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Philosophical Topics

Volume 47, Issue 1, Spring 2019

The Philosophy of Ecology

Alkistis Elliott-Graves
Pages 65-82

The Future of Predictive Ecology

Prediction is an important aspect of scientific practice, because it helps us to confirm theories and effectively intervene on the systems we are investigating. In ecology, prediction is a controversial topic: even though the number of papers focusing on prediction is constantly increasing, many ecologists believe that the quality of ecological predictions is unacceptably low, in the sense that they are not sufficiently accurate sufficiently often. Moreover, ecologists disagree on how predictions can be improved. On one side are the ‘theory-driven’ ecologists, those who believe that ecology lacks a sufficiently strong theoretical framework. For them, more general theories will yield more accurate predictions. On the other are the ‘applied’ ecologists, whose research is focused on effective interventions on ecological systems. For them, deeper knowledge of the system in question is more important than background theory. The aim of this paper is to provide a philosophical examination of both sides of the debate: as there are strengths and weaknesses in both approaches to prediction, a pluralistic approach is best for the future of predictive ecology.

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