Foundations of Science

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 349–368

Understanding Pluralism in Climate Modeling


DOI: 10.1007/s10699-005-3196-x

Cite this article as:
Parker, W.S. Found Sci (2006) 11: 349. doi:10.1007/s10699-005-3196-x


To study Earth’s climate, scientists now use a variety of computer simulation models. These models disagree in some of their assumptions about the climate system, yet they are used together as complementary resources for investigating future climatic change. This paper examines and defends this use of incompatible models. I argue that climate model pluralism results both from uncertainty concerning how to best represent the climate system and from difficulties faced in evaluating the relative merits of complex models. I describe how incompatible climate models are used together in ‘multi-model ensembles’ and explain why this practice is reasonable, given scientists’ inability to identify a ‘best’ model for predicting future climate. Finally, I characterize climate model pluralism as involving both an ontic competitive pluralism and a pragmatic integrative pluralism.


climate change computer simulation models pluralism uncertainty 

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Science Studies ProgramUniversity of CaliforniaLa JollaUSA

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