Professor of Epidemiology
Joshua Epstein is Professor of Epidemiology in the NYU School of Global Public Health, and founding Director of the NYU Agent-Based Modeling Laboratory, with affiliated appointments at The Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the College of Arts & Sciences. Prior to joining NYU, he was Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and Director of the Center for Advanced Modeling in the Social, Behavior, and Health Sciences, with Joint appointments in Economics, Applied Mathematics, International Health, and Biostatistics. Before that, he was Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and Director of the Center on Social and Economic Dynamics. His research interest has been modeling complex social dynamics using mathematical and computational methods, notably the method of Agent-Based Modeling in which he is a recognized pioneer. For this transformative innovation, he was awarded the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award in 2008, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Amherst College in 2010, and was elected to the Society of Sigma XI in 2018. He has applied this method to the study of infectious diseases (e.g., Ebola, pandemic influenza, and smallpox), vector-borne diseases (e.g., zika), urban disaster preparedness, contagious violence, the evolution of norms, economic dynamics, computational archaeology, and the emergence of social classes, among many other topics. His books include Nonlinear Dynamics, Mathematical Biology, and Social Science (Wiley 1997), Generative Social Science: Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modeling (Princeton, 2006), Agent_Zero: Toward Neurocognitive Foundations for Generative Social Science (Princeton, 2013), and with Robert Axtell, Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up (MIT, 1996). Dr. Epstein earned his BA from Amherst College and his Ph.D. from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
BA, Independent Scholar with Thesis in Political Economy, Amherst College, Amherst, MAPhD, Political Science (Specialization: Security Studies, Communist Studies, and Economics), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Honorary Doctorate of Science, Amherst College (2010)Director’s Pioneer Award, National Institutes of Health (2008)Rockefeller Foundation International Relations Fellowship (1984)Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship (1983)Ford Foundation Dual Expertise Fellowship in Soviet/East European Area Studies and International Security/Arms Control (1981)Institute for the Study of World Politics Fellowship (1981)
Agent-Based ModelingApplied EconomicsCost AnalysisDisaster HealthEpidemiologyHealth EconomicsInfectious DiseasesMathematical and Computational ModelingModeling Social and Behavioral DynamicsNew York Department of Health and Mental HygienePublic Health SystemsUrban HealthUrban InformaticsUrban Science
Networked experiments and modeling for producing collective identity in a group of human subjects using an iterative abduction frameworkCedeno-Mieles, V., Hu, Z., Ren, Y., Deng, X., Adiga, A., Barrett, C., Contractor, N., Ekanayake, S., Epstein, J. M., Goode, B. J., Korkmaz, G., Kuhlman, C. J., Machi, D., Macy, M. W., Marathe, M. V., Ramakrishnan, N., Ravi, S. S., Saraf, P., & Self, N.
Journal titleSocial Network Analysis and Mining
Issue1AbstractGroup or collective identity is an individual’s cognitive, moral, and emotional connection with a broader community, category, practice, or institution. There are many different contexts in which collective identity operates, and a host of application domains where collective identity is important. Collective identity is studied across myriad academic disciplines. Consequently, there is interest in understanding the collective identity formation process. In laboratory and other settings, collective identity is fostered through priming a group of human subjects. However, there have been no works in developing agent-based models for simulating collective identity formation processes. Our focus is understanding a game that is designed to produce collective identity within a group. To study this process, we build an online game platform; perform and analyze controlled laboratory experiments involving teams; build, exercise, and evaluate network-based agent-based models; and form and evaluate hypotheses about collective identity. We conduct these steps in multiple abductive iterations of experiments and modeling to improve our understanding of collective identity as this looping process unfolds. Our work serves as an exemplar of using abductive looping in the social sciences. Findings on collective identity include the observation that increased team performance in the game, resulting in increased monetary earnings for all players, did not produce a measured increase in collective identity among them.
The Normative Underpinnings of Population-Level Alcohol Use: An Individual-Level Simulation ModelProbst, C., Vu, T. M., Epstein, J. M., Nielsen, A. E., Buckley, C., Brennan, A., Rehm, J., & Purshouse, R. C.
