Impact of feedback in mass media message.
Jun 30th, 2007 by JTJ

A recent article worth a look over by the journalism community. What we do DOES have impact.

Juan Carlos González-Avella, Mario G. Cosenza, Konstantin Klemm, Víctor M. Eguíluz and Maxi San Miguel (2007)

Information Feedback and Mass Media Effects in Cultural Dynamics

Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol. 10, no. 3 9

PDF at
Received: 11-Jan-2007 Accepted: 18-May-2007 Published: 30-Jun-2007

We study the effects of different forms of information feedback associated with mass media on an agent-agent based model of the dynamics of cultural dissemination. In addition to some processes previously considered, we also examine a model of local mass media influence in cultural dynamics. Two mechanisms of information feedback are investigated: (i) direct mass media influence, where local or global mass media act as an additional element in the network of interactions of each agent, and (ii) indirect mass media influence, where global media acts as a filter of the influence of the existing network of interactions of each agent. Our results generalize previous findings showing that cultural diversity builds up by increasing the strength of the mass media influence. We find that this occurs independently of the mechanisms of action (direct or indirect) of the mass media message. However, through an analysis of the full range of parameters measuring cultural diversity, we establish that the enhancement of cultural diversity produced by interaction with mass media only occurs for strong enough mass media messages. In comparison with previous studies a main different result is that weak mass media messages, in combination with agent-agent interaction, are efficient in producing cultural homogeneity. Moreover, the homogenizing effect of weak mass media messages is more efficient for direct local mass media messages than for global mass media messages or indirect global mass media influences. Keywords: Agent Based Model, Culture, Dissemination, Mass Media

The NYT gets in the gaming biz. Well, sorta.
Jun 21st, 2007 by JTJ

 From Ian Bogost's site, Watercooler Games:


The New York Times Publishes Our Newsgames

May 24, 2007 – by Ian Bogost

NY Times NewsgamesToday, one of my videogames is on the front page of the Gray Lady.

Almost four years ago, Gonzalo suggested “newsgames” as a genre that intersects videogames and political cartoons. Last year, my studio Persuasive Games took our own take on this genre with The Arcade Wire series (Airport Security, Oil God, Bacteria Salad, Xtreme Xmas Shopping), published by Those games enjoyed considerable success, tallying at least 10 million plays or so. But Shockwave is still a gaming site, reaching gamers, not necessarily reaching ordinary citizens more broadly. And that's what news and editorial should do.

Today, I'm excited to announce that Persuasive Games has a new publishing relationship with The New York Times, in which they will be publishing newsgames we create on their op-ed page, as editorial content, not just as games. This is unprecedented, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it represents another important shift in videogames as a medium. This is news/editorial in videogame form, rather than videogames trying to make news fun. The fact that the Times is often considered the national newspaper of record makes this moment even more notable, and gratifying.

The first game is Food Import Folly. The game is about the experience of extremely limited FDA inspection on food imports, and just what that scarcity of resources actually feels like. To play, you have to be a paid TimesSelect subscriber (NY Times puts all their editorial content behind the TimesSelect subscription wall). There's more info and screenshots on the Persuasive Games website.

Like most of our newsgames, timeliness was an important consideration. Food Import Folly was created in a week's time. Congrats to my team at Persuasive Games for their hard work. And look for more of our newsgames in the newspaper, in the near future.


Some imaginative election "gaming" from USC and the Annenburg Center
Jun 19th, 2007 by JTJ

From All Points Blog

Monday, June 18. 2007

The Redistricting Game

University of Southern California students developed the online game for the Annenburg Center for Communications to teach about the challenges (and partisanness) of redistricting. Along the way players learn that to keep their candidates elected they may need to examine ethical issues. The game is Flash-based.

