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Clearinghouse of computer models ready to play a key role in fight against coronavirus


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March 19, 2020

The Network for Computational Modeling in Social and Ecological Sciences (CoMSES Net), which acts as an international clearinghouse for computer models and a place where modelers can share their work, could play a vital role in understanding the spread of the coronavirus and possibly be used to help find pathways to reduce its impact.  

CoMSES Net, which is administered by Arizona State University, links a global network of thousands of scientists who are developing computer models that are used to understand the disease and its spread. 

“There are so many people worldwide now making models about coronavirus and its impacts,” said C. Michael Barton, director of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and a professor in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “The best way to ensure that we have effective models for projecting the course of the pandemic and limiting its impact is if scientists can scrutinize the assumptions and algorithms of models and suggest corrections or improvement. Model code must be openly accessible for this to be possible.”

“CoMSES Net provides a digital platform for sharing the model’s code and we want to make sure other scientists and computer modelers are aware of it,” added Barton, who helps direct CoMSES Net. “This is really a very critical time for us to share these models and work together to improve upon them.”  

Barton said the network, first set up in 2009, is truly an international collaboration — it is hosted at Compute Canada (a Canadian consortium for advanced computing), funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and administered by ASU. It includes social, ecological and environmental models focusing on the complex interactions among people and with the environment. These models could become critical technologies in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and its social and economic fallouts. 

Scientists creating computer models for simulating the pandemic and its impacts can publish their model code in the CoMSES Model Library so it is rapidly and openly available to be used by anyone around the world. The service is free of charge; the only requirement is that anyone using models from the library properly and publicly credit model authors and acknowledge CoMSES Net with citations provided for each model in the library. 

The model library already hosts computer models to simulate the behavior of epidemic diseases and welcomes new contributions. 

CoMSES Net invites the scientists around the world who are racing to develop new computer models for the pandemic to share their code by publishing it in the model library or other trusted FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reproducible) platforms. CoMSES Net has also opened a discussion forum dedicated modeling the virus and its consequences so that scientists can share insights about modeling this global threat.  

“Rapid and global sharing of knowledge, expertise and technology are essential for finding ways to limit this immediate threat to humanity,” Barton said.  

CoMSES Net is directed by Michael Barton, Marco Janssen, Allen Lee and Kenneth Buetow, researchers in the Global Biosocial Complexity Initiative at Arizona State University. 

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