Simulation and Modeling in the Social and Policy Sciences
Mills College, Fall 2013
Lecture Tu-Th 2:30-3:45PM AHR 2001 Lab : Th 4-6:00PM STR 14
Instructor: Dan Ryan | danryan at mills dot edu | @djjr | 510-430-3242 | Vera Long 105
Office Hours M, T, W by Appointment

*Quick Jumps:** Course Intro | Flowcharts | Decision Models | Difference Equations | Stock and Flow Models (system dynamics) | Markov Models | Sorting and Peer Effects | Aggregation | Cellular Automata | Tipping Models | Diffusion | Coordination and Cooperation | Biases | Path Dependence | Mechanism Design | The Wisdom of Crowds |



Extended Description



Academic Integrity



NOTE.  The schedule below indicates when I expect we will be reading/discussing the readings in the course text book.  Other recommended readings (and even the occasional required reading) may be added to the online syllabus from time to time (with plenty of notice and instructions on how to obtain the readings).  We may fall behind this schedule from time to time.  I will try to always mention what we are reading next at the end of each session.  In any case, though, it is the student's responsibility to (1) read/view things on time, and (2) keep abreast of where we are in the course schedule.


Week 0 Thursday August 29

Class: Course Introduction — What are models and why do we model?

  1. Instructor Notes
  2. Introduction to PPOL225
  3. Introduction to Coursera & Scott E. Page (SEP)
  4. Lecture 1.1: Why Model? (8:52)
  5. How to write up problem solutions

Lab Excel Skills

  1. Instructions
  2. Deliverable: TBA
  3. Excel skill list

After Thursday's classes:

  1. Get a Coursera account and sign up for Model Thinking.
  2. View the remaining lectures in Section 1 of Model Thinking,  (about 1 hour)
  3. Read ch. 2 "Types of Models" in Stokey and Zeckhauser*.
  4. Read The Model Thinker: Prologue, Introduction and Chapter 1
  5. Read Why Model? by Joshua Epstein
  6. (optional) Read pp. 11-43 of Schelling's Micromotives and Macrobehaviors.

DUE before 11 p.m. Sunday September 1



Flow Charts

Flow Chart Skills



  1. Ryan. Ryan on Flowcharts I
  2. HCI Consulting. An overview (optional)


  1. Univ Plymouth, UK. Flow Charts for Simple Tasks: Tutorial with exercises
  2. Univ Plymouth, UK. Flow Charts for Classification: Tutorial with exercises
  3. problems 71, 72, 73, 74, and 75 (in problem notebook)

IN Class

  1. Review of rules; Concept and utility; Deterministic models;
  2. Problems 76 and 83
  3. Instructor Notes



  1. Read Ryan on Stepwise Refinement
  2. Do problems 79 and 80.
  3. Read Flow charts with time and division of labor
  4. Do problem 87.

Before Lab

  1. Problems 88, 89, 90

IN Class

We will work on problems 76, 83, 85, 86, 87, and 91 during this class session.

IN Lab

DUE on module deadline

  1. Section Quiz Flowcharts
  1. Weekly Work Report

Tu 10-Sept to Th 19-Sept

Decision Models

Week 2 Tuesday September 10

BEFORE class

  1. Watch lecture 4.1, "Introduction to Decision Making," (5:37) for an overview of decision models
  2. Watch 4.2 "Multi-Criterion Decision Making" (8:18)
  3. Watch 4.3 "Spatial Choice Models" (11:08)
  4. (optional) Read multi-criterion decision models and the MCRI. (~28p)
  5. (optional) Read lightly: spatial preferences (~5p)
  6. Quiz on Page lectures
  1. Watch lecture 4.4, "Probability: The Basics" (10:06)
  2. Read the first 8 pages of Decision Theory with focus on section 1.2, pp 5-8 on expected value
  3. Read one hour into Stokey-Zeckhauser chapter 12 or at least to page 216 (DL)
  4. Refresher quiz on probability.
  5. If your probability skills feel like they need some work, consult online review/tutorial sites such as CIMT (Lancaster, UK): Basic Probability of One Event, Finding Outcomes With Two Experiments, Finding Probabilities Using Lists Of Outcomes, Multiplication Law For Independent Events

Class: Introduction to Decisions and Review of Probability
We will introduce decision trees, choice and chance nodes, and review probability and expected value. Note: class will begin with a very short probability diagnostic quiz.

After Class Preliminary Decisions Quiz

Week 2 Thursday September 12

Before Class

  1. Watch lecture 4.6, "Value of Information" (8:41)
  2. Re-read pp. 206-21, especially 219-221 in S&Z
  3. Problems 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101

Class: The Value of Information
Decisions under uncertainty with testing

Lab 4 Decision Trees
Excel skills: formatting, string formulas, conditional formatting, spinners, joining cells, borders

Week 3 Tuesday September 17


  1. Re-read all of the S&Z material on decision trees
  2. Re-read SEP material on decision trees as necessary.
  3. Be prepared to work on problems at end of SEP Decision Theory in class.

