Emergent super hero small world
August 28th, 2007

In no less than the prestigious Nature.com Website is a deep look into the comic book universe. The discovery reported is that like the living human world, the Marvel comic book universe creates social networks that are small worlds. The six degrees of separation phenomenon applies among characters and the scale free law operates. The data source for the observations is vast, from The Marvel Chronology Project. Here is some of the analysis from the Nature.com article, titled The tangled web of super-heroes:

The Marvel Universe, like our own societies, is unplanned: it has grown from the work of many comic-book storywriters who have made no attempt to engineer any overall social network. It seems that this joint effort guided them not towards a random network, as might have been expected, but towards one that (somewhat) mirrors reality. The same thing seems to have happened in classical mythology . . . .

The scale-free property of social and other networks was discovered several years ago. But this only gives a crude measure of the network structure. More recently researchers have become interested in looking at the ways in which a network is organized and divided into distinct communities — friendship circles, say, or professional collaborations — that might then be woven together by a more tenuous web of links.

A key characteristic of human social networks, identified by Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, is that highly connected people are more likely to be linked to other highly connected people than would be expected by chance3, forming so-called ‘rich clubs’. This is called assortative mixing, and contrasts with scale-free networks such as the Internet and food webs, for which there is the opposite bias.

Now Pablo Gleiser of the Centro Atómico Bariloche in Argentina4 has shown that the Marvel Universe also has rich clubs of well-connected members, which provide the ‘glue’ that binds distinct communities into a cohesive net.


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