Verification and Validation Course

Now that data science (or as some call AI) has become very popular and modeling and simulation is getting a lot of attention (see companies like HASH), it is the right time to think about how to make these technologies even more rigorous and avoid potential misuses that have been surfacing lately. Verification and validation (V&V) is perhaps one of the first methodological practices when it comes to developing data science or simulation models. Verification usually refers to checking the correctness of the code, while validation refers to checking the correspondence between model results and expected results. These loose definitions are not sufficient, and, based on my anecdotal experience, the V&V process is often overlooked or blindly conducted. As a researcher who contributes to both data science and modeling and simulation, I find it very critical to discuss potential challenges and pitfalls of such models with the new generation researchers. Therefore, I am offering a new graduate-level class called Verification and Validation of Models this Fall to discuss such issues. The course is cross-listed in the Computational Science and Informatics (CSI) and the Computational Social Science (CSS) programs at GMU. Check out course description below:

Verification and Validation of Models (CSI 709/CSS 739)

Semesters offered: Fall 2020 (Online)

Computational models come in different forms ranging from machine learning models that predict/classify patterns to agent-based models that investigate emergent phenomena from a bottom-up perspective. Regardless of their form, all computational models should go through the Verification and Validation (V&V) process, which checks the correctness of the model design and performance. The proliferation of high-level frameworks and tools make it possible to bypass or overlook such steps. This graduate-level course aims to teach and improve V&V practices, which is considered as an essential methodological step in model development. Some of the topics include terminology and history of V&V, statistics for V&V, verification techniques, validation techniques, validation of data-driven models, and validation in the absence of data, among many others. Students will further their knowledge with writing assignments and a term project.

Simulation Screenshot Simulation Screenshot2

Large location-based social network (LSBN) data sets are indispensable to study complex human phenomena that involve both physical mobility and social interactions. Unfortunately, such large data sets are rare for researchers because businesses that collect such data use them to improve their operations and make a profit. In this recent SIGSPATIAL Special article, we presented our LBSN simulation framework that generates synthetic LSBN data and used it for prescriptive analytics of disease spread. Our simulation framework implements a socially plausible agent-based model to make the dataset realistic. We referenced both our synthetic data generator and related disease spread model in the paper. You can take a look at the abstract and access the paper freely using the reference below.


Human mobility and social networks have received considerable attention from researchers in recent years. What has been sorely missing is a comprehensive data set that not only addresses geometric movement patterns derived from trajectories, but also provides social networks and causal links as to why movement happens in the first place. To some extent, this challenge is addressed by studying location-based social networks (LBSNs). However, the scope of real-world LBSN data sets is constrained by privacy concerns, a lack of authoritative ground-truth, their sparsity, and small size. To overcome these issues we have infused a novel geographically explicit agent-based simulation framework to simulate human behavior and to create synthetic but realistic LBSN data based on human patterns-of-life (i.e., a geo-social simulation). Such data not only captures the location of users over time, but also their motivation, and interactions via temporal social networks. We have open sourced our framework and released a set of large data sets for the SIGSPATIAL community. In order to showcase the versatility of our simulation framework, we added disease a model that simulates an outbreak and allows us to test different policy measures such as implementing mandatory mask use and various social distancing measures. The produced data sets are massive and allow us to capture 100% of the (simulated) population over time without any data uncertainty, privacy-related concerns, or incompleteness. It allows researchers to see the (simulated) world through the lens of an omniscient entity having perfect data.


Location-Based Social Simulation for Prescriptive Analytics of Disease Spread
J-S Kim, H. Kavak, C.O. Rouly, H. Jin, A. Crooks, D. Pfoser, C. Wenk, and A. Züfle SIGSPATIAL Special, Volume 12 Issue 1, doi:10.1145/3292390.3292397

Learning Curve

Every semester in my introductory class, I have new students who are interested in learning about modeling and simulation. One idea that struck me and my colleagues at VMASC was understanding the learning progress of these learners without bothering them with tests or labor-intensive assessments. We have our new paper presented at the 2020 Spring Simulation Conference that tackled this very challenge from an empirical perspective. Check out the presentation video, take a look at the abstract, or access our paper below. Let me know if you have any feedback.

Watch the presentation video on YouTube:


This paper presents our novel efforts on automatically capturing and analyzing user data from a discrete-event simulation environment. We collected action data such as adding/removing blocks and running a model that enable creating calculated data fields and examining their relations across expertise groups. We found that beginner-level users use more blocks/edges and make more build errors compared to intermediate-level users. When examining the users with higher expertise, we note differences related to time spent in the tool, which could be linked to user engagement. The model running failure of beginner-level users may suggest a trial and error approach to building a model rather than an established process. Our study opens a critical line of inquiry focused on user engagement instead of process establishment, which is the current focus in the community. In addition to these findings, we report other potential uses of such user action data and lessons learned.


Modeling the Modeler: an Empirical Study on How Modelers Learn to Create Simulations
H. Kavak, J.J. Padilla, S.Y. Diallo and A. Barraco
The 2020 Spring Simulation Conference, Virtual, May 18-21, 2020


With simulations constantly receiving attention to support decisions and develop strategies in response to events such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people frequently ask how they can be expected to trust findings obtained from a simulation. Many factors play into the question of credibility including model assumptions, the use of data, calibration, to name a few. Many people don’t generally know how a simulation is expected to work, i.e. characteristics of COVID-19 spreads, or how to properly interpret the outcomes. To address such concerns, simulation modelers refer to the verification and validation (V&V) of models.

To explore the first V of V&V, my collaborators at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center and myself have published a PLOS ONE article that presents our exploratory content analysis using over 4,000 simulation papers published from 1963-2015. See the abstract and reference below for details.


Verification is a crucial process to facilitate the identification and removal of errors within simulations. This study explores semantic changes to the concept of simulation verification over the past six decades using a data-supported, automated content analysis approach. We collect and utilize a corpus of 4,047 peer-reviewed Modeling and Simulation (M&S) publications dealing with a wide range of studies of simulation verification from 1963 to 2015. We group the selected papers by decade of publication to provide insights and explore the corpus from four perspectives: (i) the positioning of prominent concepts across the corpus as a whole; (ii) a comparison of the prominence of verification, validation, and Verification and Validation (V&V) as separate concepts; (iii) the positioning of the concepts specifically associated with verification; and (iv) an evaluation of verification’s defining characteristics within each decade. Our analysis reveals unique characterizations of verification in each decade. The insights gathered helped to identify and discuss three categories of verification challenges as avenues of future research, awareness, and understanding for researchers, students, and practitioners. These categories include conveying confidence and maintaining ease of use; techniques’ coverage abilities for handling increasing simulation complexities; and new ways to provide error feedback to model users.


A content analysis-based approach to explore simulation verification and identify its current challenges
C.J. Lynch, S.Y. Diallo, H. Kavak, J.J. Padilla
PLOS One, 2020, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0232929 [Paper]

SpringSim'20 Program

We are just ten days away from the 2020 Spring Simulation Conference. As the Program Chair of the conference, I am excited to tell you that we have an outstanding program, even though we had to shift all face-to-face events into a virtual setting. The conference will feature five tutorial sessions, one DEVS dissertation awards session, one demo session, eighteen regular paper + panel sessions covering 71 peer-reviewed papers. You can take a look at the details of the program here. It is still not too late to register and participate in the conference. Never been at SpringSim before? Contact me for a free invitation. The conference has some slots for first-time, non-author participants.