Journal titleHealth Education and Behavior
Page(s)224-234AbstractBackground. By defining what is “normal,” appropriate, expected, and unacceptable, social norms shape human behavior. However, the individual-level mechanisms through which social norms impact population-level trends in health-relevant behaviors are not well understood. Aims. To test the ability of social norms mechanisms to predict changes in population-level drinking patterns. Method. An individual-level model was developed to simulate dynamic normative mechanisms and behavioral rules underlying drinking behavior over time. The model encompassed descriptive and injunctive drinking norms and their impact on frequency and quantity of alcohol use. A microsynthesis initialized in 1979 was used as a demographically representative synthetic U.S. population. Three experiments were performed in order to test the modelled normative mechanisms. Results. Overall, the experiments showed limited influence of normative interventions on population-level alcohol use. An increase in the desire to drink led to the most meaningful changes in the population’s drinking behavior. The findings of the experiments underline the importance of autonomy, that is, the degree to which an individual is susceptible to normative influence. Conclusion. The model was able to predict theoretically plausible changes in drinking patterns at the population level through the impact of social mechanisms. Future applications of the model could be used to plan norms interventions pertaining to alcohol use as well as other health behaviors.
Nonlinear dynamics, mathematical biology, and social scienceEpstein, J. M.
Publication year2018AbstractThese lectures develop simple models of complex social processes using nonlinear dynamics and mathematical biology. Dynamical analogies between seemingly disparate social and biological phenomena, revolutions and epidemics, arms races, and ecosystem dynamics, are revealed and exploited. Nonlinear Dynamics, Mathematical Biology, and Social Science invites social scientists to relax, in some cases abandon, the predominant assumption of perfectly informed utility maximization and explore social dynamics from such perspectives as epidemiology and predator-prey theory. The volume includes a concentrated course on nonlinear dynamical systems.
Advancing Agent_ZeroEpstein, J., & Chelen, J. In A. Kirman & D. Sloan Wilson (Eds.), Complexity and Evolution: Toward a New Synthesis for Economics.
Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctivenessSmaldino, P. E., & Epstein, J. M.
Journal titleRoyal Society Open Science
Issue3AbstractWe demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity. We thus offer an unexpected generative mechanism for this central social phenomenon. Specifically, we establish that agents who have fixed needs to be distinct and adapt their positions to achieve distinctiveness goals, can nevertheless self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity. This seemingly paradoxical result is deduced formally from a small number of natural assumptions and is then explored at length computationally. Interesting departures from this conformity equilibrium are also possible, including divergence in positions. The effect of extremist minorities on these dynamics is discussed. A simple extension is then introduced, which allows the model to generate and maintain social diversity, including multimodal distinctiveness distributions. The paper contributes formal definitions, analytical deductions and counterintuitive findings to the literature on individual distinctiveness and social conformity.
Agent_Zero: Toward Neurocognitive Foundations for Generative Social ScienceEpstein, J. M.
Volume9781400848256AbstractThe Final Volume of the Groundbreaking Trilogy on Agent-Based Modeling. In this pioneering synthesis, Joshua Epstein introduces a new theoretical entity: Agent_Zero. This software individual, or "agent," is endowed with distinct emotional/affective, cognitive/deliberative, and social modules. Grounded in contemporary neuroscience, these internal components interact to generate observed, often far-from-rational, individual behavior. When multiple agents of this new type move and interact spatially, they collectively generate an astonishing range of dynamics spanning the fields of social conflict, psychology, public health, law, network science, and economics. Epstein weaves a computational tapestry with threads from Plato, Hume, Darwin, Pavlov, Smith, Tolstoy, Marx, James, and Dostoevsky, among others. This transformative synthesis of social philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, and agent-based modeling will fascinate scholars and students of every stripe. Epstein's computer programs are provided in the book or on its Princeton University Press website, along with movies of his "computational parables." Agent_Zero is a signal departure in what it includes (e.g., a new synthesis of neurally grounded internal modules), what it eschews (e.g., standard behavioral imitation), the phenomena it generates (from genocide to financial panic), and the modeling arsenal it offers the scientific community. For generative social science, Agent_Zero presents a groundbreaking vision and the tools to realize it.
