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]

Games: They ain't kid-stuff
Oct 25th, 2006 by JTJ

The past week or two has brought some press stories about games being designed/developed as tools for learning, as in “productive learning,” not learning how to inflict terror or be a better car-jacker.  We recently ran across the site below, “Social Impact Games.”  It's well worth a visit, as are the others.

We think these have great potential for journalism as tools to help readers/viewers learn how government, eduction, schools, the legal system and nature work. 

Good links to simulation games:

*) Social Impact Games.  This one is a very rich jump site: or




Frankly, and off the record, our favorite is the Anti-Bush game:

”The Anti-Bush Video Game”

From the website: “Combines humor, opinion, and fact to bring an
entertaining and informative video game adventure to people everywhere.

“The use of this medium will hopefully reach many people who have
not had the time or interest to read up on some of the appalling things
that have taken place in our government and society over the past four
years. For those of you who are paying attention, hopefully this game
has helped to clarify some of the important things at stake in the
upcoming elections. I realize that this game does not cover every
issue, problem, and appalling action of the Bush administration. There
are too many stories to report. Some issues ended up taking a back seat
to others. Just know that this is just a silly game and please inform
yourself for real and read books…and most importantly…please vote.”

By Starvingeyes/J. Oda.

Watching the ebb and flow on city streets
Sep 6th, 2006 by Tom Johnson

Friend Steve Guerin tips us to “Cabspotting,” a fascinating site created by San Francisco's Exploratorium.  It's about georgraphy, traffic flow, and complexity.  Give a look to “Cabspotting”

About Cabspotting

traces San Francisco's taxi cabs as they travel throughout the Bay
Area. The patterns traced by each cab create a living and
always-changing map of city life. This map hints at economic, social,
and cultural trends that are otherwise invisible. The Exploratorium has
invited artists and researchers to use this information to reveal these
“Invisible Dynamics.”

The core of this project is the Cab Tracker.
The Tracker averages the last four hours of cab routes into a ghostly
image, and then draws the routes of ten in-progress cab rides over it.

The Time Lapse
area of the project reveals time-varying patterns such as rush hour,
traffic jams, holidays and unusual events. New projects are produced by
the Exploratorium's visiting artists and also created by the larger
Cabspotting community.

Report from ESRI User Conference – No. 1
Aug 8th, 2006 by JTJ

Some interesting presentations this morning on visualization and modeling as they can be applied in GIS.  See:

Check out  
This is a growing library of public domain shape models.  “This website
offers access to a new hierarchical data structure that allows the
efficient storage of natural and man-made feature data for use in a
multitude of both manual and computerized Mapping, Charting & Geodesy

Also, interesting visualizations at 

Redlands Institute has completed projects for a wide range of
industries and organizations. The most prominent projects are grouped
in these categories:

Google in the 3D modeling business?
May 2nd, 2006 by JTJ

Interesting new tool from the folks at Google.  If Sketchup follows the evolutionary line of Google Maps, we can expect to see some interesting mash-ups in coming weeks.  We are looking forward to some flowchart models that can be annotated with URL and comments.  But until then….

The modeling tool SketchUp has long been a
favorite of designers, architects, and hobbyists who have used
the powerful program to render 3D images of their ideas. In
March, search-engine giant and emerging software powerhouse
Google acquired SketchUp developer @Last Software. Last week,
was quietly released to the public. The program
has been made completely free for personal use, and it
includes tools for integrating your creations with
or uploading them to Google's 3D

Google is establishing a
pattern of acquiring software companies and releasing free
versions of their programs. As with Keyhole (now
) and Picasa,
Google hopes to make SketchUp popular with its massive Web
audience. We get very cool free software, and Google gains new
users, loyal customers, and a potential avalanche of
third-party content added to Google Earth.

It might
appear at first that the free version of SketchUp has been
watered down, but you'll find most of its same functionality
in an easier-to-use interface. The creative possibilities are
endless, and included video tutorials will get you up and
modeling in no time. Not only can Google SketchUp create
detailed structural models, it can also be used as a more
general conceptual visualization tool for everything from
games and art projects to work flows and engineering.

