Social Data Analytics Launches its Speaker Series in person

March 03, 2022

Launched in 2020, SFU’s Social Data Analytics Minor Program (SDA) had the opportunity to host its first in-person event to promote the program, as part of the SDA 2022 Speaker Series.

Taking place in a beautifully spacious room at SFU Burnaby’s Halpern building, close to 30 people sat in attendance to hear Patrick Baylis (assistant professor of Economics at UBC) speak on one of the many applications of data analysis to Economics, specifically with respect to nonmarket goods and climate change.

The SDA program is highly interdisciplinary, combining research fields like Linguistics, Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy. This interdisciplinarity was highlighted in Baylis’s talk, “Assessing the impacts of environment hazards with text analysis”.

As we continue to feel the effects of climate change, one topic economists like Baylis are interested in concerns the ways in which climate change affects nonmarket goods, goods like education, vaccination, or air quality, which cannot be bought and sold. Specifically, Baylis wanted to determine the ways in which climate change affects how people discuss extreme weather events and how that correlates with their levels of positive and negative emotions.

Although traditional methods exist for conducting such research, Baylis’s talk emphasized the limitations of those approaches, and—in line with the cutting-edge nature of the SDA program—highlighted novel research methods to approach the issue.  

This novel research method involves collecting large amounts of Twitter data, and applying techniques from Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Statistics to gain valuable insights from the data. Specifically, Baylis’s work crucially relied upon conducting sentiment analysis on Twitter text-data to learn about how individuals react to changes in climate.

Sentiment analysis concerns the discernment of positive or negative opinions towards a topic through analyzing text, and happens to be a research speciality for SFU Linguistics Professor Maite Taboada, who is a member of the Steering Committee for the SDA program. In fact, the particular method of sentiment analysis used by Baylis is directly related to Dr. Taboada’s award winning work on the topic, which further highlights the interdisciplinarity of the SDA program.

After Dr. Baylis’ talk, Dr. Taboada noted that it “provided one of the best descriptions of the power of NLP in real-world applications.”

Coming up:  Jennifer Hinnell, March 9

“What’s in the hands? Analyzing speech and the body signal in spontaneous discourse”

SFU Linguistics students and faculty are encouraged to attend the next Social Data Analytics talk in the series on March 9th given by Dr. Jennifer Hinnell. Dr. Hinnell is a Killam postdoctoral research fellow at UBC—and also a graduate from the MA Linguistics program here at SFU.  Her talk is titled “What’s in the hands? Analyzing speech and the body signal in spontaneous discourse”.

In anticipation of her talk, we asked her to give us a preview. “What I’m going to talk about is how a multimodal approach to language answers important questions for the theoretical linguist, as well as moving forward methods from a data science perspective. I think one of the reasons that studying multimodal data has been largely excluded from linguistics is that it’s just really challenging. There’s so much variation. As in any study, the more variables you are trying to account for in the linguistic signal, the harder it is. But with tech advances over the last 5-10-20 years, we can do a lot more.”

“I’m so glad to be giving this talk at SFU, where I did my MA.  The research that I’m presenting next week is a natural progression from the work I did with Maite Taboada when we worked together on informal written language looking at internet blog data (back in 2010) and internet movie reviews across languages. Now I am able to add even more of the linguistic signal to the analysis of language-in-use, namely what the body is doing and how it contributes to communication when we are in spontaneous conversation.”

Join us next week, Wednesday, March 9. 12:30 pm for the next SDA talk, with linguist, Jennifer Hinnell.  Register now to attend.  


The health and well-being of our guests is our top priority. Proof of full vaccination will be required upon arrival as per the order of the British Columbia Provincial Health

All guests will be expected to adhere to BC Provincial Health Guidelines and SFU Event Safety Protocols. Attendees are thus required to wear a face mask indoors at all times, except when they are eating/drinking.

Please do not attend if you are experiencing symptoms of illness.

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