What's wrong with social simulations?

Eckhart Arnold

1 Introduction
2 Simulation without validation in agent-based models
3 How a model works that works: Schelling’s neighborhood segregation model
4 How models fail: The Reiterated Prisoner’s Dilemma model
5 An ideology of modeling
6 Conclusions

6 Conclusions

It is in my opinion not least because of the abundance of simulations with low empirical impact that “social simulation is not yet recognized in the social science mainstream” (Squazzoni/Casnici 2013, abstract). Why should a mainstream social scientist take simulation studies seriously, if he or she cannot be sure about the reliability of the results, because the simulations have never been validated? If modelers started to take the requirement of empirical validation more seriously, I expect two changes to occur – both of them beneficial: 1) Social simulations will become more focused in scope. Scientists will not attempt to cast anything into the form of a computer simulation from classical social contract philosophy (Skyrms 1996, Skyrms 2004) to, well, the whole world (Futureict 2013, Livingearth 2013), but they will develop a better feeling for when simulations can be empirically validated and when not, and they will mostly leave out those problems where computer simulations cannot be applied with some hope of producing empirically applicable results. 2) Yet, while the simulation method will become more focused in scope, it will at the same time become much more useful in practice, because simulations will more frequently yield results that other scientists can rely on without needing to worry about their speculative character and potential lack of reliability.

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