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I'm describing the results of an experiment I did, and I'd like to find a word to put in the blank (I'd also accept alternative ways of phrasing this statement generally):

We ran a computer simulation, using a very simplified model. The simulation predicted X. When we performed the experiment, we saw that the result was actually Y, showing that our simplified model was indeed _____.

In a different context, I'd normally go with "flawed" or "incorrect", but I'd prefer to cast this in as neutral a light as possible. After all, I didn't do anything wrong; I knew that using a simplified model would likely mean the results of the actual experiment would be somewhat different. If there is a single word that captures the idea "paints an incomplete picture", I'd probably like that.

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For your specific example, I'd go with "was, in fact, oversimplified." at the end there. – Hellion Nov 12 '11 at 4:03
You must have done something wrong, or the actual result would have matched the model. We don't have the details, but possible candidates are the simulation was badly implemented (inadequate), or was based on flawed assumptions (which were disproven, as @saritonin says). – FumbleFingers Nov 12 '11 at 4:11
@FumbleFingers: The details are that modeling the experiment with anything more complex than the model used would have been computationally unfeasible. The assumptions were "flawed" out of necessity; I expected there to be a discrepancy. – user14758 Nov 12 '11 at 4:26
oic. I suppose what you've disproved is the theory that a simulation would be adequate, then. – FumbleFingers Nov 12 '11 at 12:11
You use too many commas. I would use considerably less. – Andreas Bonini Nov 12 '11 at 13:50

11 Answers 11

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Inaccurate would work well here; it doesn't imply total incorrectness, just that something didn't quite work out.

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The best way to convey what you want to say is not to use a single word like flawed or incorrect. You can just use a positive word and negative construct, ie

We ran a computer simulation, using a very simplified model. The simulation predicted X. When we performed the experiment, we saw that the result was actually Y, showing that our simplified model was not precise/correct, etc.

This principle is used in teaching, when pointing out mistakes to students. In order not to discourage them, we don't use negative words, we simply say "This is not correct" instead of "This is wrong". I have found that this works effectively with people of all ages. I suggest you do the same here.

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Try this:

We ran a computer simulation, using a very simplified model. Our hope was that the simplified model would lack precision but produce good results, and it predicted X. When we performed the experiment, we saw that the result was actually Y; our simplified model did not have enough fidelity to produce accurate results.

I think this matches the situation you have. You expected the model to be imprecise but accurate; what actually happened is that the model was flat-out inaccurate due to the lack of detailed modeling. (In my experience, the word to describe the level of detail of a model is "fidelity".)

This veers into English-editing territory, but I'd include a description in such a paragraph (or, expanded, section of a paper) about what you expected out of the model (which I stuck in above).

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Mistaken has very little evaluative color, for me at least. Insufficient seems to fit too, at least here.

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Welcome to EL&U, Patrick. +1: I was going to say 'mistaken' myself. – Barrie England Nov 12 '11 at 9:31

I think that the phrase you are after is "not useful":

... showing that our simplified model was not useful

"All models are wrong. Some models are useful." (George Box)

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Wrong is the proper term to use here.

In the words of Richard Feynman (emphasis mine):

It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.

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+1 for the Feynman quote. It reminds me of Peter Medawar's 'I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing over whether it is true or not.' – Barrie England Nov 12 '11 at 16:35
Except that in this case, the guess seems to be (if I understand the OP correctly) that the simulation will be wrong. The guess is right, because the simulation is indeed wrong. :-) The OP wants to make this clear, without taking responsibility for the simulation being wrong (since it was never believed/guessed to be right.) – ShreevatsaR Nov 12 '11 at 16:58
@ShreevatsaR The OP's use of indeed makes it clear that he expected the model to produce incorrect results. He's not looking for a word to describe his expectations, but the model's behavior. He's looking for a word to indicate that the model was flawed or incorrect without using either of those words. – D Krueger Nov 12 '11 at 17:18
@DKrueger: I don't think someone who doesn't want "flawed" or "incorrect" wants "wrong". He or she wants a word with no negative connotation, even though the model was indeed flawed, incorrect, and wrong. – ShreevatsaR Nov 13 '11 at 2:59
@ShreevatsaR I know what he wants -- but I'm not sure that's what he needs. – D Krueger Nov 13 '11 at 17:00

If you want a single word, "insufficient" is perfect.

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Imprecise - Lacking exactness and accuracy of expression or detail.

Perhaps your computer model was accurate, yet imprecise.

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-1; that doesn't work here. "Precise" and "accurate" have specific meanings in scientific contexts (and really in the rest of the world as well). Something is "precise" if the output has substantial detail, while it is "accurate" if the answers are measurably close to reality. User14758 hasn't specified if his model is imprecise, but he has stated it is inaccurate. – jprete Nov 12 '11 at 13:02
@jprete, note that the OP asked for a word to describe his model, not its results or output. Stating that the model was an oversimplification, lack of detail and thus imprecision is implied. – mizo Nov 12 '11 at 14:58
That's not a bad argument, but the right term in the scientific context would be "low-fidelity" or "simplified". "Precise" is a reserved word that applies to measurements and results of a quantifiable nature. – jprete Nov 12 '11 at 16:16

In scientific terms, we would say that the theory has been disproven.

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The theory is neither proven or disproven. In attempting to test the theory, some important factors were left out. It turned out these factors are needed to test the theory. Basically they "took a punt" but missed. – Hugo Nov 12 '11 at 6:32

It seems you want to say you were not mistaken, since you knew that your simplified model would not be entirely accurate (and getting Y instead of X confirmed your guess, rather than disproving anything you thought). Perhaps a phrasing like this is what you want:

In order to run a computer simulation, we had to use a very simplified model. The simulation predicted X. When we performed the experiment, we saw that the result was actually Y, showing that our simplified model was indeed too simplistic to be accurate.

(Remove emphasis.)

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If you're trying to say that the model is not wrong, but just incomplete, etc, possible words are: incomplete, inadequate, over-simplified, insufficient, not sophisticated enough. Et cetera.

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