Computer Simulations

The computer exercises that follow utilize a computer program known as MINITAB. It has several distinct advantages for simulation exercises. This statistical package is widely available and relatively inexpensive. The exercises shown here were tested under Release 10.2 of MINITAB for Windows and should run with that or any later release on either Macintosh, IBM-compatible, or even mainframe computers. It is highly interactive -- you enter a command and can immediately see the results. But it can also be run in "batch" mode which allows you to enter a long sequence of commands and have them run at once as a program. Batch programs can also be put in a loop that allows you to run the same sequence of commands many times, accumulating the results from each run. The exercises in this workbook are all set up for interactive mode because that is the best way to learn about computer simulation (see Trochim and Davis (1986) for more details on running programs in batch mode). MINITAB is also very easy to learn. There are a number of readily available instruction manuals and tutorials that introduce the novice to statistical computing.

But MINITAB is not the only computer program that can be used for simulation, nor is it the program of choice for professional simulators. Virtually any statistical package -- SPSS, SAS, SYSTAT, Statview, DataDesk -- can be used for simulations, and each has some advantages and disadvantages. For all its strengths as a teaching tool, MINITAB is not often viewed as a serious tool for advanced statistical analysis in social research because it is slower than others, lacks many of the features of advanced packages, and may not be as precise. However, for the kinds of exercises described in this workbook, MINITAB is an excellent choice.

In order to do these exercises, all you need to know is how to install and start the MINITAB program. This information can be found in the manual that comes with the program. The exercises are "machine independent" -- we do not describe them in terms of any particular operating system or machine configuration. The exercises don't assume any prior knowledge or use of the MINITAB language, although that would be extremely helpful. We encourage you to work through the tutorial in the manual that comes with the program.

We hope that the exercises given here will provide you with a solid and interesting introduction to computer simulation for social research. We believe that you will find that simulation is an important tool for increasing you understanding of social research methodology.

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Copyright 1996, William M.K. Trochim