Home > Uncategorized > Non-Equilibrium Social Science (a new EU network project)

Non-Equilibrium Social Science (a new EU network project)

from Bruce Edmonds

An EU Coordinated action project called “Non-Equilibrium Social Science” (NESS) has now started.

The aim of NESS is to ensure that the social sciences are put on a proper footing for the 21st century. A key focus of the group is economics, where the equilibrium approach (though dominant) struggles to capture the economic realities we observe in the world today. But we are interested in all the social sciences.

Modern computer techniques have made possible both the integration of larger information sets and the exploration of disequilibrium behaviour. However, we are still in the infancy of making the best use of simulation and multidisciplinary analysis. Too often vested interests get in the way of real advance. We aim to establish a network of leading scholars and practitioners from all social science disciplines to apply and focus these advances to make real progress in understanding complex social and economic systems.

Activities include: a monthly newsletter, a website, and a series of workshops for project members.

The NESS website is at:

If you want to receive their monthly newsletter (also available from the website) go to:

If you want to join as a member, or just contact them their email is:

  1. February 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Without a good model, using concepts that correspond as closely as possible, no computer model can represent reality.

    This is particularly true in economics where, in the words of the Cambridge Professor Wynne Godley, there are no agreed definitions and no settled body of theory.

    A major failing with all current economic theory is the lack of a firm definition of “capital”, which can include money, credit, buildings, plant and machinery, and land. This is a hopeless basis for developing a mathematical model.

    • bruceedmonds
      February 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      A good model uses concepts that correspond as directly as possible to what is observed, what is known to occur (inlcuding at the micro-level). In my view, macroeconomic modelling is infeasible due to the complication and complexity of what lies beneath. Attempts which hope to capture things like capital etc. within variables (or sets of variables) and hope to “elide” the messiness of real economics as “noise” are hopeless. One lesson of the present crisis is that the messy details matter, yet still the debate is conducted using global “factors” like money supply, capital, growth etc. as if one could fix a complicated broken engine just using the accelerator and brake controls.

      On the other hand, I do think that small scale computer models based on “mundane” and specific theory (e.g. a certain class of consumer contiues buying a product until something forces them to rethink, like a cash shortage) are feasible. These would be based (at the micro-level) on narrative and qualitative observations of behaviour, but can be tested (once the model is built) againts numerical data (Moss & Edmonds 2005). Much later in such models we may be able to, *post hoc*, look in and identify and label complexes of phenomena which make sense to interpret as “capital” etc.

      Moss, S. and Edmonds, B. (2005) Sociology and Simulation: – Statistical and Qualitative Cross-Validation, American Journal of Sociology, 110(4):1095-1131.

  2. Peter Radford
    February 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm


    It seems to me that this effort is highly compatible with that of the World Economics Association. Hopefully there will be opportunities for cooperation in the future. A conference perhaps? Our agenda is very full right now, but our members are both many and very energetic. This is a topic that would surely grab their attention.

    It is time for economics to discover the world beyond equilibrium

    • bruceedmonds
      February 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Yes, indeed. This project has specific EU funding, but already includes many members who are in the World Economics Association. NESS is open to new applications and would, I suspect (I am not an organiser of NESS just a member) be very open to collaborations.

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