Holly VandeWall

In Praise of Erroneous Models

Most historians of science have a favorite example of a now-discarded model whose errors themselves offered a fundamental insight. These are not mere cases of imperfect models, in the way that Copernicus’ model held almost as many inaccuracies as insights, which were refined by later thinkers who nonetheless gave Copernicus credit for getting the fundamentals correct. Instead these are models that have since been resoundingly overturned, but not before something really fundamentally useful had been wrung out of the mistake.