Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 757-771

First online:

Buyer beware: robustness analyses in economics and biology

  • Jay OdenbaughAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Lewis and Clark College
  • , Anna AlexandrovaAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Missouri-St. Louis Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Theoretical biology and economics are remarkably similar in their reliance on mathematical models, which attempt to represent real world systems using many idealized assumptions. They are also similar in placing a great emphasis on derivational robustness of modeling results. Recently philosophers of biology and economics have argued that robustness analysis can be a method for confirmation of claims about causal mechanisms, despite the significant reliance of these models on patently false assumptions. We argue that the power of robustness analysis has been greatly exaggerated. It is best regarded as a method of discovery rather than confirmation.


Model Idealization Robustness Economics Ecology Game theory