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Social simulations: improving interdisciplinary understanding of scientific positioning and validity

Rossiter, S. and Noble, J. and Bell, K.R.W. (2010) Social simulations: improving interdisciplinary understanding of scientific positioning and validity. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 13 (1). ISSN 1460-7425

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Abstract

Because of features that appear to be inherent in many social systems, modellers face complicated and subjective choices in positioning the scientific contribution of their research. This leads to a diversity of approaches and terminology, making interdisciplinary assessment of models highly problematic. Such modellers ideally need some kind of accessible, interdisciplinary framework to better understand and assess these choices. Existing texts tend either to take a specialised metaphysical approach, or focus on more pragmatic aspects such as the simulation process or descriptive protocols for how to present such research. Without a sufficiently neutral treatment of why a particular set of methods and style of model might be chosen, these choices can become entwined with the ideological and terminological baggage of a particular discipline. This paper attempts to provide such a framework. We begin with an epistemological model, which gives a standardised view on the types of validation available to the modeller, and their impact on scientific value. This is followed by a methodological framework, presented as a taxonomy of the key dimensions over which approaches are ultimately divided. Rather than working top-down from philosophical principles, we characterise the issues as a practitioner would see them. We believe that such a characterisation can be done 'well enough', where 'well enough' represents a common frame of reference for all modellers, which nevertheless respects the essence of the debate's subtleties and can be accepted as such by a majority of 'methodologists'. We conclude by discussing the limitations of such an approach, and potential further work for such a framework to be absorbed into existing, descriptive protocols and general social simulation texts.