Disclosing the truth: Are models better than observations?


The aphorism, ‘All models are wrong, but some models are useful’, originally referred to statistical models, but is now used for scientific models in general. When presenting results from a marine simulation model, this statement effectively stops discussions about the quality of the model, as there is always another observation to mismatch, and thereby another confirmation why the model cannot be trusted. It is common that observations are less challenged and are often viewed as a ‘gold standard’ for judging models, whereas proper interpretations and the true value of models are often overlooked. Models are not perfect, and there are many examples where models are used improperly to provide misleading answers with great confidence, but to what extent does an observation represent the truth? The precision of the observational gear may be high, but what about representativeness? The interpretation of observations is simply another model, but this time not coded in a computer language but rather formed by the individual observer. We submit that it would be more productive to initiate a process where the norm is that models and observations are joined to strengthen both. In the end, neither method is the goal, but both are useful tools for disclosing the truth. Biased views on either observational or modeling approaches would limit us from achieving this goal.
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