Accounting for the gaps in ancient food webs

Studying ancient food webs can help scientists reconstruct communities of species, many long extinct, and even use those insights to figure out how modern-day communities might change in the future. There’s just one problem: only some species left enough of a trace for scientists to find eons later, leaving large gaps in the fossil record — and researchers’ ability to piece together the food webs from the past.

A new paper by paleoecologist Jack Shaw, SFI's Jennifer Dunne, and other researchers shines a light on those gaps and points the way to how to account for them.

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New paper: What makes an explanation good enough?

What makes an explanation good enough? As a personal matter, people have different answers to this question, and not all of them agree, says a new paper in Trends in Cognitive Sciences by Simon DeDeo and Zachary Wojtowicz. The authors use Bayes’ Rule, a famous theorem in probability and statistics, to investigate what we value in scientific and moral explanations. 

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Searching for life as we don’t know it

SFI External Professor Sara Walker (Arizona State University) is leading one of the eight teams exploring specific outstanding questions in astrobiology for NASA’s Astrobiology Program's new Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research. With SFI Professor Chris Kempes and other collaborators, the team will address the question: What detectable universal patterns distinguish living chemistries across diverse planetary environments?

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Toward a new theory of birth, aging, and death

A new working group, “The Birth and Death of Individuals,” which plans to develop a new interdisciplinary theory of birth, aging, and death, explored questions about death, from the individual to community scales to what it means to consider an idea or form of governance "dead" during a small planning meeting in November 2020.

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An ‘integrated mess of music lovers in science’

Co-sponsored by SFI and the Institute for Advanced Studies of Aix-Marseille University, France (IMéRA), a virtual forum brought together network and complexity scientists, musicologists, music theorists, composers, performers, and neuroscientists to trade licks about the intersections of music and complexity from as many angles as possible.

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InterPlanetary transmits new signal

SFI’s InterPlanetary Project has found a new way to celebrate the mutual influence of sci-fi and science. In a podcast interview series that launched November 18, host Caitlin McShea, SFI’s InterPlanetary Festival Director, asks artists, authors, athletes, and scientists to imagine one alien technology that could change the trajectory of human advancement. 

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A biology breakthrough

Quanta magazine named SFI’s information theory of individuality in their annual review of biology breakthroughs. It was one of six selections for 2020.

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Nautilus: Playing Go with Darwin

In a new op-ed at Nautilus, SFI President David Krakauer explains that the key moves in evolution bear a striking resemblance to those that animate the game of Go.

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Sean Carroll elected to AAAS

SFI External Professor Sean Carroll of Caltech has been elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for 2020, the association announced on November 24. 

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Aeon: All stars

In their recent essay in Aeon, SFI Professor Jessica Flack and collaborator Cade Massey (Wharton School, University of Texas) argue that complexity science can help us improve our strategies for building teams.

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Study: Countering hate on social media

The rise of online hate speech is a disturbing, growing trend in countries around the world, with serious psychological consequences and the potential to impact, and even contribute to, real-world violence. A new paper offers a framework for studying the dynamics of online hate and counter speech, and offers the first large-scale classification of millions of instances such interactions on Twitter.

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The Conversation: Election polls are more accurate if they ask participants how others will vote

In a post-election op-ed for The Conversation, SFI Professor Mirta Galesic and Wändi Bruine de Bruin at USC Dornsife describe their polling research with colleagues Henrik Olssen, SFI External Professor, and Drazen Prelec at MIT. The team found that if polls start to ask questions about how people think members of their social circle or state will vote, they tend to predict results with far greater accuracy. 

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First virtual Undergraduate Complexity Research Program a success

It takes patience and plenty of good-will to transform a dynamic and intensive in-person summer program into a virtual experience that offers genuine and impactful connections. With the support of SFI Professor and Program Director Chris Kempes and Education Program Manager Carla Shedivy, ten students around the U.S. and 11 SFI researcher-mentors proved up to the task.

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