Computer models and the evidence of anthropogenic climate change: An epistemology of variety-of-evidence inferences and robustness analysis

M. A. Vezér

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A (April 2016)

DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2016.01.004

Abstract To study climate change, scientists employ computer models, which approximate target systems with various levels of skill. Given the imperfection of climate models, how do scientists use simulations to generate knowledge about the causes of observed climate change? Addressing a similar question in the context of biological modelling, Levins (1966) proposed an account grounded in robustness analysis. Recent philosophical discussions dispute the confirmatory power of robustness, raising the question of how the results of computer modelling studies contribute to the body of evidence supporting hypotheses about climate change. Expanding on Staley’s (2004) distinction between evidential strength and security, and Lloyd’s (2015) argument connecting variety-of-evidence inferences and robustness analysis, I address this question with respect to recent challenges to the epistemology robustness analysis. Applying this epistemology to case studies of climate change, I argue that, despite imperfections in climate models, and epistemic constraints on variety-of-evidence reasoning and robustness analysis, this framework accounts for the strength and security of evidence supporting climatological inferences, including the finding that global warming is occurring and its primary causes are anthropogenic.

keywords: Variety of evidence; Robustness; Computer models; Epistemology; Climate change; Global warming

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