MRC-funded PhD studentships in Agent-Based Modelling

Here at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow we recently announced a whole host of PhD topics for students looking to join us on our interdisciplinary quest to improve public health and reduce health inequalities.  The studentships are funded by either the Medical Research Council (MRC) or the University of Glasgow, and cover the full cost of tuition fees and provide a stipend.

Students who have a Masters-level degree already can jump right into the three-year funded PhD, or if you’re fresh out of undergraduate education you can join a four-year programme and get your Masters in the first year.

In the Complexity and Health Improvement Programme we are offering up a few potential topics on the application of agent-based models to public health challenges, supervised by myself, Rich Mitchell, Mark McCann, and Umberto Gostoli.  If you’re keen to get involved in this relatively new area of work in public health, do read through the topics and get in touch with the Programme Leader (and Unit Director) Laurence Moore as soon as you can, in order to discuss your proposal.

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Uncertainty Quantification workshop in Cambridge

Finally got confirmation that I’ll be attending the first of several workshops on uncertainty quantification at the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge in the second week of January.  The workshop — Key UQ Methodologies and Motivating Applications — has a great lineup of speakers, including Prof Tony O’Hagan from Sheffield, Prof Michael Goldstein from Durham, and good friend Prof Jakub Bijak from Southampton.

This is far from the only programme running on this topic — the INI is putting on a series of workshops and other programmes on UQ all the way through June next year!  The main UQ programme page has a summary of upcoming events.

Anyway, really looking forward to this — if the topic is of interest to you, be sure to sign up for one of the other workshops during this UQ season at the Institute.

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My book will be released soon — and it will be open-access

Good news, open science fans — my upcoming book from Springer is now in editing/typesetting, and on track for a spring release under a Creative Commons with Attribution licence.  This means you can download, share, adapt and modify the work however you see fit, so long as you cite the original and link to a copy of the licence.

I have to take a moment here to thank the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, my new home, for supporting open science and widening the audience of this book.

Springer is keen to get this moving along so they’ve put up a website for the book here!   You can even pre-order it, if you want.

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Some light reading recommendations

So I just handed in the final draft of my upcoming book for Springer’s Methodos Series, which is about the application of agent-based modelling techniques to the social sciences, with some specific applications to demography.

I thought I’d share two other books related to this topic that just came out recently, both of which are open-access and freely downloadable as PDF or epub ebooks:

Model-Based DemographyEssays on Integrating Data, Technique and Theory by Thomas K Burch.  Tom has been in demography a long time (six decades, in fact), and has brought together this volume based on his methodological critiques of demography in recent years.  I very much share his view that demography is far more than applied statistics, and that the field has a lot to say about the development and evolution of society and the behaviour of those within it.  If you’re interested in a detailed examination of demography as a science I can highly recommend this book.

Agent-Based Modelling in Population Studies: Concepts, Methods and Applications edited by André Grow and Jan Van Bavel.  This is a collection of papers on agent-based modelling in population studies presented at the University of Leuven in 2014 — and, full disclosure, I’m an author on one of the papers so my views here may be biased!  Having said that, I think this weighty tome (over 500 pages) offers some fascinating perspectives on the use of ABMs to study population, as well as some interesting examples of the methodology in action.  

As for my book — it should appear in early 2018, from what I understand — I’ll post here of course when Springer sets a final publication date.


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Joined the University of Glasgow

I haven’t posted here in awhile, but it’s not for lack of activity — as of 2 October 2017, I’m now a member of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.  The Unit, as it’s known around here, will soon celebrate its 20th year of core funding from the Medical Research Council, and produces research covering a broad range of public health themes.

I’m a part of the Complexity in Health Improvement programme, and will be helping the Unit develop a variety of research projects applying agent-based modelling techniques to complex problems in public health, including obesity, alcohol use, social care provision, and more besides.  I’ll be working closely with the Unit Director, Professor Laurence Moore, and other members of the Complexity programme to develop these projects.

In typical style the move to Glasgow was hectic to say the least, and despite starting our apartment search many weeks in advance my partner and I only managed to secure a flat five days (!) before my start date.  We were lucky enough however to find a very nice flat in Mount Florida, to the south of Glasgow city centre.  The city itself is great so far, with plenty of great places to eat and drink and lots of friendly people around, though the weather is pretty bad (and for the UK, that’s really saying something).

All in all, I’m really excited to be a member of the SPHSU now, and even after just a week there are plenty of interesting projects taking shape.  Watch this space from here on out, I’ll be making an effort to post more now that I’ve finally made the move!

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Paper submitted to ECAL 17

Just submitted a new paper to ECAL 17, the European Conference on Artificial Life.  I wrote this together with Richard Shaw, Mark McCann and Laurence Moore in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.

The goal here is to get some of the Alife community interested in some key problems in population health to which we think Alife can make a strong contribution.  The paper describes the current state of computational modelling in population health, the reasons behind the growing popularity of ABMs/complex-systems-based approaches, and describes in detail some specific key problems where complex social and environmental determinants play important roles.

And before anyone asks, yes we’re already working on stuff like this, we just want more people joining the fun!

A little preview snapshot below:


In other news:

Major projects: We’re still working on some significant attempts at gaining funding for longer-term projects in agent-based modelling for population health.  Watch this space.

Game development: Somewhat predictably, development on my game has been stalled since spring semester started and teaching took up all my energy and most of my research time.  I’m making an effort to read up on design principles, both for roguelikes specifically and in general, to improve the gameplay whenever I have the time to get back to it.

Music: I discovered recently that some old DJ mixes I had online for years now that I never promoted in any way actually attracted a decent number of listens and some very positive comments in my inbox, so I’ve dug my DJ kit out of the closet and am getting caught up on new DnB and hardcore releases.  I’ll put something new up on MixCloud or somewhere when I’m back in the groove.

On a side note, I’m so out of touch that I only just found out that Vestax, makers of my beloved DCI-300 DJ controller and my turntables before that, went out of business in 2015.  RIP Vestax, you made great gear that lasted forever and I loved you for that, although in retrospect maybe that’s why you had trouble keeping sales up!

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Paper submitted to Agent-Based Modelling of Urban Systems workshop

Just submitted a new paper with several colleagues from Teesside to the ABMUS 17 workshop at this year’s AAMAS conference in Brazil.  This is an overview of early-stage work on an agent-based modelling framework incorporating a 3D virtual environment.  The intention is to create an ABM that can be used as a research tool, simulating the actions and interactions of simulated agents in order to study some pressing problems in public health, and also as a learning tool that allows users to interact with the virtual world and see the health impact of changes to agent behaviour or their environment.

Here’s a little preview in the form of a screenshot of the paper itself — I’ll post the whole thing as usual if it’s accepted.


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Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

It’s Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain, and I’m following my personal tradition of reading something about those terrible events on this day every year. This year I’m reading portions of the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials, in which 21 Nazi war criminals were prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The dispassionate way in which some of these men report killing tens of thousands of people at a time turns my stomach.
Today during spare moments I have been reading the opening statement from the prosecution (21 November 1945), a passionate and compelling summary of the indictment which took up quite a few hours on the second day of the trial:
What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.
Justice Jackson was right, of course, and their sinister influences do indeed still lurk in the world. I’ve been distraught today by the realisation that on a day when the UK is supposed to remember the brutal consequences of fascism, the Prime Minister is off in America begging favours from a white nationalist government.
The complete official trial proceedings (42 volumes) are available via the Library of Congress here. The opening statement above is in Volume 2
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Looking for PhD students again

Teesside University will be recruiting another cohort of PhD students shortly, so a number of us will be looking for students interested in some ongoing research projects we’ve got going on here.  I’ll post the link to the appropriate page once it goes up, but for now here’s a sneak preview:

Agent-based computational modelling for public health

As the UK population ages and demand for health and social care services continues to rise, new solutions are needed to better manage resources and plan for a challenging and uncertain future.   This project will use agent-based computational models to unravel the complexities of health policy implementation and service delivery by modelling the multiple interacting processes underlying the health system. These models will investigate challenges in health and social care service delivery across a variety of spatial and temporal scales — from short-term studies of demands on accident and emergency services, to longer-term explorations of the pressures facing social care over the next several decades.

Contact: Dr Eric Silverman (


Game Dev Update: Twisty little passages, all alike

A quick update this time — I’ve been working here and there on implementing some maze generation code for the game, so that I could have a few different types of dungeon levels to generate.  At last I’ve got it working, and can now generate some intimidating mazes using the ‘growing tree’ algorithm:


By altering the likelihood of new branches in the path, I can change the feel of the maze significantly.  The maze above has a high likelihood of producing new branches; the one below produces much longer hallways:



Tonight I’ve just added a variation of this algorithm which mimics another well-known maze generation method, the ‘recursive backtracker’.  This one needs some fine-tuning, though, as currently it produces very long, meandering corridors that can be a little annoying to navigate:


The next step is to make the maze generator a bit more flexible.  Ultimately what I’d like to do is allow the normal dungeon generator to create maze rooms which can be integrated into the rest of the dungeon.  This will add some more variety in the dungeon without forcing the player to navigate an entire level-spanning maze every time the dungeon generator decides to mix things up.

I do think I want to have one dungeon level that’s entirely a maze, though, and encourage exploration by sticking a powerful artifact somewhere within and dropping some hints that the player might find it if they have a look around.  I’ll also scatter some Scrolls of Clairvoyance about, which will reveal the location of the level exit and make navigating the maze less directionless.

As you might’ve guessed, in these screenshots I’ve switched off the ‘fog of war’ for the player so that I could observe and test the results of the maze generator.  In actual play things look more like this:


By way of comparison, here’s how a maze level looks in the famous(ly difficult) roguelike Nethack:

Image result for nethack gehennom

More to come next time, when hopefully I’ll have maze rooms working.


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