So the Milgram-powered meme of “six degrees of separation” has been thriving, despite the fact that it seems to be not true. Interesting. But what I found most interesting about Kleinfield’s debunking of the myth was her initial purpose in investigating it: to establish that sociology is not just “the systematic study of what you already know.” She was looking for counter-intuitive results found by sociologists, and Milgram’s study seemed like a good candidate. It turned out not to be… which leads me to wonder, are there any counter-intuitive results in sociology? Although I appreciate the value of investigating social matters systematically, I have to confess that while reading the literature I sometimes get the feeling that the social scientist has no clothes.
This survey article on studying social networks is pretty good. It answers a lot of the questions I raised earlier, especially regarding ego-centered vs. whole networks and the different approaches to partitioning social networks.