Tag Archives: philosophy

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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Paper forthcoming in Demographic Research (again!)

Yes, we have another paper coming soon, this one with a rather methodological/philosophical bent, called Quantifying Paradigm Change in Demography.  This was a collaborative piece of work with eminent French demographer Daniel Courgeau and philosopher of science Robert Franck (check out their 2007 book) focused on the development of a new research paradigm in the field of demography.

Demography is a field with a long history, dating back to the 17th century.  In those 350 years, we have seen the field progress through a series of paradigmatic shifts, from early efforts in period analysis through to more modern efforts in multilevel modelling and microsimulation.  Most recently, we have seen a great deal of interest in agent-based simulation techniques, which many hope will allow demography to uncover the ‘micro-macro link’ — the processes by which individual behaviours produce higher-level social complexity.

In this paper we analyse the demographic literature to delineate when these changes occurred and uncover how the field itself has evolved in response to new challenges.  This started as a side-project within an ongoing research effort, intended for Population and Development Review, and blossomed into a separate piece of research.

This paper was accepted shortly before Christmas, and just a few days ago we submitted the final version, which will be edited and published in late February/early March.

Next the four of us will be submitting both that paper for PDR and a short paper for the upcoming agent-based modelling workshop in Leuven in September.

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Basic minds without content

I just heard about an interesting new book on the horizon from Daniel Hutto and Erik Myin called Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds Without Content.  The preface is downloadable, and the authors got my attention pretty early on with this paragraph:

“This raises the worry that the whole enactive and embodied turn in cognitive science is backed by little or nothing more an unreasoned attachment to certain attractive, but ultimately empty, pictures and slogans. For this reason, Prinz (2009) is right to proclaim that – at least in one sense – enactive and embodied approaches may be easier to “sell than to prove” (p. 419).

We aim to supply the philosophical clarifications and strong support that has been sorely missing.”

The criticisms mentioned in the preface line up fairly precisely with my own, so I’m quite interested to see what they come up with to address these issues.  I can also admit to a certain morbid curiousity about how enactivism can be pushed even farther.

I do find myself wondering where the endpoint will be, however.  So far we’ve dismissed qualia, now apparently mental content of any sort is gone, so what’s next?  Will we slide all the way back to behaviourism, then Chomsky will write another devastating critique of it like back in 1967, and then we’ll go round the whole cycle again?

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