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Some Thoughts About Handling Empirical Data in the Social Sciences

I was recently asked to review some grant applications for several social science research projects of relevance to national security. The applications are interesting and I've enjoyed seeing the proposal process from a new perspective. However, I've noted a common theme regarding the handling of data that I think is intuitively problematic with respect to theory building given my own interest in epistemology and the robustness of any claims that can be made from our research. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Joseph Eash III

As my dissertation is reaching it's conclusion, I am working towards making more of its research accessible via the web. This post continues the series of interviews that I performed as part of that research on Agent-Based Modeling and intelligence analysis. In the interests of full-disclosure, Joe was my boss for more than three years (2001-2004) when I worked for him as a research associate in the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University. Under's Joe's and Desmond Saunders-Newton's mentoring, I was introduced to Agent-Based Modeling and complexity theory. I owe Joe a special debt professionally and intellectually and am proud to have benefited from his mentoring. This interview was conducted on September 6, 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

Kenneth Waltz, Iran and Nuclear Weapons

As I’ve been in the final months of completing my dissertation, I’ve had far less time to devote to the blog and topics that I’d like to spend more time thinking and writing about. While it is now beyond the news cycle, Kenneth Waltz’s recent essay in Foreign Affairs was quite interesting, but also misleading. At first glance, the policy prescriptive nature of the article was eye catching and challenging, and essentially continued his long-running debate with Scott Sagan and the rest of the international security studies community over the spread of nuclear weapons. The problem with Waltz’s argument, however, is less about his particular conclusions, than the broader problems of academic theory, models in general (both formal and informal), and their relevance to policy in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

Observations on Quantitative Modeling in Defense and Intelligence Analysis

Over the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to participate in a two conferences that focused on the role of formal modeling in intelligence and defense analysis. The preparation for these events kept me away from the blog, and I’m hoping to have a chance to write more as the majority of my time and attention return to my dissertation for the next several months. Read the rest of this entry »

Commemorating Desmond Saunders-Newton

Today, November 24th, marks the one year anniversary of the passing of Desmond Saunders-Newton, a dear friend and mentor who left this world far too soon. Dez, as he was known, possessed a unique combination of vision and ability to think big, and yet connect with people on the most human and personal of terms. He first introduced me to complexity theory, Agent-Based Modeling (ABM), and computation in general, creating the lens through which I see the international system through. I don’t fully know how to characterize my years of working with Dez, or the depth of the pain felt by his absence, but wanted to acknowledge his role in my life in some way on this Thanksgiving holiday. Read the rest of this entry »

Can International Relations Theories be Empirically Tested?

It’s been several weeks since my last posting examining. Over that time, I’ve been working towards the completion of a project that has taken a significant chunk of my time and forced me to think about the use of ABM in the study of international relations. In doing so, I’ve begun to explore the philosophy of science and the extent to which theories of international relations are really amenable to empirical testing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Use and Abuse of Models in International Security

Some days just appear to have a theme that constantly nags or colors everything that happens. It happens that yesterday was one of those days for me. I’m in the process of finishing up a project and I need to complete a book chapter on the validation of ABM based analysis for national security analysis. Importantly, the issue is less about the validation of the models themselves, and more concerned with whether or not analysts can use models for responsible inferences in support of decisionmaking. It also happened that the director of the Krasnow Institute where I work posted this on his own blog, and I came across this older piece in on the Wired website regarding some DARPA work that I’m familiar with. To add just a small piece more, a former government senior executive came to speak to my department yesterday about the challenges of ‘wicked problems’ in government, particularly in the design, development, and employment of new technologies and the difficulty of getting to work with the social structure of the government (building a new widget was rarely the difficult part). Read the rest of this entry »

IIASA Workshop on Systemic Risk

I've just participated in a two day workshop in Vienna hosted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) called Security in the age of Systemic Risk: Tactics and Options for Dealing with Femtorisks and Beyond. This intimidating title masked the openness and interdisciplinary character of the workshop, which brought together a variety of scholars and practitioners working in the areas of complexity science, risk analysis, decision sciences, mathematics, and international relations, continuing the conceptual and community development that started in 2008 at the Santa Fe Institute looking at complexity and international relations. Read the rest of this entry »

Philosophy of Science, Models, and Policy

I got into modeling and simulation after being trained in strategic studies and intelligence analysis. When I was first exposed to Agent-Based Modeling, I recognized it as an opportunity to extrapolate from the particular features of individual case studies, allow for the rerunning of history or make comparisons between alternative competing historical accounts. Read the rest of this entry »
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