Joshua Epstein

Joshua M. Epstein
Joshua Epstein

Professor of Epidemiology

Professional overview

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.

Education

BA, Independent Scholar with Thesis in Political Economy, Amherst College, Amherst, MA
PhD, Political Science (Specialization: Security Studies, Communist Studies, and Economics), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Honors and awards

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)

Areas of research and study

Agent-Based Modeling
Applied Economics
Cost Analysis
Disaster Health
Epidemiology
Health Economics
Infectious Diseases
Mathematical and Computational Modeling
Modeling Social and Behavioral Dynamics
New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Public Health Systems
Urban Health
Urban Informatics
Urban Science

Publications

Publications

A review and agenda for integrated disease models including social and behavioural factors

Bedson, J., Skrip, L. A., Pedi, D., Abramowitz, S., Carter, S., Jalloh, M. F., Funk, S., Gobat, N., Giles-Vernick, T., Chowell, G., De Almeida, J. R., Elessawi, R., Scarpino, S. V., Hammond, R. A., Briand, S., Epstein, J. M., Hébert-Dufresne, L., & Althouse, B. M.

Publication year

2021

Journal title

Nature human behaviour

Volume

5

Issue

7

Page(s)

834-846
Abstract
Abstract
Social and behavioural factors are critical to the emergence, spread and containment of human disease, and are key determinants of the course, duration and outcomes of disease outbreaks. Recent epidemics of Ebola in West Africa and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) globally have reinforced the importance of developing infectious disease models that better integrate social and behavioural dynamics and theories. Meanwhile, the growth in capacity, coordination and prioritization of social science research and of risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) practice within the current pandemic response provides an opportunity for collaboration among epidemiological modellers, social scientists and RCCE practitioners towards a mutually beneficial research and practice agenda. Here, we provide a review of the current modelling methodologies and describe the challenges and opportunities for integrating them with social science research and RCCE practice. Finally, we set out an agenda for advancing transdisciplinary collaboration for integrated disease modelling and for more robust policy and practice for reducing disease transmission.

Triple contagion: A two-fears epidemic model

Epstein, J. M., Hatna, E., & Crodelle, J.

Publication year

2021

Journal title

Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Volume

18

Issue

181
Abstract
Abstract
We present a differential equations model in which contagious disease transmission is affected by contagious fear of the disease and contagious fear of the control, in this case vaccine. The three contagions are coupled. The two fears evolve and interact in ways that shape distancing behaviour, vaccine uptake, and their relaxation. These behavioural dynamics in turn can amplify or suppress disease transmission, which feeds back to affect behaviour. The model reveals several coupled contagion mechanisms for multiple epidemic waves. Methodologically, the paper advances infectious disease modelling by including human behavioural adaptation, drawing on the neuroscience of fear learning, extinction and transmission.

Data analysis and modeling pipelines for controlled networked social science experiments

Cedeno-Mieles, V., Hu, Z., Ren, Y., Deng, X., Contractor, N., Ekanayake, S., Epstein, J. M., Goode, B. J., Korkmaz, G., Kuhlman, C. J., Machi, D., Macy, M., Marathe, M. V., Ramakrishnan, N., Saraf, P., & Self, N.

Publication year

2020

Journal title

PloS one

Volume

15

Issue

11
Abstract
Abstract
There is large interest in networked social science experiments for understanding human behavior at-scale. Significant effort is required to perform data analytics on experimental outputs and for computational modeling of custom experiments. Moreover, experiments and modeling are often performed in a cycle, enabling iterative experimental refinement and data modeling to uncover interesting insights and to generate/refute hypotheses about social behaviors. The current practice for social analysts is to develop tailor-made computer programs and analytical scripts for experiments and modeling. This often leads to inefficiencies and duplication of effort. In this work, we propose a pipeline framework to take a significant step towards overcoming these challenges. Our contribution is to describe the design and implementation of a software system to automate many of the steps involved in analyzing social science experimental data, building models to capture the behavior of human subjects, and providing data to test hypotheses. The proposed pipeline framework consists of formal models, formal algorithms, and theoretical models as the basis for the design and implementation. We propose a formal data model, such that if an experiment can be described in terms of this model, then our pipeline software can be used to analyze data efficiently. The merits of the proposed pipeline framework is elaborated by several case studies of networked social science experiments.

