by Christian Stafford
Identifying fake news, designing more efficient cities, understanding the obesity epidemic and efforts to improve the situation – all of these topics and many more were recently covered extensively at CompleNet 2018. Hosted by Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute (NetSI), this event was possible thanks to the efforts of Conference Chairs Alessandro Vespignani and Kate Coronges, Executive Director of the Network Science Institute.
CompleNet is an annual conference dedicated to serving as a bridge between the hard sciences and computer science, said Coronges, who noted that, “the conference has fueled cross-pollination of ideas across various disciplines, facilitating the development of transdisciplinary methods and theory.” This year, there were 12 invited speakers who represented unique fields including health, epidemiology, social movements, energy sustainability, brain science, and group decision making.
CompleNet prides itself on being able to identify up and coming young speakers who are underdogs in their field. According to Coronges, for nearly a decade, the conference has been able to identify and showcase the talents of young researchers who, years later, ended up becoming leaders in their fields of study.
This global conference alternates between being hosted in the United States and Europe, with occasional events in South America. The selection of Northeastern University as the conference host this year was a testament to the University’s academic and research track record, in addition to the University’s prime location, Coronges said.
“Northeastern is one of the lead universities in the field of Network Science with a very strong Institute and PhD program. Many of the professors working at the NetSI at Northeastern had already presented at CompleNet before, so it was an obvious choice to try to bring the event to the university. Boston and Cambridge are a hub for science and Northeastern leads the field in Network Science,” said Coronges. “This year was perhaps the best attended event in the last nine years of its history” she said.
One of the speakers of this year’s conference included David Lazer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science. Lazer’s talk focused on the very timely topic of fake news and disinformation, as he connected Twitter accounts to voting records to show the typical characteristics of accounts spreading fake news on Twitter.
This year’s conference was also home to a number of special events including a student “paper unwind”, a meeting of the Caucus for Women in Network Science and the “Art of Network Science III”.
The paper unwind, hosted by the Symposium for Young Network Scientists, involved three network science experts, Tina Eliassi-Rad (Northeastern University), Daniel Larremore (University of Colorado), and Aaron Clauset (University of Colorado), who each “deconstructed” one of their recent publications in a discussion style format.
“In this session, speakers were not asked to present their latest findings, but rather, tell the ‘real story’ behind how the paper came together,” Coronges said. “How did the idea come to be, how did the collaboration work, what were the struggles in doing this research, were there particular methodologies that proved to be especially useful?” Coronges hailed the special event as, “wildly successful” with both the presenters and the students describing the discussions as “vibrant, inspiring and instructional.”
The inaugural meeting of the Caucus for Women in Network Science was, “an open forum where we identified shared objectives and concerns and discussed strategies for improving employment and career advancement of women in Network Science,” said Coronges. Some of the topics discussed at the meeting included talk of how the Caucus can leverage professional and social contacts among its members to stimulate opportunities for women and the importance for utilizing positions of leadership to increase participation of women in academic conferences.
The Art of Networks III was a special reception that showcased a curated installation of network visualizations, which, according to Coronges, “presented visualizations created in the past three years that covered a broad range of topics in disciplines as diverse as cosmology, genealogy, literature, music, pedagogy and transportation networks.” Coronges said that projects were selected from some of the top visualization research labs and studios from around the world, noting that visualizations can be helpful in making sense of complex phenomena, “by structuring data in ways that facilitate detection of patterns and trends, and ultimately, the transformation of data into meaningful information.”
In addition to the hard work of Coronges and Vespignani, the conference could not have been possible without the help of program chairs Bruno Gonzalez (NYU, New York City), Roberta Sinatra (CEU, Budapest), and Sean Cornelius (NU); scheduling chair Emma Towlson, poster session chairs Joseph Kenny and Alex Gates; invited speaker coordinators Pim van der Horn and Carolina Mattson and Art of Networks Chair Nicole Samay.