Class Decision Trees and Decision Strategies
Problems from Decision Theory

Quiz: Decision Trees So Far

Week 3 Thursday September 19


  1. Re-read S&Z pp. 216-219;
  2. Problems TBA (Look ahead at problems for class below)
  3. Re-read S&Z pp. 221-229
  4. Problems TBA (Look ahead at problems for class below)

Class: Risk Aversion, Tree Flipping, and Imperfect Tests

**Lab 3: Decision Trees II - Information and Tree Flipping

Decisions Quiz


Tuesday September 24 - Thursday October 3

Difference Equations, Stock and Flow, and Feedback

Week 4 Tuesday September 24


  1. If you are at all hesitant about using subscript notation, review it here.
  2. Read Stokey and Zeckhauser, at least pp. 47-58 ch. 4 "Difference Equations"
  3. Watch D Woodlock Introduction to Stock and Flow Diagrams
  4. Ryan pages: 1 Introduction and 2 Rates and Amounts

Class Introduction to Difference Equations

Thursday September 26

Read Stokey & Zeckhauser pp. 66-73 and attempt problem 136

Class: Difference Equations II

Lab 5: Difference Equations

Week 5 Tuesday October 1


  1. Ryan Lecturettes: 3 Equilibria
  2. Read S&Z pp. 66-73
  3. Look over the table of contents in Kirkwood, System Dynamics Methods: A Quick Introduction] (DL)
  4. Read Kirkwood, "System Behavior and Causal Loop Diagrams" (14pp) (DL)
  5. Read Kirkwood, "A Modeling Approach" (6 pp. in DL)

Class: Stock and Flow Models I

Week 5 Thursday October 3



**Class: Stock and Flow Models II]]

LAB 5: Stock and Flow Models

Quiz Difference Equations and Stock and Flow Models

Linear Programing and Optimization

Week 6 Tuesday October 8



Week 6 Thursday October 10





  • Instructions
  • Deliverable

Part II Families of Models

W 10-Oct to T 16-Oct

Markov Models

Week 7 Tuesday October 15

Week 7 Thursday October 17


Linear Programing Lab 2


  1. View lectures 10.1, "Markov Models" (4:26) and : 10.2, "A Simple Markov Model" (11:27).
  2. Read S&Z 98-102 and "Markov Processes" pp 69-71
  3. Problems 151, 157, 152, 154
  4. Preliminary practice problem 151, 157, 152, 154

Week 8 Tuesday October 22

Class Introduction to Markov Models


  1. View lectures 10.3, "Markov Model of Democratization," (8:21), 10.4, "Markov Convergence Theorem," (10:33), and 10.5, "Exapting the Markov Model," (10:11).
  2. Read S&Z 102-114 and "Markov Processes" pp 72-82
  3. Problems 153, 155, 156, 158
  4. Do Markov problems in MT QUIZ 4.

Week 8 Thursday October 24


LAB 6: Programing Markov Models

Section Quiz Markov Process Models

Actors, Others, and the Aggregation of Individual Decisions

"Measuring Segregation"


  1. SEP lectures 2.1 "Sorting and Peer Effects Introduction" and 2.2 "Schelling's Segregation Model".
  2. Then look at and play with the NetLogo model online. Be sure to read (lightly) the documentation on the model's webpage.
  3. Read either or both original chapter from Schelling's book and Page's notes on Schelling.
  4. Finally, watch video lecture 2.3 on measuring segregation.
  5. TBA
  6. Quick review Quiz

Class: Schelling Segregation Model

BEFORE Class and Lab

  1. View lecture 2.4 Peer Effects (6:57)
  2. Read Granovetter Model
  3. Read Schelling, Micromotives and Macrobehaviors, Chapter 3, pp. 83-133
  4. View lecture 2.5 The Standing Ovation Model (18:04)
  5. Read Miller and Page Model
  6. Problems 165, 164, 170, 171, 173, 174, 175
  7. Do Summary, overview, review questions.


  1. Peer Effects and Agent Models
  2. More problems

LAB 8 : Title

Sorting and Peer Models


Tipping Points, Diffusion, and Contagion

Week 9 Tuesday October 29

Read Tipping Points and Lamberson and Page: Tipping Points (READ INTRO ONLY)

  1. View lecture 7.1, "Tipping Points" (5:58)

Class Tipping Points

Week 9 Thursday October 31


  1. Read Diffusion and SIS
  2. View lecture 7.2: Percolation Models (11.48)
  3. View lecture 7.3A: Contagion Model 1-Diffusion (7:24)
  4. View lecture 7.3B: Contagion Model 1-SIS (9:12)


  1. View lecture 7.4, "Classifying Tipping Points" (8:26), and lecture 7.5, "Measuring Tips for Measuring Tips" (13:39)

Class: Diffusion and Contagion

Lab 9 Tipping, Diffusion, and Contagion

Section Quiz Tipping Point, Diffusion, and Contagion

Actors, Coordination, and Cooperation

Agent Models: Neighbors, Peers, Diffusion, Contagion

Week 10 November 5

Day 1

BEFORE Class we will assume you have viewed lectures on Schelling, Granovetter, and standing ovation model and read the associated materials.

