Adventures in Machine Learning

Python for Social Scientists: Essential Skills and Libraries

Python for Social Scientists: A Guide to Essential Skills and Resources

Python is one of the most popular programming languages in the world, with a vibrant community of developers creating new tools and resources to help programmers tackle complex problems. For social scientists who may not have experience with programming, Python can seem intimidating.

However, learning the basics of Python can help social scientists become more effective in their research, automate routine tasks, and gain insights from large datasets. In this guide, we will explore the purpose of Data Analysis with Python (DAP), essential Python skills for social scientists, and how social scientists differ from software developers when using DAP

The primary purpose of DAP is to help social scientists leverage the power of Python to analyze and visualize data.

Python is an effective tool for social scientists because it is straightforward to write simple programs that can work with idiosyncratic datasets. Additionally, there are many Python resources available to social scientists, including libraries like Pandas and NumPy, which make it easy to work with data.

However, there are key differences between how social scientists use Python and how software developers use Python.

Differences in Python Usage between Social Scientists and Software Developers

Many social scientists are interested in using Python to analyze data, but they may not have a background in computer science. Therefore, they are not always interested in the same advanced topics as software developers.

Social scientists often need to perform tasks such as importing data, manipulating data, and visualizing data in simple ways. They may also use Python to automate routine tasks like data cleaning and formatting.

Social scientists have idiosyncratic datasets, which means that much of their work requires more customized solutions than what software developers encounter.

Essential Python Skills for Social Scientists

If you are a social scientist looking to learn Python, there are a few essential skills that you will need to know. These skills will help you get started with basic data manipulation, which is essential for working with data in Python.

Immediate Needs

The most immediately useful skills for social scientists are data types, functions, loops, and mutable vs immutable data types. Data types are the building blocks of any program, and Python has several built-in data types such as integers, strings, lists, and dictionaries.

Functions help to organize code and make it more efficient, by allowing you to repeat code with different inputs. Loops are essential for iterating through large datasets and performing repetitive tasks.

Understanding mutable vs immutable data types is important because it affects how Python handles the objects that you create in your code.

Things to Know Later On

As you become more comfortable with Python, there are some advanced topics that you can consider tackling. Debugging tools like Python’s PDB can help you identify and fix errors in your code efficiently.

File input/output (I/O) provides you with the tools to work with various file formats such as CSVs.

Not Necessary for Social Scientists

Classes and exceptions are two topics that may be valuable for software developers but shouldn’t be a priority for social scientists. Classes allow you to create your own objects in Python, which can be helpful for organizing your code and creating custom data structures.

Exceptions can be used to handle errors in your Python programs and are often used in more complicated programs. However, social scientists who are new to Python should focus on the basics before diving into advanced topics.


In summary, Python is a powerful tool that can help social scientists analyze, manipulate, and visualize data more efficiently. While there are many resources available to help social scientists learn Python, it is essential to focus on the essential skills needed for effective data manipulation.

By understanding the differences between Python usage in social science and software development, you are better equipped to learn the right skills for your work. By mastering these skills, social scientists can improve their research by gaining insights from large datasets, automating routine tasks, and creating custom data structures that are tailored to their research needs.

Introducing Pandas and Other Libraries for Social Scientists

Python has become a popular programming language for data analysis and data science over the years. One of the most useful libraries in Python for social scientists is Pandas.

Pandas is a Python library that provides easy-to-use data structures for working with tabular data. It allows social scientists to replicate some of the functionality of more specialized software like Stata and R.

Besides Pandas, there are numerous other libraries available in Python for data analysis. In this guide, we will explore the importance of Pandas for social scientists, and several other libraries for specific research areas.

Importance of Pandas for Social Scientists

Pandas is a powerful tool for social scientists because it provides data structures that can easily deal with tabular data. Its data frames provide a way to store data in the form of tables, which can be sorted, filtered, and manipulated.

Social scientists who are familiar with statistical software like Stata and R will find that Pandas replicates many of the same functions, including sorting, merging, and reshaping data. Additionally, Pandas is compatible with other Python libraries, enabling social scientists to use graphing and econometrics libraries like Seaborn and Statsmodels in conjunction with Pandas.

Graphing with Python Libraries

Visualization is a critical aspect of data analysis that can help social scientists communicate insights effectively. Python has several graphing libraries that are widely used in data analysis, including ggplot and Seaborn.

ggplot is a graphing library based on the popular R package ggplot2, which provides a flexible framework for creating customized and professional-quality graphics. Seaborn, on the other hand, provides a simple and intuitive interface for creating complex visualizations with built-in color palettes and statistical functionality.

Network Analysis with iGraph

Social scientists who are interested in network analysis can use the Python library iGraph. It provides a platform for building, manipulating, and visualizing graphs and networks.

iGraph has a broad range of features that can be used for dynamic and large-scale network modeling, including community detection algorithms, network centrality measures, and graph generators. iGraph is useful for social scientists working on topics such as social networks, communication networks, and organization networks.

Text Analysis with NLTK and CoreNLP

Python libraries like the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) and CoreNLP are useful for text analysis. NLTK is a comprehensive library that provides tools for basic text processing, such as tokenization, stemming, and part-of-speech tagging.

