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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Six Degrees of Uncertainty
18 October 2001 7:00 pm
In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, it seemed that if you didn't know anyone who had seen the towers fall, you know someone who knew someone who did. Our society is so tightly knit, it seemed, that a tragedy that affected 6000 people in New York would affect everybody.
Proof for the popular notion that there are "six degrees of separation" between every individual in the country? Not necessarily. A new paper argues that the famous 1967 research paper that gave rise to that phrase is seriously flawed. In now-classic experiments, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram gave people in Kansas a letter and asked them to attempt to forward it to a particular person in Massachusetts. If they didn't know the target person, they were to send it to someone they thought might know him. Surprisingly, he reported that it only took five jumps, on average, for the letters to reach their destination.
But Milgram didn't tell the whole story, says Judith Kleinfeld, a psychologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Working in the Yale archives, she discovered that the successful trips may have been brief, but only 30% of letters reached their destination. What's more, in a pilot study using less-official looking letters, just 5% made it. By not counting the uncompleted chains, Milgram skewed the results, she writes in a forthcoming paper in the journal Society. "I came out profoundly upset," Kleinfeld says. "One of my heroes had fallen."
Small-world expert Steven Strogatz, a mathematician at Cornell, says that Kleinfeld's findings raise valid concerns about whether people can perceive their ties with each other. But he says mathematical models show that such ties exist--even if people are not aware of them.