Spartan released!

This week the “Spartan” paper was finally published in PLoS Computational Biology. Its always exciting to see the paper formatted in the journals own style. Its a shame about the layout of the two figures with captions falling on the following page – but never mind. The paper is first authored by one of Jon Timmis‘ past PhD students, Kieran Alden.

Spartan is an R package that encapsulates 4 key statistical analyses that have been of tremendous use in the computational immunology lab for understanding simulation results, revealing when these results are indicative of the biology rather than uncertainty regarding parameter assignments or the exact nature of the biological system itself. There’s a technique for determining how many samples of a stochastic simulation are required in an experiment to bring the effect of random variation down to a certain level of statistical significance (you want variation to be because of the experiment, not because you didn’t take enough samples). There is a robustness analysis that reveals how far simulation parameters can be perturbed before the simulation experiences a significant change in behaviour, and there are two global sensitivity analyses: eFast and a latin hypercube design with correlation measures.

If there’s a key message that has emerged from my own research, and echoed in other works coming from the lab, its that people probably trust simulation results a lot more than they should. The techniques gathered within spartan are a first step to understanding exactly how much you should believe the results coming from a simulation. I have a feeling I might make a career looking at this field, its important and very tricky.

PDF of paper, and the PLoS website.