Talk at UK Systems on unit testing stochastic code

Last week I went to my first scientific meeting since February 2021 to talk about unit testing of stochastic code.

This was to the 6th UK Systems Research Challenges Workshop in Co Durham. I presented work about an issue we encountered when developing epydemic, and particularly when optimising some of the core data structures. The issue was that a bias in the random choice -- which we knew was there -- was only observed by some simulation processes and not by others, meaning we picked it up later than we should have done.

Having said that, this does raise some issues about how to go about testing code that has stochastic elements. Some of the things you'd normally think of as being unit tests -- for example whether an epidemic happens under a particular process -- are really only elements of unit tests, as they need to be repeated several times to account for possible outliers. Similarly some processes should generate specific final degree distributions that need to be checked against the know theoretical result, which is also stochastic. This was the essence of the talk. We'll hopefully refactor some of epydemic's codebase to make the "aggregate unit test" functions stand-alone at some point.

Simon Dobson. Unit (and other) testing of stochastic code. 6th UK Systems Research Challenges Workshop, December 2021. URL: https://simondobson.org/softcopy/stochastic-testing-21.pdf.