The rise and fall of Crocs can teach us a little about how we communicate and influence each other. Malcolm Gladwell has published books about targeting small numbers of the most influential people who will in turn influence the masses. However, social scientist and SFI External Professor Duncan Watts has done the same research and has disproved Gladwell’s thesis on focusing on “cool or connected” people to influence others. As Watts notes, if you want to affect masses, it is all about the quantity, not the quality of the people you reach.
The emerging field of network science focuses on studying complex systems and how they are all alike. Understanding one network may shed light on other networks. Scientists from a variety of different disciplines have gone deeper into researching complex systems. SFI External Professor and physicist Mark Newman started working in the field ten years ago with SFI and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems. Network science has opened the door to interdisciplinary training in complex systems. Many researchers take these courses through SFI, a leader in interdisciplinary studies and complex network science. Many agencies, including the US National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and even the military have made donations and funding available to continue research into network science and complex systems.
Several dozen graduate students and researchers pursuing careers that could help humans prosper on a thriving planet have gathered in Santa Fe for the first “Summer School on Global Sustainability,” developed by the Santa Fe Institute with help from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Mathematicians, statisticians and political scientists are now using statistical techniques to find election fraud. The accounting technique called, Benford’s Law, has potential to find election fraud if people made up the numbers. SFI Postdoctoral Fellow and computer scientist, Aaron Clauset, thinks people may evade detection under Benford’s Law by making up numbers that fit with the real numbers. Other researchers and political scientists think it would be a challenging and slow process to make their numbers fit the Benford Law. People who are cheating and creating election fraud do not have the time to make numbers fit, especially with counts being posted to the Internet, blogs and electric journals very quickly. While this may catch evidence of election fraud in Iran’s election, some researchers say we should be focusing on the U.S. election system, which is also flawed.
Researchers and scientists are working on ways to identify any patterns in the newest strain of the H1N1 influenza virus. Vaccines and anti-viral medications are in limited supply and will need to be quickly produced in order to be ready for any future waves of the virus. SFI External Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez is part of a research team studying the H1N1 influenza virus in Japan. Japan acted quickly to contain the disease and had no fatalities. The information from this study will be beneficial to the U.S., Mexico and other countries.
SFI Professor and behavioral scientist, Samuel Bowles, has recently been studying performance-related pay. His research shows that performance-related pay does not encourage employers to work harder. In fact, Bowles’ research shows the opposite: many employees have a loss of motivation and a diminishing capacity for fairness and other workplace ethics. Behavioral economists will be studying the effectiveness of workplace performance incentives more in the coming years as the economy continues to change.
SFI Business Network Member, Steelcase’s vice president for global design, James Ludwig, reflects on the fragile state of the contract furniture industry. Ludwig states how he is setting up strategic plans for the future. Steelcase is using research scientists at the Santa Fe Institute in order to help forecast future developments.
Dr. Jeremy Sabloff will join the Institute August 1 to lead SFI’s cutting-edge research community as it celebrates its 25th Anniversary. “We are delighted Jerry has accepted our offer,” says Bill Miller, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Legg Mason Capital Management and Chairman of SFI’s Board of Trustees. “We need a broad and deep intellectual to build SFI’s scientific footprint and Jerry uniquely combines an understanding of our multidisciplinary science with executive level administrative and fundraising experience."
William C. Enloe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Los Alamos National Bank in Santa Fe and SFI Board of Trustee is the recipient of the 2009 NeighborWorks@Business Leadership Award. “Through his volunteerism and demonstrated commitment to affordable home-ownership opportunities and economic development, Bill Enloe has made significant contributions that have strengthened Santa Fe’s communities,” said Ken Wade, CEO of NeighborWorks@America. “His efforts serve as an inspiration to others.” Mr. Enloe is dedicated to his community and to creating more affordable housing solutions in northern New Mexico. Mr. Enloe was directly involved in the development of an affordable housing subdivision in Santa Fe by assisting in establishing the necessary bond and by approving Los Alamos National Bank (LANB) loans for developers within the subdivision. Mr. Enloe was instrumental in enabling Homewise, a member of the NeighborWorks network to provide second mortgages to clients so that they may reduce the down payments required for affordable home purchases. As a member of the Downtown Master Plan Committee and the Los Alamos Housing Authority Board, Mr. Enloe worked to establish goals and policies for affordable housing in Los Alamos and provide affordable housing for teachers, police and public servants. Most recently, Mr. Enloe partnered with Homewise to develop a homebuyer program for LANB employees through Homewise’s employer-assisted housing campaign.
