Modeling in Economic and Social Sciences


When is it the right time to bluff in poker and diplomacy? Why do stock markets crash? How should the delivery of global healthcare be managed? And why do people have the values and beliefs that they do? All of these phenomena depend on models for the way that humans make decisions. This cluster, with faculty from economics, anthropology, sociology, and statistics, will teach students how to build and test models in the social sciences.

As part of their applied courses, students will be asked to work in small groups and complete an original research project. Students will have access to computer labs and other pertinent research facilities. The goal is to insure that students in this cluster achieve the technical toolkit and analytic perspective that will enable success at Duke and in life.

Cluster Prereq: MATH 21 (Introduction to Calculus I) or the equivalent. (Normally obtained through AP or IB course work. Please contact the FOCUS office with questions)  


Statistics 110FS — An Introduction to Statistical Modeling (QS)


David Banks, Professor of the Practice, Department of Statistical Science

In this course, students will learn about statistical modeling, with primary emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. Topics vary, but we often cover statistical genetics, agent-based modeling, Shannon's theory of communication, game theory, and mathematical models for epidemics. After completing this course, students will be able to design and analyze basic statistical studies, to understand and criticize statistical methods in journals and the media, and to appreciate the power and utility of statistical thinking. Examples and methods are drawn primarily from the behavioral, natural, and social sciences and public policy.

Political Science 189FS/DECSCI 189FS - Introduction to Machine Learning and Computational Models in the Social Sciences (SS, R)

de Marchi

Scott de Marchi, Professor of Political Science

Our goal as social scientists is to build models of the world and provide advice to policy makers. Given that human actors are often strategic and the games they play are complex, building and testing these models is difficult and distinct from common examples of machine learning. A task that is often used to motivate introductions to machine learning is teaching a model to recognize hand-written characters using MNIST data ( Our task is harder: we must build models that involve forecasting human behavior ranging from votes in a legislature to changes in stock prices. Given the complexity of these sorts of problems, we will cover both human decision-making and machine learning in this course. The hope is that our machine learning models will be better when they are informed by theoretical models of behavior.

Economics 190FS - Introduction to Game Theory (SS)

Genna R. Miller, Lecturing Fellow, Economics 

The interactions of human beings with other individuals, within groups, and with the earth lead us to ponder many questions concerning the ways in which people coordinate and structure their actions.  It is to these questions that we turn, in trying to understand the strategic decisions that people make on a daily basis.  Will it make a difference if I throw my candy wrapper in the street instead of waiting to find a trash can?  How much should I pay for a used car?  How will our family decide who cooks dinner?   Is it feasible for a firm to enter the market for a new product?  Under what conditions would a union go on strike during labor contract negotiations?   

In this course students learn the basic tools of game theory in order to analyze these various economic and social situations.  Topics explored include the prisoner's dilemma, public and environmental economics, social inequalities, and contracts.

Economics 113FS - Thinking Through Models (SS, STS)


Jason Brent, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Fuqua School of Business

Models of agents, behaviors, mechanisms and markets are essential to the way economists think about and describe the world. This course examines several of the models that have been most crucial to the development of economic thought from the early nineteenth century through to the present. Students will learn to understand how economists have used models as tools of inquiry and prediction, assess the functional elements of these models and consider how accurately they map on to the empirical phenomena they describe.