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Aligning simulation models: A case study and results

Abstract

This paper develops the concepts and methods of a process we will call “alignment of computational models” or “docking” for short. Alignment is needed to determine whether two models can produce the same results, which in turn is the basis for critical experiments and for tests of whether one model can subsume another. We illustrate our concepts and methods using as a target a model of cultural transmission built by Axelrod. For comparison we use the Sugarscape model developed by Epstein and Axtell.

The two models differ in many ways and, to date, have been employed with quite different aims. The Axelrod model has been used principally for intensive experimentation with parameter variation, and includes only one mechanism. In contrast, the Sugarscape model has been used primarily to generate rich “artificial histories”, scenarios that display stylized facts of interest, such as cultural differentiation driven by many different mechansims including resource availability, migration, trade, and combat.

The Sugarscape model was modified so as to reproduce the results of the Axelrod cultural model. Among the questions we address are: what does it mean for two models to be equivalent, how can different standards of equivalence be statistically evaluated, and how do subtle differences in model design affect the results? After attaining a “docking” of the two models, the richer set of mechanisms of the Sugarscape model is used to provide two experiments in sensitivity analysis for the cultural rule of Axelrod's model.

Our generally positive experience in this enterprise has suggested that it could be beneficial if alignment and equivalence testing were more widely practiced among computational modelers.

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Axtell, R., Axelrod, R., Epstein, J.M. et al. Aligning simulation models: A case study and results. Comput Math Organiz Theor 1, 123–141 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01299065

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Keywords

  • Simulation
  • replication
  • computational models
  • alignment
  • culture