Reverse Engineering Analysis on Six Degrees of Francis Bacon Network

The project that I explored is the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project. This project uses a statistical analyzing method to infer the social network of Francis Bacon, who was a British philosopher back in the 17th century, and presents the network with visualization tools. 

The academic field that this project has conversation in various subjects, includes history, statistics and computer science. The project is open sourced. All code that constructed the website is stored in github, and the statistical inference code using R is also available.They also openly allowed other scholars to contribute new connections to the project. 

Based on the article”Six Degrees of Francis Bacon: A Statistical Method for Reconstructing Large Historical Social Networks” listed in the about page, the sources of the digital project comes from the ODNB biographies from the 16th to 18th century. They collected the documents from ODNM website and processed them into plain text. Then, they used two different natural language processing tools to extract all names, therefore creating a dataset that contains all possible names. Based on the dataset, they used the names to create a graph(a data structure in computer science), and each node in the graph represents a person. Each person can possibly have connections with one another. Based on the textual evidence, they can first link the known connections between each one of them. From here, the team used statistical inferences and computational technology to create a graph that represents the known and inferred network between each person. 

Image of the network generated
Image of the network generated

In order to better visualize the graph data structure, the team used python to analyze the network data. The site was built with Angular, Ruby on Rails, and D3. They noted the origin, which is Francis Bacon as a red dot, and visualized the network with pink dot if the person has first degree relation with Francis, and white dot if the person has second degree relation with Francis. They also used darkness levels to differentiate human contributed relations(black line) and statistical inferred relations(grey line).  The Website also offers search so that the user can focus on a specific person, as well as grouping techniques for users to have a better understanding of the complexity of social groups between the networks.

Different social group provided for the networks
Different social group provided for the networks

As I was digging deeper into the project, I was wondering how they make sure each source was reliable, and how to verify the correctness of the network if a new connection is added in. I was also wondering if there’s any accessibility for people in need to understand the visualization, especially without look at the size and color of the circles and lines.

Source Cited required by the website: “Francis Bacon Network [2, 1562-1626, 61-100%].” Six Degrees of Francis Bacon., 1/18/2022.

Nina Sun

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