The Methods Lab is excited to welcome its first research fellow who arrived at the Weizenbaum Institute on November 20: Douglas Parry from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His research focus lies on Socio-Informatics in the area of Communication Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Media/CyberPsychology.
During his 4-week stay, Douglas Parry will contribute to work at the Methods Lab in different ways. On November 30, he will hold the workshop A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis, where he covers all important steps, from pre-processing text to visualizing results of topic modeling in a single day. On December 7, he will host a Digital Methods Colloquium together with Roland Toth, where German researchers focusing on digital methods will get together, present recent work, and discuss challenges and opportunities in the field.
Furthermore, Douglas Parry is collaborating on two research projects with the Methods Lab during his stay, both of which involve the processing of complex data surrounding smartphone usage that were collected using multiple methods earlier this year.
The Methods Lab is happy to host Douglas Parry and is looking forward to the results of this exciting partnership – stay tuned!
We are eager to announce our upcoming workshop, “A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis“, on Thursday, November 30, at the Weizenbaum Institute. Led by visiting fellow Dr. Douglas Parry(Stellenbosch University, South Africa), this workshop offers a comprehensive introduction to text analysis using the R programming language. Topics covered include text pre-processing (formats, tokenization, stemming, stop words, regex), dictionary analysis (lexicons, tf-idf, sentiment), topic modeling (LDA, CTM, STM), and data visualization. By the end of the workshop, participants will be equipped to tackle real-world text-mining tasks and have a solid foundation to move on to more advanced analysis techniques. While a basic understanding of R programming is anticipated, prior experience in text analysis is not necessary.
For more details about the workshop, visit our program page. We look forward to your participation!
On September 14th, 2023, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on the rationale and methodology of theory building in empirical research. The workshop was conducted by Adrian Meier (U of Erlangen-Nürnberg) and aimed to provide participants with an orientation for working with theories in a meaningful way that provides a foundation for empirical research.
In the first section of the workshop, Adrian outlined what theories are and how they relate to the overarching mission of science. The introduction focused on the differentiation between theories, concepts, constructs, and models and addressed the interplay between theories and empirical research.
After this introduction, the focus shifted to challenges and problems of social scientific theorizing. Participants were given the opportunity to add issues and questions they identified in the past when working with theories. Most prominently, they mentioned confusion due to different terminology that is used for specific concepts (i.e., synonymy and ambiguity), the “moving target” problem (as phenomena are changing while they are being studied), and the lack of incentivization to focus on theory in the formalized infrastructure of empirical research. Adrian elaborated on some of the underlying issues uniting many of these challenges: Theories are underdetermined by evidence, concepts and measurement instruments are rarely validated, and manipulations in experimental research are not precise enough.
In the last section of the workshop, participants learned about a recently proposed Theory Construction Methodology (Borsboom et al., 2021) and took part in an accompanying exercise. They were asked to read a one-pager summarizing crucial elements of the Mood Management Theory, a popular theory in the field of media psychology. Within this text, they should identify statements about phenomena the theory is supposed to explain, data that supported it (or not), as well as the theoretical statements (e.g., premises, propositions) themselves, to increase participants‘ sensitivity in differentiating between these elements in their own work. Lastly, Adrian gave an outlook on how theories can be formalized and how theory construction can be crucially fostered by non-confirmatory research practices.
The workshop was a great and unconventional addition to this year’s series of workshops organized by the Methods Lab. Adrian structured and executed it brilliantly and gave participants – who were associated with various fields of research and very engaged – lots of room for discussions.
We would like to thank Adrian for his thorough and inspiring workshop and hope he will contribute to the Methods Lab program again in the future. In the meantime, we recommend following him on X for updates on his research!
On August 30th, 2023, the Methods Lab and Olga Pasitselska (U of Groningen) organized the workshop on data donation in messaging groups research. The workshop intended to tackle practical and ethical issues behind data collection, processing, and dissemination in the research of closed messaging groups. We asked four colleagues to share their experiences and struggles and provide their solutions for closed chat groups research. The invited speakers, Sérgio Barbosa (U Coimbra), Katharina Knop-Hülß (HMTMH Hannover), Connie Moon Sehat (Hacks/Hackers), and Julian Kohne (GESIS), paved the way for better conceptualization of messaging groups and application of tailor-made ethical and practical solutions. The workshop allowed for a cross-field discussion of ad-hoc developments in closed groups research and provided many insights for the audience, speakers, and organizers.
Sérgio Barbosa explained his approach of joining activist WhatsApp groups in Brazil. Sérgio suggested that informed consent cannot be assumed as a one-off solution: instead, one should go beyond the check-list of ethical guidelines and learn by doing and negotiating with the group members. When joining these types of groups, researchers should clearly state the purposes of the research and disclose their identity, and also share the outcome of the research and promote it in the local community as well. Different approaches should be taken, depending on the type of groups: for example, pro-democracy groups and extremist groups should be treated differently, independent of the group size.
