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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Dan Rockmore: 'Three mathematicians we lost in 2020'

When a great mathematician dies, we lose direct access to a rare and brilliant mind. In 2020, three great mathematicians died: John Conway, Ronald Graham, and Freeman Dyson. In a beautiful memorial published in The New Yorker, SFI External Professor Dan Rockmore helps us recollect the wonders of each man’s singular genius.

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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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Jennifer Dunne reflects on a year without ‘superpowers’

The Santa Fe Institute has always been defined by its ability to bring diverse, leading thinkers into the same room to tackle important research questions. So for SFI, 2020 has been something like stepping into that red chamber in the Fortress of Solitude. Jennifer Dunne, SFI’s Vice President for Science, jokes that the pandemic, with its necessary restrictions on in-person gatherings, “took away our superpower.” In this Q&A, Dunne talks about which aspects of SFI science can and cannot be replicated in a virtual environment, and what this means going into 2021.

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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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Drowning in disinformation

The use and spread of disinformation has quickly eroded trust in institutions that serve as the bedrocks of our society, such as science, the media, and government.

In a white paper for the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), a group of researchers including SFI's Joshua Garland and Elizabeth Bradley outline steps to begin dealing with the disinformation problem.

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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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