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Not just a theory--the utility of mathematical models in evolutionary biology

Servedio, M.R.; Brandvain, Y.; Dhole, S.; Fitzpatrick, C.L.; Goldberg, E.E.; Stern, C.A.; Van Cleve, J.; Yeh, D.Justin.

Plos Biology 12(12): E1002017

2015

Progress in science often begins with verbal hypotheses meant to explain why certain biological phenomena exist. An important purpose of mathematical models in evolutionary research, as in many other fields, is to act as “proof-of-concept” tests of the logic in verbal explanations, paralleling the way in which empirical data are used to test hypotheses. Because not all subfields of biology use mathematics for this purpose, misunderstandings of the function of proof-of-concept modeling are common. In the hope of facilitating communication, we discuss the role of proof-of-concept modeling in evolutionary biology.

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