Modeling Lincoln

My wife and I just watched the movie “Lincoln”, and I was struck by the similarities between what historians and storytellers do and what ecological modelers do: we all take a dispersed collection of known data points and fill in the gaps with plausible occurences (or sometimes desired ones!).
This movie was a very stark example of this – the data points were quite scientific. They took precise records of congressional vote counts, down to the individuals and their geographical and cultural affiliations, and employment records: who got what job after the votes were tallied. They then filled in the gaps with occurences that were calibrated to fit the known data points.
This concept of “filling in the gaps” is something that is often missed in the digestion of models and their results. They are not simply fantasies that remind us of reality (not usually). They are yarn woven around the regular structure of a loom. I don’t know if this movie is truth. But the calibration shows a good fit with observed data.


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