Abstract. Whereas computer simulations involve no direct physical interaction between the machine they are run on and the physical systems they are used to investigate, they are often used as experiments and yield data about these systems. It is commonly argued that they do so because they are implemented on physical machines. We claim that physicality is not necessary for their representational and predictive capacities and that the explanation of why computer simulations generate desired information about their target system is only to be found in the detailed analysis of their semantic levels. We provide such an analysis and we determine the actual consequences of physical implementation for simulations.
Abstract. Simulation is a widely-used research method going back to a long history in numerous disciplines and in many research communities. But the epistemological status of simulation remains unclear and very much depends on the individual propositions of the researcher. At this juncture, we develop a reference framework which allows structuring and systematizing (often hidden) epistemological assumptions made by researchers when applying simulation as a research method. Afterwards, we show how to apply the reference framework by analysing the influence of the consensus-oriented approach (as one possible epistemological position) on simulation research.
Abstract. The paper deals with the use of empirical data in social science agent-based models. Agent based models are too often viewed just as highly abstract thought experiments conducted in artificial worlds, in which the purpose is to generate and not to test theoretical hypotheses in an empirical way. On the contrary, they should be viewed as models that need to be embedded into empirical data both to allow the calibration and the validation of their findings. As a consequence, the search for strategies to find and extract data from reality, and integrate agent-based models with other traditional empirical social science methods, such as qualitative, quantitative, experimental and participatory methods, becomes a fundamental step of the modelling process. The paper argues that the characteristics of the empirical target matter. According to characteristics of the target, ABMs can be differentiated into case-based models, typifications and theoretical abstractions. These differences pose different challenges for empirical data gathering, and imply the use of different validation strategies.
Abstract. Not all models are explanatory. Some models are data summaries. Some models sketch explanations but leave crucial details unspecified or hidden behind filler terms. Some models are used to conjecture a how-possibly explanation without regard to whether it is a how-actually explanation. I use the Hodgkin and Huxley model of the action potential to illustrate these ways that models can be useful without explaining. I then use the subsequent development of the explanation of the action potential to show what is required of an adequate mechanistic model. Mechanistic models are explanatory.
Abstract. The issues of empirical calibration of parameter values and functional relationships describing the interactions between the various actors plays an important role in agent based modelling. Agent-based models range from purely theoretical exercises focussing on the patterns in the dynamics of interactions processes to modelling frameworks which are oriented closely at the replication of empirical cases. ABMs are classified in terms of their generality and their use of empirical data. In the literature the recommendation can be found to aim at maximizing both criteria by building so-called 'abductive models'. This is almost the direct opposite of Milton Friedman's famous and provocative methodological credo 'the more significant a theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions'. Most methodologists and philosophers of science have harshly criticised Friedman's essay as inconsistent, wrong and misleading. By presenting arguments for a pragmatic reinterpretation of Friedman's essay, we will show why most of the philosophical critique misses the point. We claim that good simulations have to rely on assumptions, which are adequate for the purpose in hand and those are not necessarily the descriptively accurate ones.
Abstract. What kind of knowledge can we obtain from agent-based models? The claim that they help us to study the social world needs unpacking. I will defend agent-based modelling against a recent criticism that undermines its potential as a method to investigate underlying mechanisms and provide explanations of social phenomena. I show that the criticism is unwarranted and the problem can be resolved with an account of explanation that is associated with the social sciences anyway, the mechanism account of explanation developed in Machamer et al. (2000). I finish off discussing the mechanism account with relation to prediction in agent-based modelling.
Abstract. It is often claimed that artificial society simulations contribute to the explanation of social phenomena. At the hand of a particular example, this paper argues that artificial societies often cannot provide full explanations, because their models are not or cannot be validated. Despite that, many feel that such simulations somehow contribute to our understanding. This paper tries to clarify this intuition by investigating whether artificial societies provide potential explanations. It is shown that these potential explanations, if they contribute to our understanding, considerably differ from potential causal explanations. Instead of possible causal histories, simulations offer possible functional analyses of the explanandum. The paper discusses how these two kinds explanatory strategies differ, and how potential functional explanations can be appraised.
