Friday, February 04, 2005

Social Science Simulations

I'm enchanted. I followed up a book reference on a game theory result on cooperative behavior to this: Robert Axelrod's Home Page. This fellow is an advocate of the use of simulation in social science research, and he's a lucid, intelligent writer. His "Advancing the Art of Simulation in the Social Sciences" discusses the issues of the "field's" dispersion across disciplines and research forums, lack of shared vocabulary, model description and replication difficulties, challenges in reporting of results; and it ends by describing some well-known social science models for the newbies among us.

I especially enjoyed this summary of the possibilities of "reporting" simulation results:

1. History can be told as "news," following a chronological order. For example, a simulation of international politics might describe the sequence of key events such as alliances and wars. This is the most straightforward type of storytelling, but often offers little in explanatory power.

2. History can be told from the point of view of a single actor. For example, one could select just one of the actors, and do the equivalent of telling the story of the "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." This is often the easiest kind of history to understand, and can be very revealing about the ways in which the model’s mechanisms have their effects over time.

3. History can also be told from a global point of view. For example, one would describe the distribution of wealth over time to analyze the extent of inequality among the agents. Although the global point of view is often the best for seeing large-scale patterns, the more detailed histories are often needed to determine the explanation for these large patterns.

I'm even now musing on how to use my corporate software resources for simulation of organizational social network behavior... Stay tuned.

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