Cyber phenom feels home with the ‘smart crazies’ — ‘Disruptive technologist’ drawn to Santa Fe Institute
Virgil Griffith, the creator of WikiScanner, has spent the past four summers as an undergraduate researcher at SFI. WikiScanner is a program that lets you see who is editing content in Wikipedia. Griffith began his work on WikiScanner while at SFI. This WikiScanner program has busted Wal-Mart and several other major corporations editing and removing content from the Wikipedia entry of their companies. Griffith has been drawn to SFI since he was in high school. He always wanted to be “where all the really smart crazies are.” And as SFI President Geoffrey West said, “He’s certainly one of our crazy smart people. He’s very interesting and he’s very SFI-ish.” Griffith will spend all of September at SFI continuing work on his plethora of projects.
Mobile phones are being used to collect data for a variety of different disciplines and SFI Omidyar Fellow, Nathan Eagle, is studying human movement and behavior through mobile phones. In an experiment at MIT, Eagle studied call logs of 100 students and staff and found he could sort the business students from other majors with 96% accuracy. Eagle is going to experiment on a larger scale next by studying millions of mobile phone users throughout Europe and parts of East Africa. Part of his study is to see if certain phone behaviors can help alert public health officials in the early stages of disease outbreaks.
SFI researcher, Virgil Griffith, created a program called WikiScanner, which tracks computers used to make changes and edits to Wikipedia entries. WikiScanner revealed CIA and FBI computers were used to edit topics on the Iraq War and the Guantanamo prison. WikiScanner also found computers at other organizations were used to edit topics related to them.
Mortgage investors mostly agree that the government’s plan to reverse the housing slump is doing more harm than good. The government’s actions will increase borrowing costs because creditors would demand higher returns. Capital is going to cost more. Economist and SFI external professor John Geanakoplos has stated that “Obama’s plan will mostly be ineffective in cutting losses because it focuses on lowering payments rather than reducing homeowner debt.” Geanakoplos has advocated breaking contracts by putting the power to modify loan terms into the hands of independent arbiters.
Harvard Medical School professor and SFI external professor, Walter Fontana and colleagues have created Cellucidate, a new tool to help biologists uncover general principles about cellular signaling. Cellucidate would turn network diagrams of signaling pathways into living and breathing systems. Fontana mixed Kappa, a computer language “tuned to express basic interactions between proteins,” with a method called “coarse-graining” into computational models. By coarse-graining under Kappa’s rules, an automated compression is formed, filtering out permutations that have no bearing on the current model. The goals of Cellucidate include modeling and simulation to speed drug discovery and cure cancer. Fontana also helped found a company called Plectix BioSystems which provides a shared online space for scientists to use Cellucidate. Fontana adds, “Plectix wants to be the Facebook of proteins…where scientists will make models collaboratively.”
Warfare was sufficiently common and lethal among our ancestors to favor the evolution of what Sam Bowles, SFI Professor, calls parochial altruism, a predisposition to be cooperative towards group members and hostile towards outsiders. Biologists and economists have doubted that a genetic predisposition to behave altruistically (help others at a cost to oneself) could evolve (excepting the help extended to close genetic relatives). Skepticism among biologists arose primarily because most think that groups are not sufficiently different genetically to favor group selection (the most obvious evolutionary mechanism promoting altruism beyond the family). But both observation in natural settings and experiments (some of them by Bowles and his co authors) show that altruism is quite common among humans (much more so than in most other animals). In a series of recent papers Bowles shows that altruism could have evolved among humans as a result of the advantages that altruistic groups have in military and other competition with other groups.
During a recent German Physical Society meeting Stefan Thurner, SFI External Professor and director of complex systems research group at the Medical Univeristy of Vienna, reported that leverage--the practice by hedge funds and other investors of borrowing money to buy investments--is the root of many nettlesome properties of financial markets that classical economics cannot explain, including a propensity to crash. The model shows that many of the distinctive statistical properties of financial markets emerge together as rates of leverage climb.
We live in a post-Darwinian world, and it is no longer possible to conceive of life without some reference to Darwin's theories. But the world is more complex than Darwin supposed. Whereas an evolutionary perspective pervades all of biology, economics and politics, we are confronted by a range of post-Darwinian complexities and challenges that require a new and expanded set of ideas. Five short presentations by SFI faculty explore both the influence and the limitations of Darwin's thought on modern science, and introduce several of the ways the Santa Fe Institute has responded to and built upon Darwin's legacy.
Many people are regarding this current economic collapse as a “black swan” or an unpredictable sudden shift. But physicists and other scientists say it is predictable and they can prove it through science and technology. These scientists can create a computer model of our entire economy to study complex systems such as the financial markets. Yale economist and SFI External Professor John Geanakoplos is currently working with physicists in examining hedge funds and how their competition to win investors shifted the market. Economists need to partner with scientists to get a complete holistic view of the situation and work toward predicting the same situation early enough to stop in and make the necessary changes in time.
John Geanakoplos, SFI External Professor, and Susan Koniak write that the plan announced by the White House will not stop foreclosures because it concentrates on reducing interest payments, not reducing principal for those who owe more than their homes are worth. The plan wastes taxpayer money and won’t fix the problem.