Year of the Network

January 13, 2004

Social network showing sexual contacts, redrawn from HIV data of J.J. Potterat et al., is among the networks of many types featured in Mark Newman's paper in SIAM Review and on the Mathematics Awareness Month poster.

"Just a few years ago, the network was what people tapped into at parties or business conventions. . . . ," Jon Gertner wrote in an item in the third annual "Year in Ideas" issue of The New York Times Magazine (December 14, 2003). The Times item, titled "Social Networks," went on to point out that "a coterie of 'network thinkers' have begun to extend the language of the network---'nodes' and 'hubs' and 'links'---to phenomena ranging from the workings of the world economy to the possible spread of a dangerous pathogen."

Nodes, hubs, and other network terms are in the air at SIAM these days, as preparations for Mathematics Awareness Month 2004 proceed. This year's theme is The Mathematics of Networks, and---like the Times piece---the materials for the month will emphasize the diversity of the applications unified by the mathematics. We'll have more to say in SIAM News, and materials will be posted at as available. Mathematics Awareness Month, held annually in April, is sponsored by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics.

The Times mentioned Albert-László Barabási and Duncan Watts as two notable network theorists. Both are the authors of books that have caught the attention of general audiences. Philip Davis reviewed Barabási's book, Linked, in the October 2003 issue of SIAM News. We didn't get to Watts's Six Degrees, although Gil Strang reviewed a much earlier book of Watts.

More SIAM News background reading on the mathematics of networks can be found in James Case's report on "Collective Dynamics of Small-World Networks," the community lecture Steve Strogatz gave at SIAM's annual meeting in 2001, and two approaches to the modeling of gene networks are described in the December 2003 issue of SIAM News.

Readers who haven't already done so are encouraged to take a look at Mark New-man's Survey and Review paper, "The Structure and Function of Complex Networks," in the June 2003 issue of SIAM Review.


A few other subjects of SIAM News articles showed up in the Times "Ideas" issue. Philip Davis again was our reviewer of a book---The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, by Edward Tufte---featured in a Times item, titled "PowerPoint Makes You Dumb."

And the work of Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Manuel Blum, described by Sara Robinson in two SIAM News articles turned up in a Times piece titled "Proving You're Human."

A few intriguing mathematically oriented ideas we missed out on: "Hit Song Science," a program based on a clustering algorithm that has successfully picked songs that will become hits, and a "See-Through Coat," made of retro-reflective material, that makes the wearer appear transparent to other people on the scene. Looking to the future, if you know of an innovative application of math/computation that would make for such a story, please let us---and
the Times!---know (

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