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Cannot Compute Python and Social Science

Learning Python and Social Science at the Same Time

I am making progress, but it is challenging to find the balance or harmony between reading social science and computer programming. Building a routine for learning and a joy for learning is important to me, yet making a routine for programming or finding the right passion project to work on is not an aspect of progression within Python that I have solved. I am excited when I pick up the book, yet the programming environment or something in my attitude stops me from dedicating more time every day to learning to read as well as write code.

This is day 103 of my project #500daysofAI and I decided to spend day 100–200 exploring Python. However attempting to write code at the same time as writing these articles has proven difficult. There is an emerging field of research that attempts to combine theories within social science with computer science called Social Data Science. It may be easier for certain economists and political scientists with advanced statistics or maths as part of their focus.

However for anthropologists who are mainly qualitatively focused can the same be said? To what extent are skills complementary in the qualitative area or those who focus on qualitative methods? If an anthropologist is learning Chinese Mandarin or Haiti French it does not seem as transferable into programming or computing compared to an economist into advanced maths as well as spread sheets.

If a researcher focused on qualitative methods has to learn a field of research alongside a spoken language as well as a programming language. In my head it is almost like a Social Data 404: indicating that I was able to communicate with a given field, but I could not find what was requested.

404 error occurs when the web page you’re trying to get to doesn’t exist. It’s called a 404 error because that’s the HTTP status code that the web server uses to describe that kind of error.

For the sake of discussion let us look at what you can do with a regular web 404 and superimpose this on my own error situation. I do not suggest by doing this that it can solve any problems, it is more of a thought experiment meant to spark ideas or discussion. Apologies if you believe transplanting or remixing in this manner is wrong.

The 404 error does occur when you are searching for something that you cannot find within a given domain. As such it seems like a bad analogy in relation to the social science and computer science divide. Recognising that I need a better analogy let us still proceed. First with the way to attempt solving a web 404 error and then the insofar non-existing social data science 404.

What can you do when a web 404 error occurs?

  • Refresh the Page. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes web servers can glitch and simply fail to show a page that really does exist. The first thing you should try is refreshing the page.
  • Double Check the Address. If you typed a URL into your address box yourself, it’s possible you mistyped. If you clicked a link on another web page and were shown a 404 error, it’s also possible that the link was mistyped on the linking page. Check the address and see if you spot any obvious errors, like in the image below.
  • Perform a Search. If the URL you are trying to reach is descriptive (or if you know roughly the name of the article or page you were expecting), you can use the keywords in the address to search the website. In the example below, you can’t really tell from the URL itself if anything is mistyped, but you can see some words from the name of the article.
  • Clear Your Browser Cache. It’s also possible the page with the error has been cached in your browser, but the actual link was changed on the website. To test out this possibility, you’ll have to clear your browser cache. Clearing the cache won’t affect your browsing experience much, but some websites may a take a couple of extra seconds to load as they re-download all the previously cached data.
  • Change your DNS Server. If a website is giving you 404 error on multiple URLs while being accessible on other networks (like mobile), then it’s possible that your ISP has blocked access to that website, or that their DNS servers are not working properly. To work around that, you can change your DNS servers and try to access the website.
  • Check if the Website Has Temporary Issues. Sometimes a website may experience issues temporarily which might cause 404 errors. In that case, there is nothing you can do but wait. But to confirm, you can test the website on an availability testing tool. There are many tools out there, and you can just do a web search for “is website down” to see a list of tools. Just make sure to replace “website” with the name of the site you want to test.
  • Contact the Website. If all else fails, then your last option is to contact the website owner directly. Look up their contact information on the website and contact them about the page in question. It’s likely that the page you’re looking for was moved or deleted, and the owner can clarify why it was done. If there is no contact form, you can try and reach the website on their social media.

As such can we rephrase these messages into a social data science 404 context? Remember this is more meant for fun than it implies any strong serious research intentions.

  • Refresh yourself. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes people can glitch and simply fail to show a proficiency that really does exist. The first thing you should try is refreshing yourself. Learn something new in the direction you are researching or related, but outside of your current field of focus.
  • Double Check the Research Direction. If you typed a research proposal yourself, it’s possible you mistyped. If read an article in another field and were shown a 404 error, it’s also possible that the research was mistyped in the paper you read. Check the research paper and see if you spot any obvious errors to help in a research direction.
  • Perform a Literature or Data Search. If the field of research you are trying to reach is descriptive (or if you know roughly the name of the article or page you were expecting), you can use the keywords in the address to search for the research. In the example below, you can’t really tell from the paper itself if anything is mistyped, but you can see some words from the name of the article.
  • Clean Your Library or Folders. It’s also possible the page with the error has been cached in your browser, but the actual link was changed on the website. To test out this possibility, you’ll have to clear your browser cache. Clearing the cache won’t affect your browsing experience much, but some websites may a take a couple of extra seconds to load as they re-download all the previously cached data.
  • Change your faculty or field. If a faculty is giving you error on multiple papers while being accessible on other networks, then it’s possible that your direction has blocked access to that faculty’s approach, or that their quality assurance methods are not working properly. To work around that, you can initiate discussions to change or adapt your quality assurance methods and try again. If not you may have to change faculty or field.
  • Check if the Faculty or Institution Has Temporary Issues. Sometimes a faculty or institution may experience issues temporarily which might cause errors. In that case, there is nothing you can do but wait. But to confirm, you can test the website on an availability testing tool. There are many tools out there, and you can just do a web search for “is funding down” to see a list of tools or ask different staff members. Just make sure to replace “university” with the name of the institution or faculty you want to test. Otherwise on the opposite end the issue may be about the funding sources or funding practices. However there are likely to be other temporary issues that could hinder a faculty or institution from running well.
  • Contact the Leader. If all else fails, then your last option is to contact the university owner or leader directly. Look up their contact information on online and contact them about the faculty or institution in question. It’s likely that the area of research you’re looking for was moved or deleted, and the owner can clarify why it was done. If there is no contact form, you can try and reach the leader on their social media.

I started writing this article about my own experience attempting to reconcile practising for social science subjects; Chinese Mandarin; and Python programming. However I saw there were potentially bigger issues that would lie within this question in the present. If there is no or little facilitation of work transcending disciplinary boundaries it can be problematic, yes. Even for those who work within their own boundaries it sounds very difficult listening to the issues that academics have when working outside of the norm.

I hope this made you think and that you can share your thoughts with me. I hope I am not the only one finding navigating these aspects difficult.

This is day 103 of #500daysofAI. My current focus for day 101–200 is on Python programming. If you enjoy this article please give me a response as I do want to improve my writing or discover new research, companies and projects.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau