a comment about agent based models in sociology in response to freese

About a week ago, Jeremy stopped by ye olde alma mater to give a talk on some new work. I was at SocInfo 2014, but my spies told me he made a quip about me. He mentioned that I thought that computer simulations were on the decline, even though his talk was about simulations. Of course, haters being haters,* the whole thing got blown out of proportion. Maybe, but it almost came to fisticuffs.**

Still, there remained a basic point – was I wrong? First, it helps to clarify. I never said that simulations were declining overall. In fact, simulations are a core technique in engineering, biology, physics, and computer science. Simulations also have a long history in *some* social science areas. Demographers, for example, have used them for population projections for decades. So, I fully admit (and have always admitted) that outside sociology, simulations are alive and well.

My point is specific to sociology. Simulations are honestly quite rare. Sure, a few folks do them. James Kitts, Kathleen Carley, and Peter Bearman are card carrying sociologists who have routinely used simulations. But how frequent is this? Not very, I’d hazard that less than 5% of papers in our main soc journals (top 4 + regionals). And yes, a few famous papers have been simulations (the 72 Cohen, March, and Olson comes to mind), but that generally doesn’t trigger a wave of simulations *IN SOCIOLOGY.* For example, how many authors in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation  have been tenure track faculty in sociology programs? Some, but not that many. How many readers of this blog have ever read JASSS?

I’d love to be wrong. I would love for their to be a large and growing contingent of social simulation in sociology programs.But right now, it’s niche area. Why? My guess is that there is a lot of inertia and there is a selection effect. I hope that changes.

* Hater = Fabio looking for twitter action on a Sunday night.

** How old people fight.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 


Written by fabiorojas

November 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

4 Responses

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  1. It would have been great to have a splitscreen video of us while we were tweeting back and forth. I was in the Oriental Theater downtown waiting for the curtain to rise on Annie. As the urchin girls in the chorus sing, “You’re never fully dressed without your cell phone.”

    Liked by 1 person


    November 25, 2014 at 3:45 am

  2. My side of the screen would be me in my kitchen saying, “how can I mess with Jeremy tonight?”



    November 25, 2014 at 3:52 am

  3. The Journal of Mathematical Sociology seems to publish an article on agent-based modeling in every issue.



    November 25, 2014 at 5:00 am

  4. Not only I read JASSS but I’m a PhD under Nigel Gilbert at CRESS. It’s true that social simulation has not been fully embraced in sociology, in my opinion having to do with the legacy of the field and the quali/quanti divide, but there’s a lot of sociological work (or something close) using simulation. For organisation theory you even have a journal, Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, that frequently publishes simulation articles.

    But I agree that a problem it has is that not many sociologists are working on the area. It attracts people with a strong mathematical and/or computational foundation, which are rare in sociology, and nowadays they lean towards Big Data.

    That said, maybe it was not done by “true” sociologists, but there is a big body of social research using simulation that could fall under the label of sociology or at least social theory. For example, the Garbage Can as you said, Sugarscape, Evolution of Cooperation and Segregation, to name some classics, and work by Gilbert, Conte, Ostrom, Bowles and Gintis, Epstein, Axtell and Edmonds to mention just a few modern examples.


    Juan Cano

    November 27, 2014 at 9:28 am

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