Varieties of support and confirmation of climate models

Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 83 (1):213-232 (2009)
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Today's climate models are supported in a couple of ways that receive little attention from philosophers or climate scientists. In addition to standard 'model fit', wherein a model's simulation is compared to observational data, there is an additional type of confirmation available through the variety of instances of model fit. When a model performs well at fitting first one variable and then another, the probability of the model under some standard confirmation function, say, likelihood, goes up more than under each individual case of fit alone. Thus, two instances of fit of distinct variables of a global climate model using distinct data sets considered collectively will provide stronger evidence for a model than either one of the instances considered individually. This has consequences for model robustness. Sets of models that produce robust results will, if their assumptions vary enough and they each are observationally sound, provide reasons to endorse common structures found in those models. Finally, independent empirical support for aspects and assumptions of the model provides an additional confirmational virtue for climate models, contrary to what is implied by some current philosophical writing on this topic.

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Elisabeth Lloyd
Indiana University, Bloomington


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