The Fragile Families Challenge

12-1 pm

PSTC Seminar Room 205

Matthew J. Salganik, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

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Scholars have long hypothesized that childhood experiences play an important role in the process by which socioeconomic status is reproduced across generations. The predictive power of attainment models, however, has been so weak that pioneers of the field have commented that random chance must play an important role. Salganik will present results from the Fragile Families Challenge, a scientific mass collaboration based on the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study, a birth cohort study of approximately 5,000 families from 20 large U.S. cities. During the Fragile Families Challenge, 159 research teams from 68 institutions in 7 countries used rich survey data covering 2,121 training observations on 12,942 variables to produce statistical and machine learning models that collectively set a benchmark of predictive performance for six life outcomes. Results suggest that (a) modern machine learning methods enabled predictive performance that outpaced approaches more common in social science, but (b) overall predictive performance was poor. Salganik will discuss the potential reasons for poor predictive performance in social science research and the potential for mass collaboration to address limitations in the current scientific process.

Salganik is affiliated with several of Princeton's interdisciplinary research centers: the Office for Population Research, the Center for Information Technology Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning. His research interests include social networks and computational social science. He is the author of Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age.

Salganik's research has been published in journals such as Science, PNAS, Sociological Methodology, and Journal of the American Statistical Association. His papers have won the Outstanding Article Award from the Mathematical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association and the Outstanding Statistical Application Award from the American Statistical Association. Popular accounts of his work have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, and New Yorker. Salganik is currently on the Board of Directors of Mathematica Policy Research.

Salganik's research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Joint United Nations Program for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Russell Sage Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Facebook, and Google. During sabbaticals from Princeton, he has been a Visiting Professor at Cornell Tech and a Senior Research at Microsoft Research. During the 2018-19 academic year, he will be a professor in residence at the New York Times.