It also includes more advanced tools like sentiment analysis and text classification. CoreNLP is a robust Java-based library that also provides similar tools for text analysis but scalably across multiple languages.

NLTK and CoreNLP are valuable tools for social scientists studying topics such as political discourse, social media, and literature analysis.

Econometrics with Statsmodels

Statistical analysis is frequently a core element of social science research, and libraries like Statsmodels help social scientists perform statistical analysis and econometrics with Python. Statsmodels is a Python library that provides a wide range of statistical functions, including time-series analysis, generalized linear models, and multilevel models.

Additionally, Statsmodels integrates with other econometric libraries like Pandas and NumPy, enabling social scientists to analyze their data efficiently and accurately.

Big Data with Dask and PySpark

Social scientists who are working with large datasets may require tools for Big Data. Dask and PySpark are two libraries for efficient processing of large datasets.

Dask is a Python library that parallelizes operations on large datasets by dividing them into smaller, more manageable chunks. PySpark, on the other hand, is a distributed computing framework that enables data processing across multiple nodes.

PySpark includes several tools for data manipulation, such as SQL and DataFrame APIs, allowing social scientists to perform rapid analysis on massive datasets.

Geo-Spatial Analysis with arcpy and Geopandas

Geospatial analysis is an essential tool for social scientists who are interested in studying the geography of their research area. Python libraries like arcpy and Geopandas provide valuable tools for geospatial data analysis.

arcpy is a Python library that provides tools for working with geographic information systems (GIS) data, including data visualization, geocoding, and geoprocessing. Geopandas provides a simple and effective way to work with geospatial data using pandas data frames.

Its capabilities include creating maps, spatial joins, and geocoding, which can be used to analyze and visualize geospatial data.


In conclusion, Python provides social scientists with a broad range of tools for data analysis, visualization, and statistical modeling. Pandas is a valuable library for working with tabular data, with the ability to perform many of the same functions as specialized software like Stata and R.

The graphing, econometrics, network analysis, text analysis, Big Data, and geospatial libraries discussed in this guide provide more specialized tools for social scientists working in specific research areas. By using these tools, social scientists can enhance their research quality, enabling more insightful and data-based decision-making.

Call to Action and Feedback on DAP

Data analysis has become an increasingly important part of social science research, and tools like Python are making it more accessible and more efficient. In this guide, we have explored (1) the purpose of Data Analysis with Python (DAP), (2) essential Python skills for social science research, (3) the importance of Pandas, and (4) other libraries for specific research areas.

This guide is intended to provide an introduction to Python for social scientists and to encourage them to explore the possibilities and benefits of using Python for data analysis in their work.

Input on DAP Content and Design

We are constantly working to improve DAP, and we would love to hear your feedback on its content and design. Our goal is to make DAP as helpful and accessible as possible for social scientists who are new to coding and Python.

Your input will help us improve the resource and make it more relevant to your research needs. If you have any suggestions for content that you would like to see added to DAP, please let us know.

We are always looking for new topics to cover and are open to feedback on what has worked well and what could be improved. Additionally, if there are specific Python libraries or tools that you find particularly helpful in your research, please share them with us.

We would be grateful for any insights you can offer on how to make DAP a more comprehensive resource. We are also interested in feedback on the design of DAP.

Our goal is to make it easy to navigate and understand. If there are any design elements that you find confusing or cluttered, please let us know.

We are dedicated to creating a visually appealing and user-friendly resource.

Call to Action for Exploring Python

We encourage social scientists to explore the possibilities and benefits of using Python for data analysis in their work. Python is a powerful tool that can help social scientists analyze, manipulate, and visualize data more efficiently.

By focusing on the essential skills needed for effective data manipulation and using relevant libraries, social scientists can improve their research by automating routine tasks and gaining insights from large datasets. If you are new to Python, we encourage you to start with the essential skills outlined in this guide and to explore other resources like Python documentation and online tutorials.

The process of learning Python may feel daunting at first, but with commitment and persistence, you can develop the skills needed to add a powerful tool to your research toolbox.


In conclusion, we hope this guide has been a helpful introduction to Python and its applications for social science research. Data analysis is an increasingly important part of social science research, and we believe that Python can play a key role in making that analysis more efficient and accurate.

We encourage you to explore the possibilities of Python and to provide feedback on DAP’s content and design. Together, we can construct a more comprehensive and accessible resource for social science research.

In conclusion, this article has highlighted the importance of Data Analysis with Python (DAP) for social scientists and provided insights on essential Python skills. Pandas has been identified as a crucial tool for data manipulation, with several graphing and econometrics libraries available for efficient data analysis.

Additionally, libraries like iGraph, NLTK, and Statsmodels provide excellent resources for network analysis, text analysis, and econometrics, respectively. The article ends with a call to action for feedback on DAP’s content and design and encourages social scientists to explore Python’s possibilities.

By mastering essential Python skills and using relevant libraries, social scientists can automate routine tasks, analyze complex datasets efficiently, and produce accurate insights that elevate their research.

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