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An introduction to exponential random graph (p*) models for social networks

Robins G, Snijders T, Wang P, Handcock M, Pattison P, Kalish Y, Lusher D ...see all

Social Networks, vol. 29, issue 2 (2007) pp. 173-191

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This article reviews new specifications for exponential random graph models proposed by Snijders et al. [Snijders, T.A.B., Pattison, P., Robins, G.L., Handcock, M., 2006. New specifications for exponential random graph models. Sociological Methodology] and demonstrates their improvement over homogeneous Markov random graph models in fitting empirical network data. Not only do the new specifications show improvements in goodness of fit for various data sets, but they also help to avoid the problem of near-degeneracy that often afflicts the fitting of Markov random graph models in practice, particularly to network data exhibiting high levels of transitivity. The inclusion of a new higher order transitivity statistic allows estimation of parameters of exponential graph models for many (but not all) cases where it is impossible to estimate parameters of homogeneous Markov graph models. The new specifications were used to model a large number of classical small-scale network data sets and showed a dramatically better performance than Markov graph models. We also review three current programs for obtaining maximum likelihood estimates of model parameters and we compare these Monte Carlo maximum likelihood estimates with less accurate pseudo-likelihood estimates. Finally, we discuss whether homogeneous Markov random graph models may be superseded by the new specifications, and how additional elaborations may further improve model performance.

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  • Garry Robins

  • Tom Snijders

  • Peng Wang

  • Mark Handcock

  • Pip Philippa Pattison

  • Yuval Kalish

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