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Computer simulation in the controversy over limits to growth

[working paper]

Imhof, Peter

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Corporate Editor Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg, Institut für Technik und Gesellschaft
Abstract In the early 70’s, scientists debated hotly the provoking claims that Meadows and his co-authors put forward in their book ‘Limits to Growth’ and which they based on computer simulation runs. This lively debate is reconsidered to flesh out two more general aspects of scientific computer simulation. The first point deals with the question where simulation scientists locate the agency in the activity of computer simulation: Is it the assumptions made by humans or is it the calculations done by the machine that are to be held responsible for the simulation results? The second aspect hints to the problem of how much data are necessary to make a computer simulation a true and meaningful representation of reality. In the case of the debate over Limits to Growth these two questions were answered differently by the proponents and the critics of the simulation study. Whereas many scientific controversies involve scientists who have done research which has lead them to diverging conclusions about the same matter, the debate over Limits to Growth differed in this respect. It can be construed more adequately as the repulsion of researchers who tried to intrude social scientific expertise with the help of computer simulation. This is why computer simulation became one of the key issues in this scientific debate.
Keywords computer; simulation; computer science; growth; reality orientation; technical development
Classification Sociology of Science, Sociology of Technology, Research on Science and Technology
Document language English
Publication Year 2000
City Hamburg
Page/Pages 20 p.
Series Research Report / Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg, Institut für Technik und Gesellschaft, 4
Status Published Version
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications