Bottled Understanding: The Role of Lab Work in Ecology

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.
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/axy047
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References found in this work BETA

Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism.Hasok Chang - 2012 - Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science.
No Understanding Without Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):510-515.
The Strategy of Model-Based Science.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (5):725-740.
Causes That Make a Difference.C. Kenneth Waters - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579.
Idealization and the Aims of Science.Angela Potochnik - 2017 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Why Experiments Matter.Adrian Currie & Arnon Levy - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (9-10):1-25.
Simplicity, one-shot hypotheses and paleobiological explanation.Adrian Currie - 2019 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (1):10.
Mass Extinctions as Major Transitions.Adrian Currie - 2019 - Biology and Philosophy 34 (2):29.

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Toward a General Philosophy of Ecology.Kevin Leo de Laplante - 1998 - Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada)
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