Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A sober critical assessment of computer simulations

There is a nice article on the arXiv, Simulations: the dark side by Daan Frenkel
Here is an extract to give you the flavour
Although this point of view is not universally accepted, scientists are human. Being human, they like to impress their peers. One way to impress your peers is to establish a record. It is for this reason that, year after year, there have been – and will be – claims of the demonstration of ever larger prime numbers: at present – 2012 – the record-holding prime contains more than ten million digits but less than one hundred million digits. As the number of primes is infinite, that search will never end and any record is therefore likely to be overthrown in a relatively short time. No eternal fame there. In simulations, we see a similar effort: the simulation of the ‘largest’ system yet, or the simulation for the longest time yet (it is necessarily ‘either-or’). Again, these records are short-lived. They may be useful to advertise the power of a new computer, but their scientific impact is usually limited.
The article focusses on the technical limitations (and traps) of classical molecular dynamics and Monte Carlo simulations. It would be nice if someone wrote a similar article for quantum simulations.

I learnt of the existence of the article from Doug Natelson's blog, Nanoscale views.

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