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Duncan Watts, Network Science Pioneer

Duncan Watts of Microsoft.
Duncan Watts of Microsoft. (Image credit: NSF)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Sociologist Duncan Watts is a leading researcher and author focusing on social networks and collective dynamics.

He recently left his job as Yahoo’s principal researcher to join Microsoft’s new research lab in New York City. Although the lab will pursue the type of knowledge that ultimately can help the company develop successful products and services, it will conduct basic research, with computational and experimental social science among its areas of focus.

This is where the Australia-born Watts comes in. In his research and writing, he looks at how social networks function and asks questions relevant not only to business and marketers but to policymakers. He’s challenged the widespread belief that a small group of "influencers" are responsible for the setting and success of trends in popular culture.

In his recent book Everything is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer (Crown Business 2011), he holds up to the light the matter of common sense, arguing that it may not be as reliable a predictor as we think — especially when it comes to the behavior of large, complex groups.

Watts’ other books include Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004 )and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (Princeton University Press, 2003). He is a former professor at Columbia University, and holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University.

In the video below, he answers 10 questions related to his life as a scientist.

Name:Duncan Watts Institution: Microsoft Research New York City Field of Study: Sociology

Editor's Note: The researchers depicted in ScienceLives articles have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.