beyond that required to read the message, bounce it and instantaneously delete the local copy. The data is “stored” primarily between nodes, not within them; like storing tennis balls by juggling them.

This seems like a far better metaphor for memory than the “short term memory”[RAM]/”long term memory”[Hard-drive] distinction. It captures the social nature of memory, and how individuals primarily remember things they are reminded of.

But as a metaphor for social life and memory it could be improved. What if  nodes in the network selectively bounced packets based on agreement and disagreement? What if packets were subtly changed each time they bounced? This would start to approximate a metaphor for culture, and capture how information is simultaneously transmitted and stored; that the act of transmission is also a mechanism of storage.

This metaphor starts to capture some of the magic of cultural memory; moving the locus of action from the inside of individual brains to the spaces between people, as post-structural theorists have long suggested.  Culture, according to this metaphor, is produced and maintained by the constant flurry of interaction between its members. It is what happens between people, not within people, that creates memory.  Obviously, this is only possible if the people have the capacity to “bounce packets” of information in appropriate ways, but it is a metaphor that highlights that meaning and memory cannot be made alone.






Social network structure & collective cooperation


In social psychology we’re interested in how group identity and group processes impact on individual experience and behaviour. Until now the field has focused largely on how people perceive groups and identity; and has not worried too much about the structure of social connections. Network structure , however, makes a big difference to social outcomes at collective levels and we’re now getting tools and models to start to make sense of it all.

Allen and colleagues (2017) have recently shown that cooperation is more likely to emerge in networks with fewer but stronger ties at local levels than in networks with more (but weaker) connections. This is theoretically exciting, as it shows that it is possible and fruitful to analyze social psychological constructs in relation to network structure.

It’s also deeply concerning, since the digital platforms that mediate more and more of our social relationships (Twitter; Facebook; Instagram) are cultivating social networks with large numbers of weak ties — exactly the kinds of relationships that, according to Allen et al., will result in less cooperative networks at large scales.

Counterintuitively, if we want more cooperative societies we might need to spend less time on our phones and see fewer people more often.

  • [DOI] Allen, B., Lippner, G., Chen, Y., Fotouhi, B., Momeni, N., Yau, S., & Nowak, M. A.. (2017). Evolutionary dynamics on any population structure. Nature, 544(7649), 227–230.
    author = {Benjamin Allen and Gabor Lippner and Yu-Ting Chen and Babak Fotouhi and Naghmeh Momeni and Shing-Tung Yau and Martin A. Nowak},
    title = {Evolutionary dynamics on any population structure},
    journal = {Nature},
    year = {2017},
    volume = {544},
    number = {7649},
    pages = {227--230},
    month = {mar},
    doi = {10.1038/nature21723},
    file = {:Allen2017 - Evolutionary dynamics on any population structure:},
    owner = {MQ},
    publisher = {Springer Nature},
    timestamp = {2017-09-07},





Managing my publication page on WordPress with Papercite

This is a very exciting find: a way to automatically generate a publications page on a WordPress blog from a bibtex file.

I’ve used Jabref to manage my own publication record for years now. Papercite pulls the most recent version of the Jabref database (a bibtex file) via a Dropbox link and automatically generates my publication page (see it in action here).  Here’s the script in the WordPress page that does the work:

{bibtex  highlight=”Michael Quayle|M. Quayle|Mike Quayle|Quayle|Quayle M.” template=av-bibtex format = APA  show_links=1  process_titles=1 group=year group_order=desc file=}

(Note: I’ve replaced the square brackets with curly braces so that the publications page doesn’t render in this post about the publications page; the curly brackets above need to be square brackets in order for the script to run.)

Now, when I update my bibtex record with new publications (which I would be doing anyway) my publications page automatically shows the most recent updates.

Fingers-crossed that this continues to work when Dropbox changes its web-rendering policy in September….