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Models, validation, and applied geochemistry: Issues in science, communication, and philosophy

October 1, 2012

Models have become so fashionable that many scientists and engineers cannot imagine working without them. The predominant use of computer codes to execute model calculations has blurred the distinction between code and model. The recent controversy regarding model validation has brought into question what we mean by a ‘model’ and by ‘validation.’ It has become apparent that the usual meaning of validation may be common in engineering practice and seems useful in legal practice but it is contrary to scientific practice and brings into question our understanding of science and how it can best be applied to such problems as hazardous waste characterization, remediation, and aqueous geochemistry in general. This review summarizes arguments against using the phrase model validation and examines efforts to validate models for high-level radioactive waste management and for permitting and monitoring open-pit mines. Part of the controversy comes from a misunderstanding of ‘prediction’ and the need to distinguish logical from temporal prediction. Another problem stems from the difference in the engineering approach contrasted with the scientific approach. The reductionist influence on the way we approach environmental investigations also limits our ability to model the interconnected nature of reality. Guidelines are proposed to improve our perceptions and proper utilization of models. Use of the word ‘validation’ is strongly discouraged when discussing model reliability.

Publication Year 2012
Title Models, validation, and applied geochemistry: Issues in science, communication, and philosophy
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2012.07.007
Authors D. Kirk Nordstrom
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Geochemistry
Index ID 70189368
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch