Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 461–477 | Cite as

Software Intensive Science

  • John SymonsEmail author
  • Jack Horner
Research Article


This paper argues that the difference between contemporary software intensive scientific practice and more traditional non-software intensive varieties results from the characteristically high conditionality of software. We explain why the path complexity of programs with high conditionality imposes limits on standard error correction techniques and why this matters. While it is possible, in general, to characterize the error distribution in inquiry that does not involve high conditionality, we cannot characterize the error distribution in inquiry that depends on software. Software intensive science presents distinctive error and uncertainty modalities that pose new challenges for the epistemology of science.


Models Simulations Software Epistemology Complexity Post-human science 



This work benefited from discussions with Sam Arbesman, George Crawford, Paul Humphreys, and Tony Pawlicki. We are grateful to the reviewers of earlier versions of this paper for extensive and insightful criticisms. For any errors that remain, we blame the path complexity of our (biological) software.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Los AlamosUSA

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