Modeling the regional spread and control of vancomycin-resistant enterococciLee, B. Y., Yilmaz, S. L., Wong, K. F., Bartsch, S. M., Eubank, S., Song, Y., Avery, T. R., Christie, R., Brown, S. T., Epstein, J. M., Parker, J. I., & Huang, S. S.
Journal titleAmerican Journal of Infection Control
Page(s)668-673AbstractBackground: Because patients can remain colonized with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) for long periods of time, VRE may spread from one health care facility to another. Methods: Using the Regional Healthcare Ecosystem Analyst, an agent-based model of patient flow among all Orange County, California, hospitals and communities, we quantified the degree and speed at which changes in VRE colonization prevalence in a hospital may affect prevalence in other Orange County hospitals. Results: A sustained 10% increase in VRE colonization prevalence in any 1 hospital caused a 2.8% (none to 62%) average relative increase in VRE prevalence in all other hospitals. Effects took from 1.5 to >10 years to fully manifest. Larger hospitals tended to have greater affect on other hospitals. Conclusions: When monitoring and controlling VRE, decision makers may want to account for regional effects. Knowing a hospital's connections with other health care facilities via patient sharing can help determine which hospitals to include in a surveillance or control program.
Agent-based computational models and generative social scienceEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.
Coordination in transient social networksAxtell, R. L., & Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational model of the timing of retirement.
Generative social science: Studies in agent-based computational modelingEpstein, J. M. (2nd ed.).
Publication year2012AbstractAgent-based computational modeling is changing the face of social science. In Generative Social Science, Joshua Epstein argues that this powerful, novel technique permits the social sciences to meet a fundamentally new standard of explanation, in which one "grows" the phenomenon of interest in an artificial society of interacting agents: heterogeneous, boundedly rational actors, represented as mathematical or software objects. After elaborating this notion of generative explanation in a pair of overarching foundational chapters, Epstein illustrates it with examples chosen from such far-flung fields as archaeology, civil conflict, the evolution of norms, epidemiology, retirement economics, spatial games, and organizational adaptation. In elegant chapter preludes, he explains how these widely diverse modeling studies support his sweeping case for generative explanation. This book represents a powerful consolidation of Epstein's interdisciplinary research activities in the decade since the publication of his and Robert Axtell's landmark volume, Growing Artificial Societies. Beautifully illustrated, Generative Social Science includes a CD that contains animated movies of core model runs, and programs allowing users to easily change assumptions and explore models, making it an invaluable text for courses in modeling at all levels.
Growing adaptive organizationsEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational approach.
Learning to be thoughtlessEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: Social norms and individual computation.
Modeling civil violenceEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational approach.
Non-explanatory equilibriaEpstein, J. M., & Hammond, R. A. In Generative Social Science: An extremely simple game with (mostly) unattainable fixed points.
Population growth and collapse in a multiagent model of the kayenta anasazi in long house valleyAxtell, R. L., Epstein, J. M., Dean, J. S., Gumerman, G. J., Swedlund, A. C., Harburger, J., Chakravarty, S., Hammond, R., Parker, J., & Parker, M. In Generative Social Science.
Remarks on the foundations of agent-based generative social scienceEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.
The emergence of classes in a multi-agent bargaining modelAxtell, R. L., Epstein, J. M., & Young, H. P. In Generative Social Science.
The evolution of social behavior in the prehistoric American southwestGumerman, G. J., Swedlund, A. C., Dean, J. S., & Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.
Toward a containment strategy for smallpox bioterrorEpstein, J. M., Cummings, D. A., Chakravarty, S., Singha, R. M., & Burke, D. S. In Generative Social Science: An individual-based computational approach.
