Politicial scientist uses social science skills to dissect soccer statistics

Social scientists do venture out of the ivory tower. Here is an example of a political scientist (who also teaches political sociology and has reviewed for several sociology journals) who uses his analytical skills to examine soccer numbers:

Chris Anderson found himself keeping goal for a West German fourth-division club at 17. He managed to hold on to the starting position for a couple of seasons, earning a few Deutsche Marks and watching the game from up close. Today he’s an award-winning professor at Cornell University, where he teaches political economy and political sociology. He consults with clubs about football numbers and his writings appear on his Soccer By The Numbers blog and other football publications, including the New York Times’ Goal blog…

I am primarily an academic who just happens to know a little about both soccer and about statistics. I was born and raised in Europe, so soccer was everywhere when I was growing up. Not to date myself, but the 1974 World Cup in Germany was a formative experience for me. That’s when I started playing. Eventually, I quit and became an academic, but fortunately, the analytical tools I use in my “day job” as a social scientist can easily be applied to soccer data. I read Soccernomics (by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) and was hooked. So last year during the World Cup, I started playing around with some data and writing about them on soccerbythenumbers.com. Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. Together with a colleague from another university, I am currently in the process of writing a book about the game using statistical evidence.

It is sabermetrics for soccer! It would be very interesting to hear whether Anderson uses similar techniques in his political science and soccer work and how the soccer works help him keep up on statistical analysis.

A bonus: since Anderson has “been sworn to secrecy” regarding whether he has done detailed analyses for specific teams, we can assume that statistical skills can also lead to getting paid by a sports team.

Emerging businesses looking for social scientists who can data mine and use statistics

The Economic Times of India contains an interview with Prabhakar Raghavan, chief scientist for Yahoo! and head of their labs. Raghavan talks about their studies of social networking and social influence. Then Raghavan was asked about the people undertaking these studies:

What is the percentage of social scientists in Yahoo! Labs who anchor such work ?

They constitute around 10% of our people. We are interested in social scientists who can work on data mining. But in most colleges, the sociology department doesn’t teach data mining and the statistics department does not offer sociology. That’s why emerging businesses face a serious dearth of such social scientists.

A reminder that all sorts of businesses are looking for sociology students who are well-versed in statistics (and data mining). Since many students don’t think sociology and statistics naturally go together, it is up to colleges (and sociology statistics instructors) to help them put it together. Sociology may often be billed as a discipline that will help students understand, analyze, and change the world but one often needs to be able to work with and analyze data in these efforts.

This interview is also a reminder that social scientist degree holders are not just relegated to a career in academia.