From the [original News 10] site: The Redistricting Game is designed to educate, engage, and empower citizens around the issue of political redistricting. Currently, the political system in most states allows the state legislators themselves to draw the lines. This system is subject to a wide range of abuses and manipulations that encourage incumbents to draw districts which protect their seats rather than risk an open contest.


The NYT DOES run a correction on its percentage screw-up
May 28th, 2007 by JTJ

So the NYT did backtrack on the percent-of-change error described yesterday without assigning blame.  That's fine.  But the correction suggests another big story that we have only seen parts of.  That is, of all the U.S. presence in Iraq — military and contractors — how many and what proportion are actually on the streets and how many and in what capacity are in support categories. 

[New York Times] Corrections: For the Record
Published: May 28, 2007 [Monday]
A front-page headline on Saturday about
concepts being developed by the Bush administration to reduce United
States combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year referred
imprecisely to the overall effect on troop levels. As the story
indicated, removing half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq by the
end of 2008, one of the ideas under consideration, would cut the total
number of troops there by about one-third, from 146,000 to roughly
100,000, not by 50 percent. That is because many of the troops that
would remain in Iraq are in training or support units, not in combat
forces. (Go to Article)

NYT needs to install a "math checker" on every copy editor's desk
May 27th, 2007 by JTJ

This weekend, friend-of-the-IAJ Joe Traub sent the following to the editor of the New York Times.  Here's the story Joe is talking about: “White House….

To the Editor:

The headline on page 1 on May 26 states
“White House Said to Debate '08 Cut in Troops by 50%”
The article reports a possible reduction to 100,000 troops
from 146,000. Thats 31.5%, not 50%. NPR's Morning Edition
picked up the story from the NYT and also reported 50%

Joseph F. Traub
The writer is a Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University

The headline error is bad enough (it's only in the hed, not not in the story) — and should be a huge embarrassment to the NYT.  But the error gets compounded because while the Times no longer sets the agenda for the national discussion, it is still thought of (by most?) as the paper of record.  Consequently, as other colleagues have pointed out, the reduction percentage gets picked up by other journalists who don't bother to do the math (or who cannot do the math.)
See, for example:
* CBS News — Troop Retreat In '08?” — (This video has a shot of the NYT story even though the percentage is not mentioned.  Could it be that the TV folks don't think viewers can do the arithmetic?)
(NB: We could not yet find on the NPR site the transcript of the radio story that picked up the 50 percent error.  But run a Google search with “cut in Troops by 50%” and note the huge number of bloggers who also went with the story without doing the math.)

Colleague Steve Doig has queried the reporter of the piece, David Sanger, asking if the mistake is that of the NYT or the White House.  No answer yet received, but Doig later commented: “Sanger's story did talk about reducing brigades from 20 to 10. That's
how they'll justify the “50% reduction” headline, I guess, despite the
clear reference higher up to cutting 146,000 troops to 100,000.”

Either way, it is a serious blunder of a fundamental sort on an issue most grave.  It should have been caught, but then most journalists are WORD people and only word people, we guess.

We would also point out the illogical construction that the NYT uses consistently in relaying statistical change over time.  To wit: “… could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000…”  We wince. 

English is read from left to right.  Most English calendars and horizontal timelines are read from left to right.  When writing about statistical change, the same convention should be followed: oldest dates and data precedes newest or future dates and data.  Therefore, this should best be written: “…could lower troop levels from about 146,000 to roughly 100,000 by the midst of the 2008 presidential election.”

Organizing the data; organizing the visualization
Jan 23rd, 2007 by JTJ

Thanks to our friend at the University de Zulia in Maracaibo, Prof.
Maria-Isabel Neuman, we just learned about this Rosetta Stone of data

This is a must-see:  “A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.”

These guys in Switzerland at the Visual-Literacy Project have pulled together, in a
wonderfully coherent fashion,  the multiple concepts that many of us
have been working on for years. 

