Why model?

The first question that arises frequently--sometimes innocently and sometimes not--is simply, "Why model?" Imagining a rhetorical (non-innocent) inquisitor, my favorite retort is, "You are a modeler." Anyone who ventures a projection, or imagines how a social dynamic--an epidemic, war, or migration--would unfold is running some model.
But typically, it is an implicit model in which the assumptions are hidden, their internal consistency is untested, their logical consequences are unknown, and their relation to data is unknown. But, when you close your eyes and imagine an epidemic spreading, or any other social dynamic, you are running some model or other. It is just an implicit model that you haven't written down.

This being the case, I am always amused when these same people challenge me with the question, "Can you validate your model?" The appropriate retort, of course, is, "Can you validate yours?"  
The choice is not whether to build models; it's whether to build explicit ones. 

Here's more Joshua Epstein on modelling.

by datacharmer | Saturday, July 21, 2012
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