six degrees of operations research

In honor of the INFORMS OR blog challenge on social networking, I wanted to bring the Small World Experiment to your attention. If you haven’t heard of this before, Six degrees of Kevin Bacon is a real phenomenon based on a scientific experiment (although it was based on the average degree, not the maximum degree).I first heard about this at a conference and almost fell out of my seat.


In 1967, the sociologist Stanley Milgram carried out an experiment to see how people in a large social group are linked together. His hypothesis being that we are all connected by a simple series of connections. To test this theory Milgram posted small packets to a 60 individuals in Kansas with instructions to try and pass these packages to a target person in Boston. The one rule being that people could only pass the packages to someone they were on personal first-name terms with. To assist they were given a series of clues about the target to help inform their choice. His results formed the basis for his famous theory of “six degrees of separation”.
So, social network research existed in the Stone Age. I recommend checking out this Wikopedia article on the experiment. If you’re short on time, you can browse these slides by Duncan Watts on the experiments and their implications.

2 responses to “six degrees of operations research

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