Towards Good Social Science

By: Scott Moss and Bruce Edmonds
Date: 14 July 2004.
CPM Report No.: 04-135.

Presented at: EPOS, the Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Epistemological  Perspectives on Simulation,  Koblenz, 1-2 July 2004.

Published as:

Moss, S. and Edmonds, B. (2005). Towards Good Social Science. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8(4) (


This paper is about good and bad science. It is not about good and bad scientists though we do consider conditions in which good scientists do bad science. In particular, we take it for granted that scientists who seek to explain observed events by adhering carefully to the best standards available from their training and the traditions of their discipline have the personal qualities of the good scientist. If, however, the best available standards lead to bad science, then we would say that the good scientists are doing bad science.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which agent-based simulation could support good social science. We will argue that, where the social sciences are concerned, simulations based on software agents could support good science provided that the design of the agents is itself based on good science.

Clearly, the pursuit of this argument first requires an account of what constitutes good science and a defense of this. This will be done, not so much by engaging in a general philosophical or methodological debate but rather by drawing on examples of scientific developments that have transformed our understanding of the world. The examples will draw on developments in the natural – physical and biological – sciences and the lessons learned therefrom will be applied to the social and computer sciences. The discussion of the natural sciences will constitute section 2 followed by a brief discussion of how these will differ from the social sciences in section 3. The failure of large sections of key social sciences – economics and sociology – will be explored in section 4. In section 5 we take a step back from the argument about good and bad science in order to consider the purpose of doing social science and how that purpose conditions what we mean by good social science. Finally, in section 6, we consider the role of software agents in the development of good social science and, in particular, the development of social policy.

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