By: Diane Stirling
The diverse academic disciplines, myriad research arenas, and rich data environments of an information school are fertile ground for a computational social scientist, and that made the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University an attractive place for Dr. Jeff Hemsley.
Hemsley has spent the last five years at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle, earning his doctorate, working as a research assistant and teaching assistant, and guest lecturing on topics such as social media, viral events, Big Data research and quantitative research methods.
“There’s just so much going on here, and it’s all so different, and that’s a great place to be if you’re interested in visualizing data because there are so many different kinds of data that might be available to look at,” he noted.
Dr. Hemsley will be teaching the iSchool’s classes in information visualization this fall. He plans to continue new questions in his existing research, looking at information flows in social media networks, how the structure of networks influences the flow of information, and how those flows in turn alter the networks. With a focus in on social movements and political events, he builds tools that collect, curate, visualize and analyze big data sets, and employs social network analysis, econometrics techniques, and computational simulation methods.
Part of his studies examine the large questions about how possessing data can change social dynamics. “The availability of all this data can give companies and government a lot of control. There are a bunch of little companies popping up that are intent on creating value from all the data that’s out there. That’s good, but it’s providing companies and governments new ways to target us or spy on us; surveillance. So yes, we have much more convenient lives, but there’s another side to it.”
The current range of data and its emerging availability brings society to a point in time where, “there are just a lot of questions–about privacy, about power, about how these new data sources can both challenge power and retrench it. The availability of that data is not good or bad now; we need to understand how it is the same and how it is different–that’s kind of a hot issue for me,” he explained.
Before returning to school for his doctorate, Hemsley worked for 15 years in the software industry as a software test engineer and QA manager. He previously earned his master of science degree in information science from the University of Washington and his bachelor’s degree in economics, with an emphasis in statistics and a minor in mathematics, from California State University East Bay. He is originally is from the San Francisco Bay area.
Hemsley also has co-authored a book, “Going Viral,” which explains what virality is, how it works technologically and socially, and its implications of this process for social change.