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Complex Systems, Trade‐Offs, and Theoretical Population Biology: Richard Levin's “Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology” Revisited

Jay Odenbaugh
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 70, No. 5, Proceedings of the 2002 Biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science AssociationPart I: Contributed PapersEdited by Sandra D. Mitchell (December 2003), pp. 1496-1507
DOI: 10.1086/377425
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/377425
Page Count: 12
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Complex Systems, Trade‐Offs, and Theoretical Population Biology: Richard Levin's “Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology” Revisited
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Abstract

Ecologist Richard Levins argues population biologists must trade‐off the generality, realism, and precision of their models since biological systems are complex and our limitations are severe. Steven Orzack and Elliott Sober argue that there are cases where these model properties cannot be varied independently of one another. If this is correct, then Levins's thesis that there is a necessary trade‐off between generality, precision, and realism in mathematical models in biology is false. I argue that Orzack and Sober's arguments fail since Levins's thesis concerns the pragmatic features of model building not just the formal properties of models.

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