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The signal importance of noise

Macy, Michael and Tsvetkova, Milena (2015) The signal importance of noise. Sociological Methods and Research, 44 (2). pp. 306-328. ISSN 0049-1241

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0049124113508093


Noise is widely regarded as a residual category—the unexplained variance in a linear model or the random disturbance of a predictable pattern. Accordingly, formal models often impose the simplifying assumption that the world is noise-free and social dynamics are deterministic. Where noise is assigned causal importance, it is often assumed to be a source of inefficiency, unpredictability, or heterogeneity. We review recent sociological studies that are noteworthy for demonstrating the theoretical importance of noise for understanding the dynamics of a complex system. Contrary to widely held assumptions, these studies identify conditions in which noise can increase efficiency and predictability and reduce diversity. We conclude with a methodological warning that deterministic assumptions are not an innocent simplification.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 The Authors
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Methodology
Date Deposited: 12 May 2017 14:00
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2021 01:24
Projects: SES 1260348
Funders: U.S. National Science Foundation

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