Understanding anasazi culture change through agent-based modelingDean, J. S., Gumerman, G. J., Epstein, J. M., Axtell, R. I., Swedlund, A. C., Parker, M. T., & Mccarroll, S. In Generative Social Science.
Zones of cooperation in demographic prisoner's dilemmaEpstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.
A distributed platform for global-scale agent-based models of disease transmissionParker, J., & Epstein, J. M.
Journal titleACM Transactions on Modeling and Computer Simulation
Issue1AbstractThe Global-Scale Agent Model (GSAM) is presented. The GSAM is a high-performance distributed platform for agent-based epidemic modeling capable of simulating a disease outbreak in a population of several billion agents. It is unprecedented in its scale, its speed, and its use of Java. Solutions to multiple challenges inherent in distributing massive agent-based models are presented. Communication, synchronization, and memory usage are among the topics covered in detail. The memory usage discussion is Java specific. However, the communication and synchronization discussions apply broadly. We provide benchmarks illustrating the GSAM's speed and scalability.
Combining computational fluid dynamics and agent-based modeling: A new approach to evacuation planningEpstein, J. M., Pankajakshan, R., & Hammond, R. A.
Journal titlePloS one
Issue5AbstractWe introduce a novel hybrid of two fields-Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Agent-Based Modeling (ABM)-as a powerful new technique for urban evacuation planning. CFD is a predominant technique for modeling airborne transport of contaminants, while ABM is a powerful approach for modeling social dynamics in populations of adaptive individuals. The hybrid CFD-ABM method is capable of simulating how large, spatially-distributed populations might respond to a physically realistic contaminant plume. We demonstrate the overall feasibility of CFD-ABM evacuation design, using the case of a hypothetical aerosol release in Los Angeles to explore potential effectiveness of various policy regimes. We conclude by arguing that this new approach can be powerfully applied to arbitrary population centers, offering an unprecedented preparedness and catastrophic event response tool.
Modeling the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) outbreaks throughout the hospitals in Orange County, CaliforniaLee, B. Y., McGlone, S. M., Wong, K. F., Yilmaz, S. L., Avery, T. R., Song, Y., Christie, R., Eubank, S., Brown, S. T., Epstein, J. M., Parker, J. I., Burke, D. S., Platt, R., & Huang, S. S.
Journal titleInfection Control and Hospital Epidemiology
Page(s)562-572AbstractBackground. Since hospitals in a region often share patients, an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection in one hospital could affect other hospitals. methods. Using extensive data collected from Orange County (OC), California, we developed a detailed agent-based model to represent patient movement among all OC hospitals. Experiments simulated MRSA outbreaks in various wards, institutions, and regions. Sensitivity analysis varied lengths of stay, intraward transmission coefficients (β), MRSA loss rate, probability of patient transfer or readmission, and time to readmission. results. Each simulated outbreak eventually affected all of the hospitals in the network, with effects depending on the outbreak size and location. Increasing MRSA prevalence at a single hospital (from 5% to 15%) resulted in a 2.9% average increase in relative prevalence at all other hospitals (ranging from no effect to 46.4%). Single-hospital intensive care unit outbreaks (modeled increase from 5% to 15%) caused a 1.4% average relative increase in all other OC hospitals (ranging from no effect to 12.7%). conclusion. MRSA outbreaks may rarely be confined to a single hospital but instead may affect all of the hospitals in a region. This suggests that prevention and control strategies and policies should account for the interconnectedness of health care facilities.
Economic cost and health care workforce effects of school closures in the U.SLempel, H., Epstein, J. M., & Hammond, R. A.
Journal titlePLoS CurrentsAbstractSchool closure is an important component of U.S. pandemic flu mitigation strategy, but has important costs. We give estimates of both the direct economic and health care impacts for school closure durations of 2, 4, 6, and 12 weeks under a range of assumptions. We find that closing all schools in the U.S. for four weeks could cost between $10 and $47 billion dollars (0.1-0.3% of GDP) and lead to a reduction of 6% to 19% in key health care personnel.