Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scientists, Networks, and Cambridge Nights -- But Where are the Females?

In yesterday's Science section of The New York Times there is a very interesting article by John Markoff, Scientist's Online Interviews Draw His Peers Out of Lecture Mode, about an initiative at MIT's Media Lab (which I am a big fan of) called Cambridge Nights. This is a series of video interviews with scientists on their lives and research.

The interviews are conducted by Dr. Hidalgo, who is a physicist, and whose dissertation advisor was Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, of network science fame, who is now at Northeastern University. Barabasi spoke in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series and, as always, was provocative, energetic, and very informative. The last time that I saw Professor Barabasi was at the Network Science Conference, held at the Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, May 12-14, 2010, where we presented a paper on our critical needs supply chain network design research.

All of the scientists interviewed in the Cambridge Nights videos, to-date, however, are males, which was disappointing to me. Perhaps, the female President of MIT, Dr. Susan Hockfield, could be included in a future interview or how about Dr. Lisa Randall, the physicist at Harvard? I could easily prepare an appropriate list. Having spent a year as a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, I can attest to the female brainpower in Massachusetts.

One of the scientists interviewed (not unexpectedly given the above academic genealogical connection) in Cambridge Nights is Dr. Barabasi, and he speaks about how he became interested in networks and how his work evolved from material sciences to network science. I appreciate his honesty regarding how, initially, he had difficulty publishing his papers. He deserves a lot of credit for bringing deep data analysis to network problems. However, in listening to the video, someone might get the mistaken impression that there was no research on networks until the mid 1990s and that is factually incorrect.

In operations research (and even in economics), the modeling, analysis, and solution of network problems has a long history, dating to the 1940s (and I can even go back further in the case of economics and finance and have done so in quite a few articles that I have published).

In terms of transportation alone the book by Beckmann, McGuire, and Winsten (1956) provided fundamental results in capturing complex behavior of people (drivers) interacting with one another on transportation networks, among other innovations. Also, everyone in operations research is familiar with the book by Ford and Fulkerson, Flows in Networks, published in 1962.

By dissertation advisor at Brown University, Dr. Stella Dafermos, was publishing on networks, starting in 1969, and she helped to inspire me, although she died in 1990, to write quite a few books on network themes, beginning with my first book in 1993.

Some of the classical books on networks that are available for download can be found on the Supernetworks Center website.