Volume 11, Issue 1, Fall 2007
Virtual Models and Simulations
A Different Kind of Science?
The personal computer has become the primary research tool in many scientific and engineering disciplines. The role of the computer has been extended to be an experimental and modelling tool both for convenience and sometimes necessity. In this paper some of the relationships between real models and virtual models, i.e. models that exist only as programs and data structures, are
explored. It is argued that the shift from experimenting with real objects to experimentation with computer models and simulations may also require a new approach for evaluating scientific theories derived from these models. Accepting the additional sets of assumptions that are associated with computer models and simulations requires ‘leaps of faith’, which we may not want to make in order to preserve scientific rigor. There are problems in providing acceptable arguments and explanations as to why a particular computer model or simulation should be judged scientifically sound, plausible, or even probable. These problems not only emerge from models that are particularly complex, but also in models that suffer from being too simplistic.