Now comes Duncan Watts, identified as the principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and thereby a True Believer in the social welfare merits of behavioral research performed upon users of social media networks. Worried that the recent outcry over a study of “emotional contagion” might lead to a backlash that may considerably shrink the number of acres available for cultivation in his field, Mr. Watts sets forth the familiar idea that science is always and forever a good thing, assuming that such research is conducted ethically and with full transparency:
Well, yes, fine enough, as far as such cheerleading goes. Yet the most dangerous ethical issues concern not how scientific research is generated, but how it is used. Alas, Mr. Watts does not venture into the close alliance between knowledge of social media and the exercise of power and control over communities, as evidenced for example in the self-description of a US Department of Defense (via DARPA) program tagged as SMISC, which sounds like something concocted by SMERSH:
We can only speculate as to the DARPA criteria for what constitutes “truthful information”; but Ok, so having received copious DARPA funding, what will these hired gun network researchers do?
In an example, we suppose, of how it is — according to other pioneering network scientists — that the smartest person in the room is the room, clicking on the SMISC link for ethical implications summons forth the following:
Mr. Watts drags poor old Wordsworth into the argument, via his deeply ironic poem titled “The Tables Turned”, and in particular the oft-quoted three lines, “Our meddling intellect Misshapes the beauteous forms of things. We murder to dissect.” The final three stanzas offer a better sense of the poem, though we remain uncertain what role they could ever play in Mr. Watts’ deadly earnest and humorless plea for more and better science: