Friday, January 24, 2014

Explaining things with flow

This week our group’s first full paper on modelling socio-economic systems came out in PLoS One. The idea for this article came up when I saw Hans Rosling’s presentations of Gapminder. When you see how Rosling's bubbles representing countries float up from poverty and low life expectancy towards a better world you can’t help be inspired by the power of data.

Watching Rolsing’s videos, I also thought about fish movements! We have been using dynamical systems and Bayesian model selection to identify the models which best fit the rules of motion of fish. If we can think of countries as fish then we could use the same methods to find the rules of motion of countries in a socio-economic space, rather than a fish tank.

There turned out to be quite a lot of differences, as well as similarities, between fish and countries. But keeping this initial analogy in mind, Shyam Ranganathan and Viktoria Spaiser have developed a toolbox in R for finding the best set of differential equation models that describe socio-economic change. In the paper, we apply these methods to democracy and economic growth. You can see more about this in the video on the right. Not quite up to Rosling enthusiastic standard of simplifying things, but I hope it illustrates the idea behind the paper.

We are now applying this method to look at the demographic transition, the changes in cultural values across the world, as well as segregation in schools. Most of these projects are based at the Futures Institute in Stockholm. The idea in the paper is to present the tools, rather than make predictions. But we hope that future work will lead to useful insights in to how the world is changing and what we should do about it. 

Please contact us if you have data that you think can be analysed using this method. 

No comments:

Post a Comment