Modelling is the Language of Scientific Discovery

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Dec 02, 2015
Steven Gray

Article published in Integration and Implementation Insights.


Modeling is the language of scientific discovery and has significant implications for how scientists communicate within and across disciplines. Whether modeling the social interactions of individuals within a community in anthropology, the trade-offs of foraging behaviors in ecology, or the influence of warming ocean temperatures on circulation patterns in oceanography, the ability to represent empirical or theoretical understanding through modeling provides scientists with a semi-standardized language to explain how we think the world works. In fact, modeling is such a basic part of human reasoning and communication that the formal practice of scientific modeling has been recently extended to include non-scientists, especially as a way to understand complex and poorly understood socio-environmental dynamics and to improve collaborative research. Although the field of participatory modeling has grown in recent years, there are still considerable questions about how different software tools common to participatory modeling can be used to facilitate communication and learning among diverse groups, which approaches are more or less suitable (given the nature of a community or environmental issue), and whether these approaches effectively lead to action-oriented outcomes.

Our SESYNC pursuit is an exciting journey to understand the role that participatory modeling plays in bridging understanding of environmental problems. Over the next two years, working with a large group of scientists, computational modelers, facilitators, and policy makers at SESYNC we plan to systematically explore the role that participatory modeling plays in interdisciplinary science and how the process of model co-construction can lead to coordinated implementation of solutions to shared environmental problems.

Stay tuned for what we find as we test these ideas with a diverse group of experts! And if you have experience with participatory modeling do let us know what you think!

Biography: Steven Gray is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. His research focuses on understanding how individuals and groups make decisions about complex social-ecological systems and addresses questions about how values, attitudes, beliefs or local conditions influence human behavior toward the environment. This effort has recently led to a focus on understanding how collaborative modeling software tools help communities, resource managers, and other decision-makers understand, and to adapt to, the social impacts of climate and other environmental changes through iterative learning. He is currently the lead editor on the book ‘Environmental Modeling with Stakeholders: Methods, Theories and Applications’ (Springer 2016) and Principal Investigator on the SESYNC synthesis working group on Participatory Modeling for Action Oriented Outcomes.

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