CFP deadline extended: Synthese Topical Collection on Transdisciplinary Model and Template Transfer

Submission deadline: April 15, 2022

Topic areas


CFP: Synthese Topical Collection on Transdisciplinary Model and Template Transfer

Guest Editors: Paul Humphreys (University of Virginia), Chia-Hua Lin (National Tsing Hua University)

Model transfer refers to the phenomenon in science when a mathematically formulated model or theory developed for investigating one physical/biological/social system is used to study another system to which it may not bear obvious similarities. Examples are atheoretical general equation forms like Laplace’s equation, Poisson’s equation, and the diffusion equation or, perhaps differently, the Barabási-Albert preferential attachment model of network formation. A much discussed, albeit more specific, case is the transfer of game theory from economics to evolutionary biology.

It has been suggested, following Paul Humphreys’ work, that model transfer may be analyzed in terms of template construction and reuse. Focusing on trans-domain modeling in this sense, Knuuttila and Loettgers have suggested that a versatile mathematical formula offers a concept-rich formalism, which they call a model template. This notion of a model template provides the link between diverging theoretical conclusions and the common mathematical form as part of the source of inferences. At the same time, Humphreys’ more recent work, in which he introduces the notion of formal templates, has been criticized as too imprecise or under-informed of scientific practices as a conceptual framework for studying model transfer. This issue is particularly pressing in regard to Mary Morgan’s arguments for the complexity of re-situating, and the arguments by Knuuttila and Loettgers, Houkes and Zwart, Herfeld and Lisciandra, Lin, and others concerning the degree to which domain-specific knowledge is required to successfully employ model transfer. In addition, differences in scientific cultures, in degrees of mathematical sophistication, difficulties of reinterpreting a model in a new context, historical traditions, different styles of explanation, differences in domain-specific knowledge, uses of narratives that travel with the model, and many other considerations can constrain the use of a formal template. The framework of model and template transfer thus presents a unique opportunity to philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science to explore and to better understand the process of moving models from one scientific domain to another.

We invite authors to submit manuscripts that are directly relevant to this framework. Possible topics include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • What criteria of model identity are available to recognize when an adapted model counts as a case of model transfer?
  • What might be the relation between different empirical systems that are treatable by the same template yet that do not bear obvious similarities? Is it identity of structure or something more complex?
  • Models can also be transferred within disciplines. In what ways does transdisciplinary transfer of models differ from transfer within a discipline?
  • What conditions need to be imposed on model transfer to preserve explanatory power in the new domain as well as predictive and descriptive power?
  • Is knowledge of the original domain necessary for successful transfer of a model to a new domain or is only knowledge of the new domain necessary?
  • The transfer of a model is often accompanied by a narrative that may be embedded in the model in its original context, or added on to facilitate transfer. Exactly what role does such a narrative play in the success or failure of model transfer?
  • Does the explanatory power or the predictive power of a model travel with its template, or do these epistemic potentials require certain transformations or re-conceptualizations in the new domain for their replication?
  • Viewing model transfer as one type of the knowledge production processes, what is the nature of such a type of knowledge production?
  • Which aspects of the process are most crucial for re-situating a transferred template?
  • What are the epistemic difficulties or pitfalls facing practicing modelers when engaging in model transfer?
  • How do differences in disciplinary norms and culture affect model transfer?
  • To what extent can philosophical and sociological approaches to questions about model transfer be combined?

For further information, please contact the guest editors:pwh2a [at] or clin.chiahua [at]

The deadline for submissions is now April 15 2022. Submissions must be made via the Synthese Editorial Manager:

When submitting, authors should choose, in Synthese’s Editorial Manager, the topical collection "Transdisciplinary Model and Template Transfer" to ensure that the manuscript is submitted to the correct editor.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)