How Models Fail
A Critical Look at the History of Computer Simulations of the Evolution of Cooperation

Eckhart Arnold

1 Introduction
2 The empirical failure of simulations of the evolution of cooperation
3 Justificatory narratives
4 Bad excuses for bad methods and why they are wrong
    4.1 “Our knowledge is limited, anyway”
    4.2 “One can always learn something from failure”
    4.3 “Models always rely on simplification”
    4.4 “There are no alternatives to modeling”
    4.5 “Modeling promotes a scientific habit of mind”
    4.6 “Division of labor in science exempts theoreticians from empirical work”
    4.7 “Success within the scientific community proves scientific validity”
    4.8 “Natural sciences do it just the same way”
    4.9 Concluding remarks
5 History repeats itself: Comparison with similar criticisms of naturalistic or scientistic approaches

4.4 “There are no alternatives to modeling”

Argument: There is no real alternative to modeling, anyway. If you try to do without models, merely relying on verbal explanations, you are just making use of implicit models that are never fully articulated. Surely, explicit modeling is better than relying on implicit models. Without models nothing could be explained. (See also Epstein (2008), who employs a variant of this argument.)

Response: It is at least for the time being (the distant future of science may of course prove me wrong) practically impossible to express everything that can be expressed verbally in mathematical terms or with formal logic. This includes many of the causal connections that we are interested in when doing social sciences. Otherwise, how come that among the many books published about the causes, course and consequences of the First World War these days, there is no game theoretical or otherwise model-based study that could rival the conventional historical treatments? Otherwise, how come that lawyers, attorneys and judges - their job being to a large part one of logical reasoning, as one should think - do not use formal logic to express the legal connections they ponder over?

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