Validation Workshop in Sheffield

I’m a bit late on posting about this since the workshop happened on Monday, but better late than never.  On Monday I was fortunate to be put on the programme at the last minute for a very interesting seminar at the University of Sheffield:

Validation and Models in Computational Biomedical Science: Philosophy, Engineering and Science

November 30 @ 9:00 am5:00 pm

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A Wellcome Trust funded workshop.

Computational modelling and simulation in all areas of biological and biomedical research have developed to a point where there is a highly sophisticated array of tools and techniques. Data intensive methods, network and multiscale models have the potential to provide new insights into biological mechanisms, that will ultimately be used for drug discovery, drug and medical device safety testing, diagnosis and treatment régimes.

The aim of modelling and simulation is to arrive at data and computational models that are ‘validated’; yet how to achieve validation is not always clear. While methodologies to tackle validation are often discussed, the deeper conceptual frameworks in which methodologies are embedded get less attention. As issues such as the pervasive variability of biological systems and model uncertainty increasingly come to the fore; and as the drive to find medical applications for computational modelling and simulation gains momentum, there is a need for creative reconceptions of the whole modelling process. This encompasses not only the scientific and engineering approaches, but also, crucially, the disciplinary, social and institutional dynamics associated with translation. There is however relatively little dialogue across the social science, philosophy, science, engineering and technology development communities. There are missed opportunities for learning and broaching the issues that challenge the implementation of computational modelling in biomedical contexts.

The ‘Validation and Models in Computational Biomedical Science’ workshop and special issue will provide one such opportunity. Our aim is to provide a platform for discussion and practice across scientific, engineering, clinical, philosophical and social perspectives on the central question of model validation that transcends any single discipline or sector, but which will potentially make a difference to practice.

I spoke at the very end of the morning session, presenting some ideas about how to validate computational models in the social sciences.  I proposed that validation takes a somewhat different form when using agent-based models, given that the complexities and non-linearities involved make it difficult to tie the results directly to the target system.  When I have some more time I’ll post the abstract and slides.


Given the title of the workshop and my complete lack of biomedical background I was slightly worried that my talk might be a bit of an oddball sideshow to the overall message of the workshop.  But in the end I was very pleased by the reception — a number of attendees came to speak to me about the talk later in the day, and I was relieved to hear that other agent-based modellers in the crowd are grappling with similar issues.


As I type this I’m waiting for another workshop to start (the Durham workshop on equality mentioned in my last post).  It’s a full week of activity here but so far it’s been quite productive!

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