Duncan Watts, 2014 Ev Rogers Award Recipient

Duncan Watts, principal researcher at Microsoft Research was awarded the 2014 Ev Rogers Award and presented his trenchant colloquium, “Social Influence in Markets and Networks (What’s So Viral About ‘Going Viral’?)” Watts described the surprising difficulty of empirically identifying social influence, which — despite the metaphor of “going viral” — doesn’t necessarily spread in anything like the way that infectious diseases do.

The Rogers award honors the late Everett M. Rogers, a professor at the Annenberg School who originated diffusion of innovation theory and introduced the term “early adopters.” Presented since 2007 on behalf of USC Annenberg by the Lear Center, the award recognizes outstanding scholars and practitioners whose work has made a fundamental contribution to areas of Rogers’s legacy.

Watts’ first paper, “Collective Dynamics of ‘Small-World’ Networks,” co-authored with his doctoral advisor Steven Strogatz and published in the journal Nature in 1998, just a year after he got his Cornell Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics, quickly became a blueprint for network science, and it has been cited more than 23,000 times – one of the most-cited papers in any field in the past two decades. As he recounts in his book Six Degrees, his research on the Kevin Bacon Game and connectedness ultimately led him to insights about how influences like diseases, rumors, cultural fads, financial crises and social unrest propagate through a human population.