Take Google SketchUp for a spin, and let us know what
you think. Then
what others have to say
about Google's latest software or
a review of your own

Finally, if you're a fan of
CNET and are willing to back it up with an
Internet vote, please help support us by voting for
People's Voice
competition. Voting ends this week.

Peter Butler
Senior Editor, CNET

Scientists track money to help predict disease
Jan 26th, 2006 by JTJ

Yet another fine example of creative thinking wherein a good idea in one discipline is morphed into an unintended application in another.  (Something all-too-rare in the practice of journalism.)  The journal Nature reports:

Another day another dollar

website invites its users to enter the serial numbers
of their US dollar bills and track them across America and beyond. Why?
“For fun and because it had not been done yet”, they say. But the
dataset accumulated since December 1998 has provided the ideal raw
material to test the mathematical laws underlying human travel, and
that has important implications for the epidemiology of infectious
diseases. Analysis of the trajectories of over half a million dollar
bills shows that human dispersal is described by a 'two-parameter
continuous-time random walk' model: our travel habits conform to a type
of random proliferation known as 'superdiffusion'. And with that much
established, it should soon be possible to develop a new class of
models to account for the spread of human disease.

LetterThe scaling laws of human travel

D. Brockmann, L. Hufnagel
and T. Geisel

Taking games seriously
Nov 23rd, 2005 by Tom Johnson

Serious Games Initiative

The Serious Games Initiative is focused on uses for games
in exploring management and leadership challenges
facing the public sector. Part of its overall charter
is to help forge productive links between the
electronic game industry and projects involving the use of
games in education, training, health, and public policy.

Says information specialists Marylaine Block:

 “As one who believes nobody should be allowed to run for office until they have played

Sim City for at least six months, I think such games have enormous

potential for helping people explore complex social problems and possible


Growth opportunity (of the intellectual sort) for journalists
Nov 18th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

With newspapers — and news magazine — cutting staff on
an almost weekly basis, some of us in journalism are going to have to
reinvent ourselves.  One of our tenents of Analytic Journalism is
simulation modeling, a methodology and analytic tool we believe will be
to the social sciences in the 21st century (and journalism IS a social
science) what quantum physics was to the hard sciences in the
20th. So here's an interesting opportunity for someone.

“> The Department of Mathematics as the University of California, Los

> Angeles is soliciting applications for a postdoctoral fellowship

> position in Mathematical and Computational Social Science.  The

> qualified applicant will work in the UC Mathematical and Simulation

> Modeling of Crime Group (UCMaSC), a collaboration between the UCLA

> Department of Mathematics, UCLA Department of Anthropology, UC

> Irvine Department of Criminology, Law and Society and the Los

> Angeles Police Department to study the dynamics of crime hot spot

> formation.  The research will center on (1) development of formal

> models applicable to the study of interacting particle systems, or

> multi-agent systems, (2) simulation of these systems and (3)

> directed empirical testing of models using contemporary crime data

> from Los Angeles and other Southern Californian cities.


> The initial appointment is for one year, with possible renewal for

> up to three years.  For information regarding the UCMaSC Group visit




> DUTIES: Work closely with an interdisciplinary team of

> mathematicians, social scientists and law enforcement officials to

> develop new mathematical and computational methodologies for

> understanding crime hot spot formation, diffusion and dissipation.

> Responsibilities include teaching one course in the Department of

> Mathematics per year, publication and presentation of research

> results.


> REQUIRED: A recent Ph.D. in Mathematics, Physics or a related

> field.  The qualified applicant is expected to have research

> experience in one or more areas that would be relevant to the study

> of interacting particle/multi-agent systems including, but not

> limited to, mathematical and statistical physics, complex systems,

> and partial differential equations modeling.  The applicant is also

> required to have advanced competency in one or more programming

> languages/environments (e.g., C++, Java, Matlab).


