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:DYNMODav1 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13574

ADVANCE VIEW: OPINION PIECE
Disclosing the truth: Are models better than observations?

Morten D. Skogen1,*, Rubao Ji2, Anna Akimova3, Ute Daewel4, Cecilie Hansen1, Solfrid S. Hjøllo1, Sonja M. van Leeuwen5, Marie Maar6, Diego Macias7, Erik Askov Mousing1, Elin Almroth-Rosell8, Sévrine F. Sailley9, Michael A. Spence10, Tineke A. Troost11, Karen van de Wolfshaar12

1Institute of Marine Research, 5817 Bergen, Norway
2Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
3Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries, 27572 Bremerhaven, Germany
4Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, 21502 Geesthacht, Germany
5NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Coastal Systems, and Utrecht University, 1797 SZ ’t Horntje, Texel, The Netherlands
6Aarhus University, Department of Bioscience, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
7Instituto de Ciencias Marinas de Andalucía (ICMAN), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), 11519 Puerto Real, Spain
8Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, 42671 Västra Frölunda, Sweden
9Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK
10Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, UK
11Deltares, PO Box 177, 2600 MH Delft, The Netherlands
12Wageningen Marine Research, Haringkade 1, PO Box 68, 1970 AB Ijmuiden, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: 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.


KEY WORDS: Truth · Models · Observations



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Cite this article as: Skogen MD, Ji R, Akimova A, Daewel U and others (2021) Disclosing the truth: Are models better than observations?. Mar Ecol Prog Ser :DYNMODav1. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13574

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