GEO HL TOK: Models

“All models are wrong but some are useful.”

Explain what this quote means with reference to specific models in your Group 3 and Group 4 subject.
A good response will also show awareness of differences and similarities between the two AOKs. This can be as simple as ‘one important difference between how useful models are in HS and NS is…’ or ‘models in both HS and NS are useful in that they…’

This quote criticizes the use of models in saying that they are inaccurate, but still in a way useful to learn. Models are inaccurate because they are, most of the time, huge oversimplifications of a concept. For example, in G11 biology we learn about the Kreb’s’ cycle, but are told that this is simply a generalization of what happens in the cell during this process – there are several underlying complex mechanisms part of other processes that is not included in the model that we learn. While the Kreb’s cycle diagram is not entirely accurate, it’s still useful to learn as we can now grasp a basic knowledge on this specific part of aerobic respiration. Therefore, models are relevant and is helpful in allowing learners to understand concepts at a basic level.

Another way that models are “wrong” is that no model can perfectly apply to any real life situation. Rather, models provide a more simplified, general version of the truth. For example, the demographic transition model (DTM) is used to show the population trends of a developing country. It is criticized for being outdated, as it was based off of the trends of a few countries in around the 1930s. While the DTM may have matched what happened in a few countries, it is largely inapplicable to other countries as each is a unique case with different histories. It is unrealistic to assume that every country will follow the DTM and develop in the same way, especially for developing countries today which are developing under different circumstances – being influenced by things such as globalisation. This being said, models can still be useful even if it doesn’t apply to all situations to the same dergee of accuracy – it’s still relevant to generalise trends and patterns to make sense of the world around us.

One important difference between how useful models are in HS and NS is that in HS, there are several more factors influencing the applicability of models due to the complexity of human behavior. In HS, a myriad of factors are constantly affecting the validity of models – for example, a very inaccurate model taught in Geography is the doxey-irridex model. It states that as the number of tourists increase, the negative feelings of locals increase as well in an exponential manner. This completely ignores other relevant factors such as behavior of tourists, what activities they are doing, and anything else that can affect a local’s feelings. As such, the model is pretty unreliable. However, in contrast, models in the NS can generally be more reliable as scientific processes rarely differ too much between cases (with exceptions). For example, we learn about the stages of mitosis through diagrams of the 4 stages. These 4 stages and the mechanisms that happen in each stage are applicable to several different types of cells, from the division of liver to potato cells.

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