The analysis of social network data: an exciting frontier for statisticians
The catalyst for this paper is the recent interest in the relationship between social networks and an individual's health, which has arisen following a series of papers by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler on person- to-person spread of health behaviors. In this issue, they provide a detailed explanation of their methods that offers insights, justifications, and responses to criticisms . In this paper, we introduce some of the key statistical methods used in social network analysis and indicate where those used by Christakis and Fowler (CF) fit into the general framework. The intent is to provide the background necessary for readers to be able to make their own evaluation of the work by CF and understand the challenges of research involving social networks. We entertain possible solutions to some of the difficulties encountered in accounting for confounding effects in analyses of peer effects and provide comments on the contributions of CF. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.