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 Bad excuses for bad methods and why they are wrong

While the narratives discussed so far could be traced to their specific sources in the papers and books in which they appear, the following standard arguments for the supposed superiority of the simulation approach to studying the “evolution of cooperation” or for the use of formal models crop up in discussions and the less formal forms of scientific communication, but not so often in scientific papers. I have heard all of these arguments in discussions about the RPD simulation model more than once, but I cannot easily trace them back to printed sources. As I explained in the introduction, these arguments seem to me none the less to represent an attitude that effects the scientific work. Therefore, I believe that they deserve discussion.

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