Thinking With Models

Scott Page at University of Michigan is offering a free graded course on ‘thinking with models.’

We live in a complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena. We see political uprisings, market crashes, and a never ending array of social trends. How do we make sense of it?

Models. Evidence shows that people who think with models consistently outperform those who don’t. And, moreover people who think with lots of models outperform people who use only one.

Why do models make us better thinkers?

Models help us to better organize information – to make sense of that fire hose or hairball of data (choose your metaphor) available on the Internet. Models improve our abilities to make accurate forecasts. They help us make better decisions and adopt more effective strategies. They even can improve our ability to design institutions and procedures.

In this class, I present a starter kit of models: I start with models of tipping points. I move on to cover models explain the wisdom of crowds, models that show why some countries are rich and some are poor, and models that help unpack the strategic decisions of firm and politicians.

Both political scientists with a broad interest in these topics, and members of the Plain Blogreading People of the Internets could benefit from this. Scott is one of the people pioneering the study of complex systems in the social sciences. My review of his book, The Difference is here, and I imagine that the course will be a lot of fun. There are a number of other courses (listed at the bottom of the page for Scott’s course) that also look very interesting, and that touch on growth areas for political science methodology – natural language processing, machine learning, and a nice looking applied game theory course with Matthew Jackson .

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