7.3 Back to the beginning

The future of social research will be a combination of social science and data science.

At the end of our journey, let’s return to the study described on the very first page of this book. Joshua Blumenstock, Gabriel Cadamuro, and Robert On (2015) combined detailed phone call data from about 1.5 million people with survey data from about 1,000 people in order to estimate the geographic distribution of wealth in Rwanda. Their estimates were similar to estimates from the Demographic and Health Survey, the gold standard of surveys in developing countries. But, their method was about 10 times faster and 50 times cheaper. These dramatically faster and lower-cost estimates are not an end in themselves, they are means to end; they create new possibilities for researchers, governments, and companies.

At the beginning of the book, I described this study as a window into the future of social research, and now I hope you see why. This study combines what we have done with in the past with what we can do in the present. Going forward, our capabilities will continue to increase, and by combining ideas from social science and data science we can take advantage of these opportunties.