IN CLASS we will develop a simple agent model in "pseudocode" and talk about the components of agent models in code.

HOMEWORK download NetLogo onto your work machine and work through tutorials 1, 2, and 3
Read Tipping Points and Lamberson and Page: Tipping Points (READ INTRO ONLY)

  1. Read Diffusion and SIS
Day 2

AT SOME POINT view lecture 7.1, "Tipping Points" (5:58), 7.2: "Percolation Models" (11.48), 7.3A: "Contagion Model 1-Diffusion" (7:24), 7.3B: Contagion Model 1-SIS (9:12), 7.4, "Classifying Tipping Points" (8:26), and 7.5, "Measuring Tips for Measuring Tips" (13:39)

IN CLASS we will do some on-paper coding exercises on these models.

IN LAB we will play with a few NetLogo models and build one. We'll use either that or a pre-built one to collect some simulation data. Write up will be a short assessment of that data.

Week 10 Tuesday November 5


  1. SEP Lecture 5.1: Thinking Electrons for Thinking Electrons: Modeling People (6:29)
  2. SEP Lecture 5.2: Rational Actor Models for Rational Actor Models (16:09)
  3. SEP Lecture 5.3: Behavioral Models for Behavioral Models (12:49)
  4. SEP Lecture 5.4: Rule Based Models for Rule Based Models (12:30)
  5. SEP Lecture 5.5: When Does Behavior Matter? (12:40)

**Class: Rationality, Rules, and Behavior

Week 10 Thursday November 7

**BEFORE Class and Lab

  1. SEP Lecture 12.1: Coordination and Culture (3:37)
  2. SEP Lecture 12.2: What is Culture and Why Do We Care? (15:43)
  3. SEP Lecture 12.3: Pure Coordination Game (13:48)
  4. SEP Lecture 12.4: Emergence of Culture (11:01)
  5. SEP Lecture 12.5: Coordination and Consistency (17:03)
  6. Coordination Games
  7. Bednar et al. 2010
  8. Axelrod Culture Model in Netlogo

Collective Action, Prisoners Dilemma, and the Commons


Start this section with the short introduction video (17.1) and then read the brief entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia and view lecture 17.2.

Complete this worksheet on prisoners' dilemma.

Read Nowak and Sigmund on cooperation and then view lecture 17.3.

  1. SEP Lecture 17.1: The Prisoners' Dilemma and Collective Action (3:44)
  2. SEP Lecture 17.2: The Prisoners' Dilemma Game (13:45)
  3. SEP Lecture The Prisoners' Dilemma in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. SEP Lecture 17.3: Seven Ways To Cooperation (15:20)

Read Nowak and Sigmund: "Five Ways to Cooperate"

  1. SEP Lecture 17.4: Collective Action and Common Pool Resource Problems (7:23)
  2. Read Ostrom: "Going Beyond Panaceas"
  3. SEP Lecture 17.5: No Panacea (6:03)


LAB 10

Section Quiz Coordination and Cooperation Models

Big Data and Visualization

Week 11 Tuesday November 12



Week 11 Thursday November 14

BEFORE Class and Lab


LAB 11

Week 12 Tuesday November 19



Week 12 Thursday November 21

BEFORE Class and Lab


LAB 12

Path Dependence and Mechanism Design

Week 13 Tuesday November 26

To Do.

  1. Start by viewing lectures 13.1 and 13.2 (about 25 minutes).
  2. Next, work through a few practice problems which we will review in class.
  3. Next read through SEP paper and view lectures 13.3 and 13.4 I(about 25 minutes).
  4. Follow this with lectures 13.5 and 13.6 (about 20 minutes).

Week 14 Tuesday December 3

To Do.

  1. View lectures 18.1 and 18.2. Work through these leading questions.
  2. Read (intensely or not, as appropriate for you) Maskin. View lecture 18.3 and review the slides.
  3. Finish up by viewing lecture 18.4 and working through these review questions.
  4. Quiz 8 on sections 17-18.

Week 14 Thursday December 5

Models and the Wisdom of Crowds

The final section of the Model Thinking course looks at how diversity contributes to "wise crowds" when making predictions. It starts by reviewing category models and linear models and how they can be used to make predictions and then introduces the Diversity Prediction Theorem. The course concludes with a lecture on the value of having lots of models.


Section 20: The Many Model Thinker: Diversity and Prediction]]

To Do.

  1. Listen to lectures 20.1 and 20.2 (about 7 minutes) and then read Page on the "diversity prediction theorem."
  2. Listen to lectures 20.3 and 20.4
  3. Work through these problems/questions.
  4. Do Quiz 9 but skip the material no chapter 19.

Thursday 5 December

Class: Review
Lab: Take-Away Skill Show

FINAL EXAM Mon Dec 16 2–5pm