Abstract. Reasons are given to justify the claim that computer simulations and computational science constitute a distinctively new set of scientific methods and that these methods introduce new issues in the philosophy of science. These issues are both epistemological and methodological in kind.
Abstract. The purpose of this paper is to argue for clarity of methodology in social science simulation. Simulation is now at a stage in the social sciences where it is important to be clear why simulation should be used and what it is intended to achieve. The paper goes on to discuss a particularly important source of opposition to simulation in the social sciences which arises from perceived threats to the orthodox hard-core. This is illustrated by way of a couple of case studies. The paper then goes on to discuss defences to standard criticisms of simulation and the various positive reasons for using simulation in preference to other methods of theorising in particular situations.
Abstract. The paper investigates what is meant by "good science" and "bad science" and how these differ as between the natural (physical and biological) sciences on the one hand and social sciences on the other. We conclude on the basis of historical evidence that the natural science are much more heavily constrained by evidence and observation than by theory while the social sciences are constrained by prior theory and hardly at all by direct evidence. Current examples of the latter proposition are taken from recent issues of leading social science journals. We argue that agent based social simulations can be used as a tool to constrain the development of a new social science by direct (what economists dismiss as anecdotal) evidence and that to do so would make social science relevant to the understanding and influencing of social processes. We argue that such a development is both possible and desirable. We do not argue that it is likely.
Abstract. Computer simulations, one of the most powerful tools of science, have many uses. This paper concentrates on the benefits to the social science researcher. Based on our, somewhat paradoxical experiences we had when working with computer simulations, we argue that the main benefit for the researchers who work with computer simulations is to develop a mental model of the abstract process they are simulating. The development of a mental model results in a deeper understating of the process and in the capacity to predict both the behavior of the system and its reaction to changes of control parameters and interventions. By internalizing computer simulations as a mental model, however, the researcher also internalizes the limitations of the simulation. Limitations of the computer simulation may translate into unconscious constrains in thinking when using the mental model. This perspective offers new recommendations for the development of computer simulations and highlights the importance of visualization. The recommendations are different from the recommendations for developing efficient and fast running simulations; for example, to visualize the dynamics of the process it may be better for the program to run slowly.
Abstract. A number of recent discussions comparing computer simulation and traditional experimentation have focused on the significance of “materiality.” I challenge several claims emerging from this work and suggest that computer simulation studies are material experiments in a straightforward sense. After discussing some of the implications of this material status for the epistemology of computer simulation, I consider the extent to which materiality (in a particular sense) is important when it comes to making justified inferences about target systems on the basis of experimental results.
Abstract. Experimental engineering models have been used both to model general phenomena, such as the onset of turbulence in fluid flow, and to predict the performance of machines of particular size and configuration in particular contexts. Various sorts of knowledge are involved in the method—logical consistency, general scientific principles, laws of specific sciences, and experience. I critically examine three different accounts of the foundations of the method of experimental engineering models (scale models), and examine how theory, practice, and experience are involved in employing the method to obtain practical results. Models of machines and mechanisms can be (and generally are) involved in establishing criteria for similar phenomena, which provide guidance in using events to model other events. Conversely, models of phenomena such as events that model other events can be (and generally are) involved in experimentation on models of machines. I conclude that often it is not more detailed models or the more precise equations they engender that leads to better understanding, but rather an insightful use of knowledge at hand to determine which similarity principles are appropriate in allowing us to infer what we do not know from what we are able to observe.
Abstract. When talking to fellow modellers about the feedback we get on our simulation models the conversation quickly shifts to anecdotes of rejective scepticism. Many of us experience that they get only few remarks, and especially only little helpful constructive feedback on their simulation models. In this forum paper, we give an overview and reflections on the most common criticisms experienced by ABM modellers. Our goal is to start a discussion on how to respond to criticism, and particularly rejective scepticism, in a way that makes it help to improve our models and consequently also increase acceptance and impact of our work. We proceed by identifying common criticism on agent-based modelling and social simulation methods and show where it shifts to rejection. In the second part, we reflect on the reasons for rejecting the agent-based approach, which we mainly locate in a lack of understanding on the one hand, and academic territorialism on the other hand. Finally, we also give our personal advice to socsim modellers of how to deal with both forms of rejective criticism.