We’re moving briskly ahead with our plans to offer two short courses for decision makers–one track will cover neuropolicy, the other computational social sciences–we’ll hold them here in the Washington D.C. area, probably here on the George Mason University campus.
The faculty will be world-class, as will the attendees.
David Brook’s has a very interesting New York Times piece here where he references Kling and Schulz’s new book From Poverty to Prosperity. I don’t think Brooks realizes it, but he’s talking about nothing less than the new paradigm of computational social sciences–the first doctorate degree for which is offered by George Mason’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.
Modeling social complexity from today’s New York Times…
“The fundamental nature of modeling and simulation is to represent something that’s in the world out there in a way that you can manipulate and think about without risk and at low cost,” said Bill Waite, chairman of the AEgis Technologies Group, a Huntsville, Ala.,company that creates simulations for various military and civilian applications.
“It almost doesn’t matter what kind of world you care about; you can use simulations,” Mr. Waite explained. “If you’re a defense agency, you want to create a simulation that will allow a missile that gets built to fly up to an enemy something-or-other and detonate. The same tools and same set of skills are used in the pharmaceutical industry to figure out how the little beads in a Bufferin are going to get from your stomach to your brain.”
Here’s some serious agent-based modeling (or what seems like it):
According to IEEE Spectrum Online, the researchers have re-created the lives of 100 million Americans based on census data. Within six months, they hope to simulate the day-to-day lives of the country’s 300 million residents. Each fake person is given an age, education level, and job, which reflect the demographics of the communities they populate.
Using Navteg, a digital-mapping company, information is pulled from directories and databases to determine where each person may work, shop, or attend school.
The simulation may help to answer a few nagging questions. How do fads and trends grow? How does traffic flow? One major component of the project so far is determining how contagious diseases, like flu, spread, IEEE Spectrum reports.
Here’s a really interesting Op-Ed piece in today’s NY Times that I think is a perfect follow up to Rob’s blogpost.
Sadly, the academic economics profession remains reluctant to embrace this new computational approach (and stubbornly wedded to the traditional equilibrium picture). This seems decidedly peculiar given that every other branch of science from physics to molecular biology has embraced computational modeling as an invaluable tool for gaining insight into complex systems of many interacting parts, where the links between causes and effect can be tortuously convoluted.
Something of the attitude of economic traditionalists spilled out a number of years ago at a conference where economists and physicists met to discuss new approaches to economics. As one physicist who was there tells me, a prominent economist objected that the use of computational models amounted to “cheating” or “peeping behind the curtain,” and that respectable economics, by contrast, had to be pursued through the proof of infallible mathematical theorems.
If we’re really going to avoid crises, we’re going to need something more imaginative, starting with a more open-minded attitude to how science can help us understand how markets really work. Done properly, computer simulation represents a kind of “telescope for the mind,” multiplying human powers of analysis and insight just as a telescope does our powers of vision. With simulations, we can discover relationships that the unaided human mind, or even the human mind aided with the best mathematical analysis, would never grasp.