From life’s possible metabolisms to life’s general principles

From its inception in 2017, the Santa Fe Institute’s Research Coordination Network has been bringing interdisciplinary researchers together to study life’s possible origins. This summer, SFI hosts two working groups through the RCN: “Feasible but Undiscovered Metabolisms,” from July 11–16, and “Multiple Life,” from August 22–26. 

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Covid’s Catch-22: The paradox of masking and disease

There's a complex paradox at play in the dynamics between mask-wearing and the spread of disease: While masking reduces transmission rates and consequently disease prevalence, the reduction of disease inhibits mask-wearing — thereby promoting epidemic revival. A new study led by researchers at the University of Virginia and co-authored by SFI's Simon Levin and Stefani Crabtree explores these complex dynamics. 

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Illuminating the Structure of Technology

In a June 14-16 SFI workshop, “The Structure of Technology,” researchers seek to develop better frameworks to capture how technology emerges, takes shape, and shapes the world in turn. The workshop is the first of a series of meetings that are taking place through SFI’s Emergent Political Economies grant and research theme. 

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Researchers take a computational lens to theoretical immunology

The immune system is almost fantastically complex, and many basic questions remain unanswered about how it manages to keep us safe from intruders without attacking our own tissues. A June 8-10 SFI working group, Distributed Computing Perspectives on Theoretical Immunology, gathered a diverse community of researchers to both revisit classic problems in immunology with a fresh face and ask what new questions have arisen, taking advantage of recent developments in both biology and computer science.

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New model offers physics-inspired rankings evaluation

The world is rife with rankings and orderings, but these hierarchies are only observed after the fact. That makes it difficult to know the true rankings of a system. In a recent paper published in Physical Review E, SFI's George Cantwell and Cris Moore offer a new model to evaluate rankings. 

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SFI Science Board examines the political economy of climate change

On April 30, 2022, the Santa Fe Institute’s Science Board hosted its annual symposium. The meeting’s topic — political economy and climate change — is central to SFI’s new Emergent Political Economies research theme, and will remain a focus of SFI research for the duration of the five-year grant and beyond. 

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Science of science workshop: discovery & inequality

The “science of science” turns the scientific method inward, on the scientific ecosystem itself, to understand its structure and dynamics. Largely confined to sociology and philosophy for decades, advances in computer technology at the turn of the century broadened the discipline into what is now an interdisciplinary field encompassing computer scientists, statisticians, biologists, physicists, and more. This May 5-6, the Institute hosted a meeting called “A New Synthesis for the Science of Science” to synthesize concepts, models, methods, and data to craft a new vision for the science of science. 

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Can algorithms bend toward justice?

Increasingly, algorithms rule our world. They guide doctors toward our medical treatments, advise bankers on whether to give us a home loan, help judges decide whether to release us on bail. They’re often hidden and mysterious, guiding our lives in ways we don’t understand. Are they doing a good job? In particular, are they fair, or are they treating some groups of people better than others? A March working group addresses the question: Can algorithms bend the arc toward justice?

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In a time of upheaval, what does it mean to be useful?

In a time of climate change, inequality, polarization, and pandemic, what does it mean to be “useful?” This question from SFI President David Krakauer kicked off SFI’s live online course Complexity Interactive, which ran January 10 – 28, 2022. Is it better for complex systems scientists to keep their advice simple and be understood, or to advocate for complexity and nuance yet risk that no one will listen?

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Research brief: Information & scaling thresholds in human societies

In a recent paper in the Journal of Social Computing, SFI Professor David Wolpert, SFI External Professor Tim Kohler (Washington State University), and their colleague, Darcy Bird (Washington State University) built on past research to explore patterns of change to collective computation that occur in human history.

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Changing beliefs is critical to sustaining high levels of vaccination

The rise of the BA.2 Omicron variant — first in Europe and East Asia and now in the U.S. — makes it clear that the pandemic isn’t done with us, and it isn’t likely to be anytime soon — unless we achieve very high vaccination levels with recurring boosters. But so far, too few people are volunteering. In the U.S., for instance, less than a third of the population is boosted. Are vaccination mandates the answer? If so, how can they be effective, given the resistance they can stir up? A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Santa Fe Institute researchers Katrin Schmelz and Samuel Bowles offers guidance.

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Community lecture series re-emerges

Since 1987, the Santa Fe Institute’s Community Lecture Series has shared complexity science with an enthusiastic local audience. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the series to go dark in March of 2020. Two years later, the series returned to its local home at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on March 22, 2022, with a talk by SFI External Professor Sara Walker, an astrobiologist at Arizona State University. In her talk “Recognizing the Alien in Us,” Walker expands on themes that were introduced in SFI’s first Community Lectures more than three decades ago.

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Bridging the Dogma Divide in the Origins of Life

A group of early career researchers studying the origins of life hope their March 9-11 meeting might help foster a community that heals divisions of dogma within the field, promote cross-pollination, and include new voices. 

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