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Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Oct;19(10):530-4.

Simulation as experiment: a philosophical reassessment for biological modeling.

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Department of Integrative Biology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA.


Some scientific modelers suggest that complex simulation models that mimic biological processes should have a limited place in ecological and evolutionary studies. However, complex simulation models can have a role that is different from that of simpler models that are designed to be fit to data. Simulation can be viewed as another kind of experimental system and should be analyzed as such. Here, I argue that current discussions in the philosophy of science and in the physical sciences fields about the use of simulation as an experimental system have important implications for biology, especially complex sciences such as evolution and ecology. Simulation models can be used to mimic complex systems, but unlike nature, can be manipulated in ways that would be impossible, too costly or unethical to do in natural systems. Simulation can add to theory development and testing, can offer hypotheses about the way the world works and can give guidance as to which data are most important to gather experimentally.


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