Physicists, sociologists, and linguists

Eszter Hargittai recently wrote about “Isolated Social Networkers” in
her blog.

Her claim (inspired by some earlier discussions on the INSNA SOCNET
mailing list) is that physicists working on social networking problems
rarely cite the relevant prior work in sociology. She includes a
diagram by Lin Freeman that supports this claim in a graphical form.

I am personally of the opinion that both sides of the picture have
contributed significantly to the field and should not be calling each
other names but that’s not the point of my posting. Reading Eszter’s
story, I couldn’t help remembering a discussion from a few years ago
between a group of physicists in Italy (Benedetto et al.) and Joshua
Goodman (a computer scientist at Microsoft Research).

Benedetto et al. had published a paper (”Language Trees and Zipping“) in a good Physics journal
(Physical Review Letters) in which they showed a compression-based
method for identifying patterns in text and other sequences.

According to Goodman

“I first point out the inappropriateness of publishing a Letter
unrelated to physics. Next, I give experimental results showing that
the technique used in the Letter is 3 times worse and 17 times
slower than a simple baseline, Naive Bayes. And finally, I review
the literature, showing that the ideas of the Letter are not
novel. I conclude by suggesting that Physical Review Letters should
not publish Letters unrelated to physics.”

Benedetto et al’s rebuttal appeared in