Dr. Katharina Knop-Hülß shared insights about studying non-professional secondary groups (e.g., choir, sport, volunteer groups) with her highly unobtrusive and highly invasive research approach of scraping chats’ content. Since these groups were representative of intimate environments of everyday communication, they can be considered as “safe spaces”, closed from the public eye. To account for the sensitive nature of the data collection, Katharina used an opt-in approach, provided pseudonymized chat logs to the participants before they consented to participate, and complied with the requirement not to share this data with anyone beyond the research team, even after the data was pseudonymized.
Julian Kohne introduced his digital platform for WhatsApp data donation that automatically cleans and anonymizes the data, reducing researchers’ exposure to and intervention in the raw data. In his research, Julian takes a participant-centered approach: the data collection tool is designed to maximize usability and control of the data for research participants. They can pre-process the data in a way that allows them to review the chat logs and decide what exactly they want to donate, deleting undesirable pieces of data, up to the possibility of deleting time stamps and other meta-data. With that, the tool also allows researchers to track how much and what types of data was deleted.
Dr. Connie Moon Sehat presented the meta-review of closed messaging apps research that aimed to determine what are the conditions in terms of indexed invites, group size, discussion topics, or other aspects of closed groups that make them arguably public or private. Adding to the previous speakers’ examples of their research with activist/public and hobby and friends/private types of groups, the review summarized the discussed points and provided a framework for mapping chat groups according to the multiple parameters. Whether researchers scraped the groups without entering them, entered with invitation, disclosed or not their identity and research interest, depended on the nature of the groups and public interest that can justify researchers’ intervention into the closed communication spaces. Connie also stressed the possible differences in perceptions of groups’ “publicness” between users, researchers, and platforms, that also should be taken into account.
After four presentations, we continued the discussion with the online and offline audience, addressing the issues of generalizability of messaging data (what slice of the “natural” social interaction are we looking at here?), the role of language, and the differences between long- and short-term groups. We also discussed what is the role of the researcher in the automated versus manual data collection process, and how participants can benefit from data donation.
The workshop provided theoretical and practical insights for messaging groups research and outlined future directions for collaboration in creating the guidelines for ethical closed messaging research and data donation.
We are excited to announce our upcoming workshop, “Interdisciplinarity in Action: Methods for Fruitful Teamwork,” scheduled for Wednesday, October 4, at the Weizenbaum Institute. Led by Silvio Suckow and Sara Saba (both WI), this intensive one-day workshop provides practical tools and knowledge for enhancing teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration. The workshop offers diverse perspectives and actionable advice for structuring interdisciplinary teams and their work, hands-on practice of various team-building methods, and an input presentation by an external speaker. It is open to anyone interested in interdisciplinary research, whether leading or collaborating on such projects. Please note that spots are limited and allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. A slightly modified online version of the course will be offered separately.
For more details about the workshop, visit our program page. We look forward to seeing you there!
On June 15, 2023, the Methods Lab organized the workshop “Introduction to Topic Modeling” in collaboration with the WI research group “Platform Algorithms and Digital Propaganda”. The workshop aimed to provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of topic modeling, a machine-learning technique used to determine clusters of similar words (i.e., topics) within bodies of text. The event took place at the Weizenbaum Institute in a hybrid format, bringing together researchers from various institutions.
The workshop was conducted by Daniel Matter (TU Munich) who guided the participants through basic concepts and applications of this method. Through theory, demonstrations, and practical examples, attendees gained insight into commonly used algorithms such as Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) and BERT-based topic models. The workshop enabled participants to assess the advantages and drawbacks of each approach, equipping them with a foundation in topic modeling while, at the same time, providing plenty of new insights to those with prior expertise.
During the workshop, Daniel explained the distinction between LDA and BERTopic, two popular topic modeling strategies. LDA, or Latent Dirichlet Allocation, a commonly used method for topic modeling, operates as a generative model and treats each document as a mixture of topics. LDA aims to determine the topic and word distributions that maximize the probability of generating the documents in the corpus. With LDA, as opposed to BERTopic, the number of topics must be known beforehand.
BERTopic, on the other hand, belongs to the category of Embeddings-Based Topic Models (EBTM), which take a different approach. Unlike LDA, which treats words as distinct features, BERTopic incorporates semantic relationships between words. BERTopic follows a bottom-up approach, embedding documents in a semantic space and extracting topics from this transformed representation. Unlike LDA, which can be applied to short and long text corpora, BERTopic generally works better on shorter text, such as social media posts or news headlines.
When deciding between BERTopic and LDA, it is essential to consider the specific requirements of the text analysis. BERTopic’s strength lies in its flexibility and ability to handle short texts effectively, while LDA is preferred when strong interpretability is necessary.
With this workshop, we at the Methods Lab hope to have provided our attendees with a comprehensive understanding of topic modeling as a method, with a special focus on LDA and BERTopic. By exploring the concepts, applications, and advantages of each approach, these tools can be used to unlock hidden semantic structures within textual data, enabling researchers to employ them in various domains and facilitating tasks such as document clustering, information retrieval, and recommender systems.
We want to thank Daniel for giving this workshop and inducting us into the world of topic modeling and also all participants, both virtually and at the institute.
Our next workshop, “Whose data is it anyway? Ethical, practical, and methodological challenges of data donation in messenger groups research”, will take place on August 30, 2023. We hope to see you there!