Networked experiments and modeling for producing collective identity in a group of human subjects using an iterative abduction framework

Cedeno-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.

Publication year

2020

Journal title

Social Network Analysis and Mining

Volume

10

Issue

1
Abstract
Abstract
Group 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 Model

Probst, C., Vu, T. M., Epstein, J. M., Nielsen, A. E., Buckley, C., Brennan, A., Rehm, J., & Purshouse, R. C.

Publication year

2020

Journal title

Health Education and Behavior

Volume

47

Issue

2

Page(s)

224-234
Abstract
Abstract
Background. 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.

Panel discussion

O’Mahony, A., Davis, P. K., Appling, S., Brashears, M. E., Briscoe, E., Carley, K. M., Epstein, J. M., Matthews, L. J., Pavlic, T. P., Rand, W., Reilly, S. N., Rouse, W. B., Swarup, S., Tolk, A., Vardavas, R., & Yilmaz, L. In Social-Behavioral Modeling for Complex Systems: Moving social-behavioral modeling forward.

Publication year

2019

Page(s)

753-787
Abstract
Abstract
Contributors offered suggestions to improve multi-scale modeling that focused mainly on getting model substance right. This chapter is an edited but not iterated recounting of responses to questions that deal with simulation and emergence, how to relate models at different levels of resolution, and how to assure more humanness in agents. Contributors differed on whether simulations can generate true emergence but differed also on what true means. In simulating human behavior, multi-scale investigations are often necessary because, e.g. not enough empirical data is available to establish the true causal relationships at a single level. In many cases social-behavioral problems are complex and volatile and the environmental volatility is such that by the time the training sets are developed they are no longer useful and that it is unlikely that all information can be known and processed - at least in the time available.

Nonlinear dynamics, mathematical biology, and social science

Epstein, J. M.

Publication year

2018
Abstract
Abstract
These 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_Zero

Epstein, J., & Chelen, J. In A. Kirman & D. Sloan Wilson (Eds.), Complexity and Evolution: Toward a New Synthesis for Economics.

Publication year

2016

Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness

Smaldino, P. E., & Epstein, J. M.

Publication year

2015

Journal title

Royal Society Open Science

Volume

2

Issue

3
Abstract
Abstract
We 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 Science

Epstein, J. M.

Publication year

2014

Volume

9781400848256
Abstract
Abstract
The 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 enterococci

Lee, 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.

Publication year

2013

Journal title

American Journal of Infection Control

Volume

41

Issue

8

Page(s)

668-673
Abstract
Abstract
Background: 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 science

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

4-46

Coordination in transient social networks

Axtell, R. L., & Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational model of the timing of retirement.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

146-174

Generative social science: Studies in agent-based computational modeling

Epstein, J. M. (2nd ed.).

Publication year

2012
Abstract
Abstract
Agent-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 organizations

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational approach.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

309-344

Learning to be thoughtless

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: Social norms and individual computation.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

228-244

Modeling civil violence

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science: An agent-based computational approach.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

247-270

Non-explanatory equilibria

Epstein, J. M., & Hammond, R. A. In Generative Social Science: An extremely simple game with (mostly) unattainable fixed points.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

75-85

Population growth and collapse in a multiagent model of the kayenta anasazi in long house valley

Axtell, 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.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

117-129

Remarks on the foundations of agent-based generative social science

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

50-71

The emergence of classes in a multi-agent bargaining model

Axtell, R. L., Epstein, J. M., & Young, H. P. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

177-195

The evolution of social behavior in the prehistoric American southwest

Gumerman, G. J., Swedlund, A. C., Dean, J. S., & Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

130-143

Toward a containment strategy for smallpox bioterror

Epstein, J. M., Cummings, D. A., Chakravarty, S., Singha, R. M., & Burke, D. S. In Generative Social Science: An individual-based computational approach.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

277-306

Understanding anasazi culture change through agent-based modeling

Dean, J. S., Gumerman, G. J., Epstein, J. M., Axtell, R. I., Swedlund, A. C., Parker, M. T., & Mccarroll, S. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

90-116

Zones of cooperation in demographic prisoner's dilemma

Epstein, J. M. In Generative Social Science.

Publication year

2012

Page(s)

199-221

Contact

je65@nyu.edu 708 Broadway 7FL New York, NY, 10003