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Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2011;2011:157194. doi: 10.1155/2011/157194. Epub 2010 Nov 25.

Empiricism and theorizing in epidemiology and social network analysis.

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  • 1Institute of Public Health, Georgia State University, 140 Decatur Street, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA.

Abstract

The connection between theory and data is an iterative one. In principle, each is informed by the other: data provide the basis for theory that in turn generates the need for new information. This circularity is reflected in the notion of abduction, a concept that focuses on the space between induction (generating theory from data) and deduction (testing theory with data). Einstein, in the 1920s, placed scientific creativity in that space. In the field of social network analysis, some remarkable theory has been developed, accompanied by sophisticated tools to develop, extend, and test the theory. At the same time, important empirical data have been generated that provide insight into transmission dynamics. Unfortunately, the connection between them is often tenuous and the iterative loop is frayed. This circumstance may arise both from data deficiencies and from the ease with which data can be created by simulation. But for whatever reason, theory and empirical data often occupy different orbits. Fortunately, the relationship, while frayed, is not broken, to which several recent analyses merging theory and extant data will attest. Their further rapprochement in the field of social network analysis could provide the field with a more creative approach to experimentation and inference.

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