> Qualified candidates should e-mail a cover let, CV and the phone

> numbers, e-mail addresses, and postal addresses of three

> individuals who can provide recommendation to:


> Dr. P. Jeffrey Brantingham

> Department of Anthropology

> 341 Haines Hall

> University of California, Los Angeles

> Los Angeles, CA 90095″

Simulated Journalism? Not exactly, but a topic of relevance
Nov 1st, 2005 by Tom Johnson

modeling is one of the four cornerstone areas of interest to the
IAJ.  It's a relatively new, and largely unknown, field that can
be of great advantage to journalists if we can take the time to learn
how it works and then how we can apply it to our field.  The best
resource to date for journalists is the J-Lab, ( at the University of Maryland.

But today along comes this announcement of a rich issue of the Journal
of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
.  It's filled with
deep thinking and application.

Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
( published issue 4 of Volume 8 on 31
October 2005.

JASSS is an electronic, refereed journal devoted
to the exploration and understanding of social processes by means of
computer simulation.   It is freely available, with no


This issue is our largest
ever, with 12 peer-reviewed articles, eight of them forming a special
section on Epistemological Perspectives, edited by Ulrich Frank and
Klaus Troitzsch.

If you would like to volunteer as a referee and have
published at least one refereed article in the academic literature, you
may do so by completing the form at


Peer-reviewed Articles

How Can Social Networks Ever Become Complex? Modelling the Emergence of Complex Networks from Local Social Exchanges
   by  Josep M. Pujol, Andreas Flache, Jordi Delgado and Ramon Sanguesa

Violence and Revenge in Egalitarian Societies

   by  Stephen Younger

Influence of Local Information on Social Simulations in Small-World Network Models

   by  Chung-Yuan Huang, Chuen-Tsai Sun and Hsun-Cheng Lin

It Pays to Be Popular: a Study of Civilian Assistance and Guerrilla Warfare

   by  Scott Wheeler

Special Section on Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation

   by  Ulrich Frank and Klaus G. Troitzsch

Towards Good Social Science
   by  Scott Moss and Bruce Edmonds


A Framework for Epistemological Perspectives on Simulation
   by  Joerg Becker, Bjoern Niehaves and Karsten Klose


What is the Truth of Simulation?
   by  Alex Schmid

Logic of the Method of Agent-Based Simulation in the Social
Sciences:  Empirical and Intentional Adequacy of Computer
   by  Nuno David, Jaime Simao Sichman and Helder Coelho

Validation of Simulation: Patterns in the Social and Natural Sciences

   by  Guenter Kueppers and Johannes Lenhard

Stylised Facts and the Contribution of Simulation  to the Economic Analysis of Budgeting

   by  Bernd-O. Heine, Matthias Meyer and Oliver Strangfeld

Does Empirical Embeddedness Matter? Methodological Issues on Agent-Based Models for Analytical Social Science

   by  Riccardo Boero and Flaminio Squazzoni

Caffe Nero: the Evaluation of Social Simulation
   by  Petra Ahrweiler and Nigel Gilbert


Book Reviews    (Review editor: Edmund Chattoe)

Edmund Chattoe reviews:
       Routines of Decision Making by Betsch, Tilmann and Haberstroh, Susanne (eds.)



The new issue can be accessed through the JASSS home page: <>.

The next issue will be published at the end of January 2006.

Submissions are welcome: see


Editor: Nigel Gilbert, University of Surrey, UK
Forum Editor: Klaus G. Troitzsch, Koblenz-Landau University, Germany
Review Editor: Edmund Chattoe, University of Oxford, UK


Sent from the EPRESS journal management system,
Simulations of bad, bad times
Sep 9th, 2005 by JTJ

Friend Steve Guerin sends this from Santa Fe….

The Disaster Dynamics Project at UCAR looks timely:

Check out the Hurricane Landfall game
The Hurricane Landfall Disaster Dynamics Game is a four-player virtual strategy game about the interaction between natural disasters and urban planning. The game is computerized; it plays like a traditional physical boardgame, but there are simulation components that require significant computation. The game's architecture is client-server, with each player having her own computer.

Individual machines allow moves to be made in parallel and enable players to access private representations of the game state in addition to the public representation. The server is typically run on the instructor's computer, and
will also provide facilitation tools.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa