Category Archives: Publications

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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Alife XV Presentation

I’ve been attending Alife XV all week in extremely hot and sweaty Cancun, Mexico.  Yesterday I gave a talk on my paper with Nic Geard and Ian Wood titled Job Insecurity in Academic Research Employment: An Agent-Based Model.

I really enjoyed giving the talk — I spent a great deal of time beforehand thinking about how to introduce the work in proper context, and in the end I felt it worked reasonably well.  I had some great questions which raised important points that we’ll be taking into account in the next iteration of the model.  I’ve had a number of colleagues share their enthusiasm about the topic since the talk, so I’m really pleased and hopeful this work will keep advancing.

Thinking about the feedback I received, I think the most important next step is to develop the competitive funding aspects of the model in more detail:

  • Instead of an optimistic world with research funding that scales with population, have a pot of funding which grows at a slower rate, leading to a gradually more selective competitive process
  • Test possible implementations of more varied grants — larger/smaller grants which can produce more postdocs, grants of a longer duration, etc.
  • Possibly too ambitious for the near future, but implementing a system of teaching quality/student funding which also requires time allocation from the agents would be an interesting direction to take this

I’ve uploaded the presentation slides, and the final published paper is available here.  The full Alife XV Proceedings volume is available open-access via MIT Press.

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Paper accepted to Alife XV

I’m pleased to say that the paper I’ve been going on about now for some time, titled Job Insecurity in Academic Research Employment: An Agent-Based Model, has been accepted to Alife XV in Cancun this summer.  I’m currently working on some revisions to the paper to account for some helpful suggestions from the reviewers — as soon as the final camera-ready preprint is available I’ll post it here and the usual places (ResearchGate,, etc.).

Hope to see some of you in sunny Mexico come July 🙂

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Paper Submitted To Alife XV

I’m happy to report that I’ve recently submitted a first paper on the postdoc simulation I’ve been plugging on these pages for some time.  I’ve been working in collaboration with Nic Geard of the University of Melbourne and Ian Wood, my officemate at Teesside.

The submitted paper is titled Job Insecurity in Academic Research Employment: An Agent-Based Model.  Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents an agent-based model of fixed-term academic employment in a competitive research funding environment.  The goal of the model is to investigate the effects of job insecurity on research productivity.  Agents may be either established academics who may apply for grants, or postdoctoral researchers who are unable to apply for grants and experience hardship when reaching the end of their fixed-term contracts.  Results show that in general adding fixed-term postdocs to the system produces less total research output than adding half as many permanent academics.  An in-depth sensitivity analysis is performed across postdoc scenarios, and indicates that promoting more postdocs into permanent positions produces significant increases in research output.

The paper outlines our methodology for the model and analyses a number of different sets of scenarios.  Alongside the comparison to permanent academic hires mentioned above, we also look closely at unique aspects of the postdoc life cycle, such as the difficult transition into permanent employment and the stress induced by an impending redundancy.  For the sensitivity analysis we used a Gaussian process emulator, which allows us to gain some insight into the effects of some key model parameters.

The paper will be under review for the Alife XV conference very shortly, so I don’t want to pre-empt the conference by posting the full text here.  If — fingers crossed — it gets accepted, I’ll post a PDF as soon as it’s appropriate.  If you want a preview or are interested in collaborating on future versions of the model, please get in touch!

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Rethinking UK Research Funding

This Wednesday I’ll be traveling to Manchester for a conference titled Rethinking UK Research Funding which is part of the University of Manchester’s Policy Week 2015.  The speakers include representatives from UCEA and Research Councils UK — I hope they are prepared for rather pointed questions from the academics in the room!  The University and College Union is also supporting the conference (Michael MacNeil will be there, for those of you familiar with the union’s names and faces).

Today the blog for the conference updated with a reading list which includes a number of interesting papers.  I wrote to the organisers with two additional citations from the ‘Simulating the Social Processes of Science’ angle, in the hopes that we might gain some more interested parties on the back of this:
Modelling Academic Research Funding as a Resource Allocation Problem

Innovation Suppression and Clique Evolution in Peer-Review-Based, Competitive Research Funding Systems: An Agent-Based Model

Update: The organisers have just written to say they will add these two papers to the website as well.

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Paper published in Revue Quetelet

Daniel Courgeau, Jakub Bijak, Robert Franck and myself have just had a paper published in Revue Quetelet entitled Are the four Baconian idols still alive in demography?  The full PDF of the paper is available for free at the link.

I very much enjoyed contributing to this paper; as a relative newcomer to the field of demography, it is not often that one gets to pontificate on the past and future of a 450-year-old discipline with much more senior researchers.  Abstract follows, in French and English:

Cet article examine les quatre sortes d’idoles qui selon le Novum Organon de Bacon (1620) affectent l’esprit humain. Il s’agit des idoles de la Tribu – qui résultent de la croyance «que le sens humain est la mesure des choses» ; des idoles de la caverne – qui sont propres à chacun de nous ; des idoles du forum – «qui prennent naissance dans le commerce et la communauté des hommes», et des idoles du théâtre – «introduites dans l’esprit par les divers systèmes des philosophes et les mauvaises méthodes de démonstration». Nous examinons si ces idoles sont toujours présentes dans les sciences sociales contemporaines, et examinons plusieurs exemples affectant la démographie – la génétique du comportement, la théorie postmoderne, l’héréditarisme et l’herméneutique moderne. L’analyse de ces exemples suggère fortement que la démographie doit rester fidèle à la méthode scientifique lorsqu’elle recourt à de nouvelles approches et inspirations.

In this paper, we examine the four Idols that beset human minds according to Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (1620). These are: Idols of the Tribe – false assertions resulting from the belief that «the sense of man is the measure of things»; Idols of the Cave – peculiar to the individual people; Idols of the Market Place – resulting from «the intercourse and association of men with each other», and Idols of the Theatre – stemming from «dogmas of philosophies and… wrong laws of demonstration». We aim to see if these Idols are still alive in contemporary population sciences, and look at several examples from the fringes of demography – behaviour genetics, postmodern theory, hereditarianism, and modern hermeneutics. The analysis of these examples strongly suggests that demography needs to remain faithful to the scientific method whilst looking for new insights and inspirations.

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Alife XIV Proceedings now published!

The conference proceedings for Alife XIV, which I will be attending in late July/early August in NYC, are now online and available for free download.  Do take a look and read some intriguing and inspiring papers to get you in the mood for the summer academic conference season.  Enjoy!

Thanks to Hiroki Sayama and MIT Press for making these proceedings open-access, as well.  I’m very happy to be part of a conference and a community that is so committed to making science free and open to all.

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Attending Alife 14 in New York

I’m pleased to say that another recent paper, this one titled Advancing Social Simulation: Lessons from Demography, has been accepted to the Alife 14 conference in New York.  I’ll be giving an oral presentation on this work, which was a joint project with Jakub Bijak, Daniel Courgeau and Robert Franck.  This is an early version of a rather complicated set of ideas that we hope to publish in a larger journal paper sometime down the line.

Abstract follows:

Previous work has proposed that computational modelling of social systems is composed of two primary streams of research: systems sociology, which is focused on the generation of social theory; and social simulation, which focuses on the study of real-world social systems. Here we argue that the social simulation stream stands to benefit from recent methodological and theoretical advances in demography. Demography has long been an empirically focused discipline focused primarily on mathematical modelling; however, agent-based simulation have proven influential of late as demographers seek to link individual-level behaviours to macro-level
patterns. Here we characterise this shift as a move toward system-based modelling, a paradigm in which the scientific object of interest is neither the individual nor the population, but rather the interactions between them. We first describe the four successive paradigms of demography: the period, cohort, event-history and multilevel perspectives. Then we examine how system-based modelling can assist demographers with several major challenges: overcoming complexity in social research; reducing uncertainty; and enhancing theoretical foundations. We propose that this new paradigm can enhance the broader study of populations via social simulation.

I’ll upload the full paper once the final corrected version is done and submitted.  The conference proceedings will be open-access in MIT Press.

Hope to see some of you in NYC!

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Article forthcoming in Revue Quetelet

As you may have seen in a previous post I was involved in two submissions to the recent Chaire Quetelet Seminar at the Université catholique de Louvain.  Our paper titled “Are the four Baconian Idols still alive in Demography?” has now been accepted to the Revue Quetelet journal after passing peer review, and should appear soon once we do some minor revisions.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the actual seminar at the time due to UK visa problems, but I heard from my colleagues that it was a very successful and stimulating event.  I should note that all three of my co-authors speak French, so I suspect the French-language portions of the seminar would have been much more difficult for me, but still I trust their feedback 🙂

I’m very pleased to be involved in such stimulating papers and to be publishing for the first time in a bilingual English/French journal!  Please do click the paper title to read our submitted version for now, and look forward to our revised version which will then appear in Revue Quetelet later this year.

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