Open Sites in Model Building

in Unruly Complexity

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2005 | ISBN: 9780226790350
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226790398 | DOI:
Open Sites in Model Building

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In 1966, Richard Levins sketched a strategy of model building in ecology and population genetics that favored sacrificing precision to realism and generality. Discrepancies between a model and observations imply the need for additional biological postulates and, together with the qualitative insights, generate interesting questions to investigate. In the early 1980s, a strong reaction developed against the ecological theory drawn from simple, general models. According to skeptical and particularist ecologists, the previous models were not realistic, and general models were not likely to be found in ecology. Realism and precision would be possible for models of particular situations, not for big questions such as accounting for ecological complexity. This chapter exposes some more profound implications that the exploratory approach has for thinking about science. In the process of analyzing what modelers are doing when they model, a different view of Levins' strategy and the generality–realism–precision trade-off may emerge.

Keywords: Richard Levins; ecology; generality; particularist ecologists

Chapter.  5225 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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