Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
Feb 17–20, 2015 • San Jose, CA

The Two Cultures of People Science

2:20pm–2:40pm Thursday, 02/19/2015
Data Science
Location: LL20 A
Average rating: ****.
(4.50, 2 ratings)
Slides:   1-PDF 

When it comes to understanding how people behave, data scientists are relative newcomers to a game that social scientists have been playing for a long time. With the rise of vast new amounts of data, and of the tools and techniques that data scientists bring to bear in analyzing that data, a wealth of new collaboration opportunities have opened up. But along with those opportunities come challenges. While the two disciplines don’t face anything like C.P. Snow’s “mutual incomprehension”, they also aren’t natural bedfellows. Data science is steeped in the culture of technology, computer science, and other “harder” sciences. The tools and techniques that come naturally to social scientists—surveys, randomized controlled trials, natural experiments—aren’t usually part of a data scientist’s training. And machine learning, optimization, and massively parallel computing aren’t traditional parts of a social scientist’s toolkit either.

This talk will present tips for truly productive collaboration based on several successfully executed case studies from Civis Analytics, where we employ a team of social scientists, political scientists, and data scientists to understand the many facets of human behavior. These include using simulated annealing optimization methods to generate representative poll weightings, novel transfer learning techniques from machine learning for modeling small surveys, Bayesian MCMC methods for poll combination, and the design and modeling of randomized controlled experiments to understand the true causal impact of various interventions.

Photo of Michelangelo D'Agostino

Michelangelo D'Agostino


Michelangelo D’Agostino is a Senior Data Scientist with Civis Analytics, where he works on statistical models and writes software for data analysis.

As a reformed particle physicist turned data scientist, Michelangelo loves mungeable datasets, machine learning, and long walks on the beach (with a floppy hat, plenty of sunscreen, and a laptop). He comes to Civis from Braintree, a Chicago-based online payments company that was recently acquired by PayPal. Prior to Braintree, Michelangelo was a senior analyst in digital analytics with the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. He helped to optimize the campaign’s email fundraising juggernaut and analyzed social media data.

Michelangelo holds a PhD in particle astrophysics from Berkeley and got his start in analytics sifting through neutrino data from the IceCube experiment. Accordingly, he spent two glorious months at the South Pole, where he slept in a tent salvaged from the Korean War and enjoyed the twice-weekly shower rationing. He’s also written about science and technology for the Economist. Michelangelo is a native of Chicago. Despite his name, does not speak Italian.