How Models Fail

In Catrin Misselhorn (ed.), Collective Agency and Cooperation in Natural and Artificial Systems. Springer Verlag (1st ed. 2015)
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Abstract
Simulation models of the Reiterated Prisoner's Dilemma (in the following: RPD-models) are since 30 years considered as one of the standard tools to study the evolution of cooperation (Rangoni 2013; Hoffmann 2000). A considerable number of such simulation models has been produced by scientists. Unfortunately, though, none of these models has empirically been verified and there exists no example of empirical research where any of the RPD-models has successfully been employed to a particular instance of cooperation. Surprisingly, this has not kept scientists from continuing to produce simulation models in the same tradition and from writing their own history as a history of success. In a recent simulation study -- which does not make use of the RPD but otherwise follows the same pattern of research -- Robert Axelrod's (1984) original role model for this kind of simulation studies is praised as ``an extremely effective means for investigating the evolution of cooperation'' and considered as ``widely credited with invigorating that field'' (Rendell et al. 2010).
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