Simplicity, generality and truth in social modelling

CPM Report No.: 08-187
By: Scott Moss
Date: 15th February 2008

Part 1: Epistemological issues

The paper addresses the standard issues of simplicity, generality and truth as they apply to social modelling. It is argued that evidence driven, agent based social simulation turns on their head constraints on model or theory simplicity and leads naturally to empirical validation (hence assessment of truth). Generalisation follows by abstracting elements of empirical models. A research programme of empirical model and model abstraction could form the basis for and empirically based, general social theory. A demonstration of the elements of this programme is reported in Part 2.

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Part 2: Demonstration

The paper demonstrates a procedure for generalising hypotheses from evidence based modelling. Starting from an empirical agent based social simulation model of the village of Ga-Selala in South Africa, a more abstract and more general implementation of the model is implemented and run to assess a hypothesis about the process of breakdown of social support networks as a result of HIV/AIDS. The empirical model is already well validated. The abstract model is shown to yield similar results and to lead towards a more general theory of the social impact of epidemics such as HIV/AIDS.

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