Despite their participation in the most ruthless and domineering academic journal cartel*, Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies In History and Philosophy of Modern Physics remains my favourite ‘philosophy of physics’ journal, though the ’t Hooft-edited Foundations of Physics is arguably more impactful. And their current issue, a bumper crop of works on modelling and simulation put together by Århusers** Århusianerer Matthias Heymann and Helge Kragh, is both timely and somewhat indulgent.
It is, alas, behind the Great Paywall of ScienceDirect, but if you skim the contents you might be able to find a preprint elsewhere for any articles that catch your eye. No such luck for the paper I want to spotlight here—are you reading this Sunderberg? No one will stop you putting a copy of the work on your website!—’Cultures of simulations vs. cultures of calculations? The development of simulation practices in meteorology and astrophysics‘.
This is a sociological work that contains much of interest to those who read S. D. M. White’s 2007 essay on ‘Fundamentalist Physics’ and concluded that a complementary study from someone well outside the field might be useful too. Sunderberg’s article is somewhat drier in tone and focusses on the concrete development of simulation practices in astrophysics (and meteorology). My favourite paragraph:
The so-called Millenium simulation appears as somewhat of an astrophysical equivalent to [the climate modelling code] CMIP3 in terms of offering astro- physicists the opportunity to take output from a database, analyze, and publish papers on the basis of it, without having been involved in the simulations themselves (see http://www. virgo.dur.ac.uk/). The simulation is one of the ‘‘largest ever’’ of the formation of structure in the universe. It is an outcome of the Virgo consortium, which is an international collaboration among scientists from roughly the same countries as those that have important climate modeling centers (the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the USA, and Japan). In terms of usage of the dataset, this effort also seems to have been a success. The Millenium simulation homepage currently lists 243 articles, written by astrophysicists all over the world, ‘‘that have directly used the Millennium Simulation data, and that we spotted on the astro-ph preprint server’’ (see http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/ millennium/#VISUAL_MATERIAL). However, the title of these publications and several abstracts show that Millenium output is used to contribute to (initialize, compare, etc.) some other calculation rather than analyze itself. Another major difference compared to CMIP is that the Millenium simulation was produced by using one particular simulation code and it had nothing to do with intercomparisons of codes. Compared to the use of data from CMIP, the Millenium simulation is not obviously a sign of the ‘‘superficiality’’ of a culture of simulation.
Good stuff throughout.
* No link for you, Elsevier!
** What is the preferred nomenclature for ‘people from Århus’?