Adrian Currie
Cambridge University
It is often thought that the vindication of experimental work lies in its capacity to be revelatory of natural systems. I challenge this idea by examining laboratory experiments in ecology. A central task of community ecology involves combining mathematical models and observational data to identify trophic interactions in natural systems. But many ecologists are also lab scientists: constructing microcosm or ‘bottle’ experiments, physically realizing the idealized circumstances described in mathematical models. What vindicates such ecological experiments? I argue that ‘extrapolationism’, the view that ecological lab work is valuable because it generates truths about natural systems, does not exhaust the epistemic value of such practices. Instead, bottle experiments also generate ‘understanding’ of both ecological dynamics and empirical tools. Some lab work, then, aids theoretical understanding, as well as targeting hypotheses about nature. 1Introduction2Trophic Interactions and Observational Techniques3Cryptic Dynamics in Bottle Experiments4Extrapolationism 4.1Ecological possibility and actuality4.2Ecological heterogeneity5Understanding 5.1The epistemic good of understanding5.2Bottle experiments as understanding-generators5.3How understanding travels6Conclusion
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/axy047
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References found in this work BETA

Idealization and the Aims of Science.Angela Potochnik - 2017 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism.Hasok Chang - 2012 - Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science.

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Citations of this work BETA

Simplicity, one-shot hypotheses and paleobiological explanation.Adrian Currie - 2019 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (1):10.
Why Experiments Matter.Arnon Levy & Adrian Currie - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (9-10):1066-1090.
Mass Extinctions as Major Transitions.Adrian Currie - 2019 - Biology and Philosophy 34 (2):29.

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