We are excited to announce our upcoming workshop, “Theory Construction: Building and Advancing Theories for Empirical Social Science,” which will take place on Thursday, September 14 in the Kassenhalle (main hall), WI. Led by Adrian Meier(FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg) and created in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Possler (JMU Würzburg), this intensive “crash course” will equip participants with practical strategies for constructing and advancing social scientific theories. Beginning with an exploration of fundamental concepts, structure, and quality criteria of social scientific theories, Adrian will delve into hands-on techniques for building and advancing theory. The workshop will focus on the theory-building process as well as the micro-level of social analysis, offering examples from media psychology and communication science.
You can find more about the workshop on our program page. See you there!
On July 6, participants gathered in the Flexraum at the Weizenbaum Institute for the workshop “From Civic Tech to Science: Reimagining Science-Society Relations,” led by Nicolas Zehner. Civic tech encompasses a diverse array of empowering technologies that enable democratic participation by allowing citizens to engage with societal issues and contribute to positive change. What insights can science gain from civic tech initiatives? How can they contribute to inclusive knowledge creation? And how can the design of these initiatives help rethink science-society relations? Those were some of the key questions that guided this workshop.
The workshop involved three introductory position statements, each shedding light on different aspects of civic tech’s impact. The position statement on “The Journalism of Things,” exemplified by projects like “Radmesser” and “Bienenlive,” demonstrated how civic tech can impact citizen behavior, raise topic visibility, and foster transdisciplinary knowledge. Dr. Beatrice Jetto’s position statement, “Blockchain-based Civic Tech Ecosystem: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Objectives”, highlighted the potential of blockchain-based civic tech in making citizen participation in urban development more inclusive and transparent. Furthermore, Nicolas Zehner’s statement position, “AI, Environmental Protection, and the Promise of Participation”, discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can serve as a platform for reimagining science-society relations and a gateway to thinking about more global issues by reintroducing the concept of “awareness of uncertainty” as a form of knowledge.
Following the position statements, the workshop engaged participants in group work sessions, facilitating discussions on knowledge transfer beyond conventional science communication. Collaboratively, they explored ways to create infrastructures that foster collaboration and include data subjects, avoiding the reproduction of existing power structures and ensuring equitable civic tech initiatives.
Data is an invaluable asset for scientific research. However, accessing platform data for academic purposes has become increasingly challenging, particularly with the closure of free access to APIs like Twitter’s. Recognizing the significance of data accessibility for research, the Weizenbaum Institute organized a workshop in collaboration with the European New School of Digital Studies (ENS) titled “Datenzugang für die Forschung – Der Digital Services Act (DSA)” This workshop, held on June 21 at the ChangeHub, aimed to explore the potential of the upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA) in facilitating data access for academic research.
The DSA is set to bring about improvements in data access for researchers under Article 40. However, the DSA’s regulations must be thoughtfully implemented at the national level to achieve these goals fully. With the closure of free access to Twitter’s API, there is an urgency to find robust solutions to enable researchers to access platform data for scientific inquiry. The DSA, expected to come into force in February 2024, holds promises to provide avenues for researchers to obtain the data they need for their academic research. Still, it also brings about its own set of challenges.
The workshop aimed to foster an open forum where researchers from diverse disciplines, particularly those who work or plan to work with platform data, could come together to provide recommendations for the effective implementation of the DSA. Organized by Ulrike Klinger (ENS) and Jakob Ohme (WI) and supported by the Stiftung Mercator, the workshop addressed crucial questions surrounding data access requests, eligible data, and the verification process by authorities and platforms.
The workshop started with a welcoming address from Ulrike Klinger. Jakob Ohme then provided an overview of the DSA’s Article 40, shedding light on its potential implications for researchers. This was followed by presentations on the DSA’s implementation in Germany by Gökhan Cetintas from the Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr and Andrea Sanders-Winter from the Bundesnetzagentur, who offered insights into the data access rules under the DSA.
After a coffee break, Jessica Gabriele Walter from Aarhus University presented on DSA40 and scholarly networks in other EU countries, providing a broader perspective on data access challenges and solutions. Richard Kuchta from Democracy Reporting International later delved into “The Data Access Problem” and emphasized the necessity of a vetting process to ensure data security and accuracy.
The latter part of the workshop involved group work in which participants engaged in the discussion and expansion of a policy paper draft prepared by the Weizenbaum Institute and ENS, based on inputs from an early expert round. The goal was to develop actionable recommendations that would benefit the research community in Germany and the EU. Breakout sessions centered on topics like “Vetting Access,” “Access Modes,” and “Infrastructure,” allowing participants to delve deeper into specific aspects of data access.
The workshop brought together an interdisciplinary group of researchers with a shared vision: enabling access to platform data for academic purposes. By combining their expertise and perspectives, participants crafted recommendations for the effective implementation of the DSA, ensuring that data access for research remains equitable and secure. As the DSA comes into force and takes shape, the outcomes of this workshop are expected to serve as a significant step forward in fostering inclusive dialogue on the future of data accessibility.
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