European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 149–169

A practical philosophy of complex climate modelling

Original paper in Philosophy of Science

DOI: 10.1007/s13194-014-0102-9

Cite this article as:
Schmidt, G.A. & Sherwood, S. Euro Jnl Phil Sci (2015) 5: 149. doi:10.1007/s13194-014-0102-9


We give an overview of the practice of developing and using complex climate models, as seen from experiences in a major climate modelling center and through participation in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). We discuss the construction and calibration of models; their evaluation, especially through use of out-of-sample tests; and their exploitation in multi-model ensembles to identify biases and make predictions. We stress that adequacy or utility of climate models is best assessed via their skill against more naïve predictions. The framework we use for making inferences about reality using simulations is naturally Bayesian (in an informal sense), and has many points of contact with more familiar examples of scientific epistemology. While the use of complex simulations in science is a development that changes much in how science is done in practice, we argue that the concepts being applied fit very much into traditional practices of the scientific method, albeit those more often associated with laboratory work.


Climate models Complex simulation Model skill 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NASA Goddard Institute for Space StudiesNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Climate Change Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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