Modeler myopia

Just quickly wanted to point you towards the new volume of the Adaptive Behavior Journal, still warm out of the presses. Needless to mention, this is a compulsory read for anybody passing by this blog.

Adaptive Behavior Special Issue on Modeling

The target article by Barbara Webb criticizes models that are not directly targeting specific organisms or that are not matching empirical data sets. Without a doubt, the overall response from the adaptive behavior community is that the criticisms are unfair, overly restrictive, and mostly displaying a data-driven shortsightedness with regards to the wide range of uses of models and their relevance to biology.

There are a number of very interesting and different defenses — all of them worth reading carefully. Each of the commentaries, in fact, deserves a dedicated discussion of their own, but I won’t have time for that. Suffice it to say (at least for now), that I particularly recommend the articles by: Randall Beer and Paul Williams, Inman Harvey, Jason Noble and Manuel de Pinedo, and Seth Bullock. I also really the article by Xabier Barandiaran and Anthony Chemero. In particular, the reference to metaphorical forests.

The only articles I can’t fully recommend are those by William Bechtel and by Volker Grimm and Steven F. Railsback – the message of their commentaries is unclear to me and suggests that they could possibly be a bit confused themselves about it (but I’ll re-read them a few times more just in case).

Modeler myopia is a refractive defect of the “mind’s eye of the modeler” in which biological relevance is only in focus when proximally related to empirical data; but otherwise all relevance comes out of focus.


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