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My Kingdom for a Function: Modeling Misadventures of the Innumerate

Michael Agar
Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 6 (3) 8

Abstract: In this tongue-in-cheek commentary the author takes a serious look at the problem of translating ethnographic conclusions into simple functions as a means to the end of building an agent-based simulation in the Netlogo language. Specifically, the goal is to take the simple fact that stories about illicit drugs have a lot to do with whether or not they will be used and see if an agent-based model can produce an epidemic incidence curve under the appropriate conditions. This commentary has less to do with the model and more to do with figuring out what kinds of numbers make sense. Based on the principle that mathematical ignorance is bliss, the author concludes that the most important thing is that number construction reflects the differences that make a difference in the ethnographic work, where the discovery of what the significant differences in fact were was a major result of the research. Support by NIH/NIDA grant DA 10736 is gratefully acknowledged.

Agents in Living Color: Towards Emic Agent-Based Models

Michael Agar
Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8 (1) 4

Abstract: The link between agent-based models and social research is a foundational concern of this journal. In this article, the anthropological concept of 'emic' or 'insider's view' is used to foreground the value of learning what differences make a difference to actual human agents before building a model of those agents and their world. The author's Netlogo model of the epidemiology of illicit drug use provides the example case. In the end, the emic does powerfully inform and constrain the model, but etic or 'outsider' views are required as well. At the same time, the way the model motivates these etic frameworks offers a strong test of theoretical relevance and a potential avenue towards theory integration.