Escape from Model Land by Erica Thompson [8/10]

As an ex-actuary who employed models, albeit highly specialized ones, in my working life, the much more ambitious climate change models that underpin the IPCC’s stellar, critical work fascinate me. Yet as someone who understands the pitfalls of models, just how useful those models are in practice has been an open question for me. Now Erica Thompson, an experienced modeler/data scientist, has tackled that very issue (among many others) with “Escape from Model Land: How Mathematical Models Can Lead Us Astray and What We Can Do About It.” There is no dumbing down here, with the author digging deeply into general and specific models from the outset, so, dear reader, have your wits about you. But any savvy interlocutor should be able to sink into a superb, sprightly narrative that traverses fields from historical beginnings to recent Covid-19 models, while spending considerable time on humungous climate models. Anyone confronting the dodgy “climate change won’t have any material impact on humanity’s economies” models knows how distortions can arise. The many pitfalls of models, from hubris arising from having an elegant model, through data deficiencies, to poor explication at the other end, are covered elegantly and thoroughly. The ongoing value of models, even in the face of downsides, is also stressed, and the author makes suggestions on how to evaluate and use models. In this age of mega issues facing us, Escape from Model Land is marvelous, essential reading.

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