Red-Blue Roundtable: Valdis Krebs

Krebs_valdis_150_2 For a social network scientist, Amazon is a great sandbox for experimenting and searching for interesting patterns! 

I started mapping book networks in the last century. It was 1998 when an on-line conversation raised my curiosity. Here is the original white paper I wrote about that initial investigation.

After the late Tim Russert brought us the "red states – blue states" meme during the 2000 election I started to investigate patterns of political books. I tried various data collection techniques and found an interesting outcome –- no matter how I collected the data I ended up with highly similar patterns. I use snowball sampling  -- start at a known point and follow the data out 1 or 2 steps. Once the snowball sample is complete, I start to eliminate the noise in the network -– I want to find the strong patterns that multiple overlapping networks provide. When the patterns emerge I usually see two strong clusters, with a minor cluster or scattering of books between the two large components. I only color the components after my network analysis software finds the emergent groups in the data –- then it is obvious which cluster is blue and which is red.

Below is the first political book map I published on my web site. It showed the famous red-blue divide that had become common wisdom by 2003. It was ironic, and a commentary on our situation, that the center book -– holding both sides together -– was titled: What Went Wrong!

Election_krebs_leftright600_2

The sharp left-right divide remained in place for the 2004 US presidential election. Below are two graphs of the same data. The first graph is the emergent cluster view –- those similarly connected are closer together. This map was done about 1 year after the 2003 map above. They both contain many different books, yet reveal a very similar pattern and a strong divide.


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Comments (11)

Just coming back to this thread after several years. One thing that strikes me, which I didn't pay attention to the first time around, is that I've never read any of these books. I would estimate that, during the time of this study, more than half the books I read were books about politics, in one way or another, but not one of them is on this list. It would be interesting to see what sort of pattern emerges for less popular books.

In fiction and other forms of entertainment, it seems to me that the more popular examples tend to be more black-hat/white-hat, with subtler arrangements being generally less popular. This is true whether we're considering movies, books, or even TV talk shows. I wonder if less polemical political books might be less popular specifically because they're less polemical, but therefore also show less of a divided pattern?

Posted by: Tedd | Wednesday April 18, 2012 at 8:38 AM

The key to understanding the dynamics of networks is reading the emergent patterns of connections that surround an individual, or that are present, within and around, a community of interest. I wanted to see the network in which my book of interest was embedded. Seeing those connections would give me insight into the 'network neighborhood' surrounding this book and hopefully help me make a smarter purchase.

Posted by: Marketing Course Brisbane | Monday November 7, 2011 at 9:14 PM

The graph above looks so confusing on my part, good thing support text explains everything and identify myself in blue camp.

Nice post.

Posted by: Events Management Courses | Friday April 29, 2011 at 12:38 AM

All sentences are about a little something or someone. The a little something or another person that the sentence is about is called the subject with the sentence. From your weblog, I see that, and study anything I would like. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: jordan 12 | Wednesday November 3, 2010 at 7:17 PM

We obviously inhabit two completely separate realities. If two groups cannot agree even on basic facts, what hope is there for calls to unity? The divide seems to be getting deeper.

Posted by: Color wheel chart | Friday October 1, 2010 at 4:22 AM

I think Samuel Davis has hit the nail on the head. What's needed is much less discussion or debate about specific issues, and much more discussion of basic facts and, even more importantly, fundamental premises and definitions. People on both sides like to characterize the other side as illogical, but in my experience both sides have (at least in some cases) sound logic, just fundamentally different premises. Only a discussion about fundamental premises can bridge the gap.

To be clear, here are some examples of what I mean by fundamental premises and definitions. What is economic value, and how can it be determined? Where do you stand on the trade off between freedom and security (or do you think there needs to be a trade off)? What is the purpose of government? To what extent does the separation of church and state mean preventing the state from controlling or influencing religious choices and to what extent does it mean keeping religion out of politics? Are people essentially bad or essentially good, and can anything be done about that?

That sort of thing.

Posted by: Tedd McHenry | Friday May 14, 2010 at 5:34 PM

Interesting that pro-globalization books like "The World is Flat" and "Lexus and the Olive Tree" appear on the left rather than the right.

I'm also wondering how you chose the starting point. In particular, I'm wondering what the results would have been if you'd chosen a more neutral starting point like "The Age of Turbulence" by Alan Greenspan.

(There's also supposed to be a quite good neutral account of Bush's presidency whose name eludes me.)

Posted by: Mikel Ward | Saturday November 8, 2008 at 6:41 PM

I definitely dwell in the Red camp. I have tried to read books sent to me by "Blue" friends, but I find them to be incoherant screeds rife with faulty logic based on false assumptions.

We obviously inhabit two completely separate realities. If two groups cannot agree even on basic facts, what hope is there for calls to unity? The divide seems to be getting deeper.

Posted by: Samuel Davis | Thursday November 6, 2008 at 9:03 PM

I definitely dwell in the Red camp. I have tried to read books sent to me by "Blue" friends, but I find them to be incoherant screeds rife with faulty logic based on false assumptions.

We obviously inhabit two completely separate realities. If two groups cannot agree even on basic facts, what hope is there for calls to unity? The divide seems to be getting deeper.

Posted by: Samuel Davis | Thursday November 6, 2008 at 9:02 PM

There are some serious and well-researched books on both sides that deserve to be read by all Americans.

Over half the books are no more than rants and finger pointing.


Posted by: Austin | Thursday November 6, 2008 at 3:15 PM

A few points:

1. If the left buys more books than the right, that doesn't necessarily mean they READ more books than the right. I suspect that many books are purchased as status-markers, to sit on shelves unread but so their titles can be perused by visitors to one's home. It seemed to me that during the Bush years, liberals were especially eager to prove their bona fides to each other.

2. It could be that conservatives would buy more books if more were produced that cater to their point of view. The decision-makers in the publishing industry have a leftward tilt, and are more inclined to publish books that reflect their prejudices and assumptions.

3. When a party is out of power, party adherents tend to be more charged up, more inclined to consume literature (books, magazines, etc.) that attack the other side and reaffirm their beliefs. I predict we will see a corresponding rise in right-leaning critical literature during the Obama years.

Posted by: Manuel | Thursday November 6, 2008 at 1:59 PM

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