Transfer and templates in scientific modelling

Wybo Houkes (Corresponding author), Sjoerd D. Zwart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
117 Downloads (Pure)


The notion of template has been advocated by Paul Humphreys and others as an illuminating unit of analysis in the philosophy of scientific modelling. Templates are supposed to have the dual functions of representing target systems and of facilitating quantitative manipulation. A resulting worry is that wide-ranging cross-disciplinary use of templates might compromise their representational function and reduce them to mere formalisms. In this paper, we argue that templates are valuable units of analysis in reconstructing cross-disciplinary modelling. Central to our discussion are the ways in which Lotka-Volterra models are used to analyse processes of technology diffusion. We illuminate both the similarities and differences between contributions to this case of cross-disciplinary modelling by reconstructing them as transfer of a template, without reducing the template to a mere formalism or a computational model. This requires differentiating the interpretation of templates from that of the models based on them. This differentiation allows us to claim that the LV models of technology diffusion that we review are the result of template transfer - conformist in some contributions, creative in others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Computational model
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Lotka-Volterra equations
  • Scientific modelling
  • Technology diffusion
  • Template


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