Be sure to also take a look at the
paper by Lengler and Eppler at the bottom of the “Maps” page.
It's a good, tight explanation of what they are up to.  We like their definition:

“A visualization method is a systematic, rule-based, external, permanent, and graphic representation that depicts information in a way that is conducive to acquiring insights, developing an elaborate understanding, or communicating experiences.”

But we're not so sure that “permanent” is crucial or should even be included.  If they are referring to “method,” then that would seem to limit the opportunity for refinements over time.  And if they are talking about the resulting displays of data, might not that reduce the possibility of dynamic data displays, say real-time traffic flows or changes in the stock market?  Simulations?  Oh, well, a refinement ripe for discussion.

Hey, bunky, you say you need a story for tomorrow, and the well is dry
Jan 2nd, 2007 by JTJ

No story?  Then check out Swivel, a web site rich with data — and the display of data — that you didn't know about and which is pregnant with possibilities for a good news feature.  And often a news feature that could be localized.

Here, for example, is a posting from the SECRECY REPORT CARD 2005  illustrating the changing trends in the the classification and de-classification of U.S. government data.  (You can probably guess the direction of the curves.)

Spotlight What is the US Government Not Telling Us?

number of classified documents is steadily increasing, while the number
of pages being declassified is dwindling. This data were uploaded by mcroydon.

Lake Arrowhead Conference on Human Complex Systems
Dec 17th, 2006 by Tom Johnson

A number of friends and associates, for whom we have the greatest respect, say this is one of the best, most enriching conferences in the U.S.  It is not cheap, but there are vacation condos to be found in the area that would help to make this affordable.

The IAJ plans to be there.  Hope to see you there.

4th Lake Arrowhead Conference on Human Complex Systems

conference syllabus

We are back with our 4th UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference on Human Complex Systems.
from Wednesday April 25, 2007 through Sunday April 29, 2007.

We look forward to
another cross-disciplinary gathering of social scientists who employ
cutting-edge agent-based computational modeling and related
computational ideas and methods in their research and teaching. As in
past years, dozens of presenters from numerous disciplines are
presenting. We are also hosting evening panels, a live simulation, and
opportunities for networking and relaxation amid gorgeous surroundings.

Advancing Agent Modeling in the Social Sciences

The conference is a forum for sharing the most recent advances — in
theory, methodology and application – in the area of agent modeling
throughout the social sciences (e.g., Anthropology, Communication
Studies, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, Sociology,
Urban Planning). We also welcome social scientists in professional
schools (e.g., Business, Education, International Relations, Public
Health, Public Policy, Social Welfare) and in the public and private
sectors. Researchers and theorists in Psychology, Media Studies and
social aspects of Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics
and related disciplines also welcome!

For a paper presentation, authors present for 20 minutes and receive an
additional 10 minutes for Q&A. We also welcome 90-120 minute
symposium proposals consisting of 3-4 individual papers on a related
topic of inquiry. Finally, we are open to someone wishing to organize
an evening panel discussion on a �hot topic� in agent modeling.

Science and simulation for the greater good
Nov 5th, 2006 by JTJ

A former student of colleague Steve Ross sends this interesting report on how simulation models can/are being used in the real world:

I’m the communications officer for the International Research
Institute for Climate and Society
at Columbia University. The IRI specializes
in making forecasts of climate for every part of the world by using data from
satellites, meteorological stations and proxy records (tree rings, corals, etc)
to run models. The models tell us, with varying degrees of certainty, how much
off the “norm” rainfall, temperature and humidity will be for a given place in
the world.  We’re not so much interested
in long-term climate change (global warming, sea level rise, etc) as we are in
season-to-season changes (e.g. monsoonal patterns, drought, flooding, etc.).
And the IRI isn’t a purely academic institution — its main objective is to use
the forecasts and climate monitoring to develop and undertake projects that
mitigate the effects of climate change in developing countries. We never do
this alone: all of our efforts are in collaboration with scientists, policymakers
and NGOs in these countries.

Here’s a brief description of some projects we’re currently working

*Climate and malaria:*
The IRI collects an enormous amount
of temperature, rainfall and humidity data for southern Africa. As it it turns
out, the presence or absence of malaria in a given region depends strongly on
these three climate factors, so scientists here developed a mapping tool that
shows the risk of a malaria epidemic for every month of the year in every part
of sub-Saharan Africa. We train health workers from countries in this area on
how to use the information to adequately prepare for epidemics. (see /

*Climate and fire-management*
Fires in Indonesia damage unique
and delicate ecosystems, increase carbon dioxide emissions, and produce noxious
smoke and haze that leads to thousands of hospitalizations every year. Since
the intensity and duration of these fires depend on the amount of rainfall the region
receives every season, the IRI is using its rainfall forecasts to develop an early-warning
system that policymakers and NGOs can use for planning purposes. For example, if
our models tell us there is a strong chance of drought conditions in the next 3-month
period there, our Indonesian partners can take specific actions, such as conserving irrigation water so that the fields where these fires
occur aren’t drained completely and therefore aren’t as susceptible to burning.
(see /

*Index-based weather insurance for farmers*
The IRI and the Commodity Risk Management Group at the World
Bank are involved in a project to develop insurance contracts that protect Malawi
farmers against periodic, crop-destroying droughts. Traditionally, farmers would
take out loans to buy seeds at the start of every season. If a drought occurred,
the farmers’ crops would die, and they wouldn’t be able to pay back the banks. But
under this new program the farmers can purchase an insurance (a very small percentage
of the price of the seeds) against crop loss when they buy seeds. If a drought occurs,
the farmers get a full or partial payout and can use the money to repay their loans.
IRI’s role in this is to use its weather monitoring data for the region to help
the local insurance companies develop reliable contracts. The fascinating aspect
of this program is that it is completely subsidized by the farmers.  (no link
available yet)

My role in all this is to make these and other projects known
to the public at large.  Many of you receiving this email are journalists of
one species or another. If you are developing stories or graphics that have to do
with climate or earth science, think of me. I’ll put you in touch with experts or
send you bucketfuls of GIS and other data.

Francesco Fiondella
Communications Officer
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
61 Route 9W
Palisades, NY 10964
francesco [at]

Yup, that time of the decade is again fast approaching
Oct 26th, 2006 by JTJ

FYI, folks:

Cynthia Taeuber will present her online course “Using the Census's
American Community Survey (ACS)” at Nov.17 – Dec. 15.
She will be available for questions and comments on a private
discussion board throughout this period.

Prior to 2006, analysts had to make do with increasingly out-of-date
detailed information about households and individuals while they waited
for the next decennial census. Starting in 2006, this information will
be made available on an annual basis in the ACS.

This course shows what sort of information is included, how to obtain
it, and what methodological and sample size issues present themselves.

If you have not made use of similar Census data previously, learn how
you can leverage these improvements in data currency and timeliness for
your projects.  If you have used decennial census data before, you will
benefit by learning about the methodological differences between this
Survey and the decennial census long form – they affect the results and
you may make errors if you don't know how to handle the differences.

Ms. Taeuber, a senior policy advisor at the University of Baltimore's
Jacob France Institute, has 30 years of experience at the U.S. Census
Bureau, directed the analytic staff for the American Community Survey,
and received the Commerce Dept.'s Gold Medal Award for her innovative
work on the American Community Survey.  She is the author of “The
American Community Survey:  Updated Information for America's
Communities,” and more.

As with all online courses at, there are no set hours
when you must be online; we estimate you will need 7-15 hours per week.


Peter Bruce

P.S.  Also coming up:

Nov. 3 – Cluster Analysis (useful for customer segmentation)
Nov. 17 – How to deal with missing data
Nov. 27 – Basic Concepts in Probability and Statistics
612 N. Jackson St.
Arlington, VA 22201

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