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Models in biology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q130-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2009
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

In recent years, much attention has been given by philosophers to the ubiquitous role of models and modelling in the biological sciences. Philosophical debate has focused on several areas of discussion. First, the term ‘model’ is applied to a bewildering array of objects in biology from mathematical structures, graphical displays, computer simulations, to concrete organisms. These objects seem so different as to raise the question of whether there is some one thing which a model is. Philosophers are investigating whether a unifying account of models can be found. Second, biologists rarely have fundamental theories as in physics and chemistry, but do have a variety of models. Many philosophers and biologists have suggested that biological theories are nothing more than a collection or family of models. Third, models are traditionally evaluated by their statistical fit to data or their explanatory power. However, biological models are highly idealized – literally false – which can undercut their empirical adequacy and explanatory worth. As a result, biological models are often evaluated for their heuristic functions, possibly unrelated to empirical adequacy and truth.

Citing this article:
Odenbaugh, Jay. Models in biology, 2009, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q130-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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