Covert and overt political signaling online

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored by SFI's Tamara van der Does and Mirta Galesic, demonstrates empirically for the first time that people use covert signals of their political identity online. Furthermore, they do so more often in mixed groups, preferring overt signals in groups that mostly share their beliefs.

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Scaling laws in enzymes may help predict life ‘as we don’t know it’

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identifies a new kind of biochemical universality in enzymes — the functional drivers of biochemistry — found in life on Earth. These patterns in the chemistry of life do not appear to depend on specific molecules and may help researchers develop tools to predict the features of life as we don’t know it.

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Real patterns in science & cognition

To advance research on topics from climate change to machine learning, scientific models are crucial. These models often reveal patterns, but humans also have a tendency to see patterns everywhere, even where there are none. How can researchers recognize which patterns are real and which ones are not? Which kinds of real patterns are most useful to science? These are some of the questions that philosophers and scientists from various disciplines explored in a virtual SFI workshop on “Real Patterns in Science and Cognition” held February 28 – March 4.

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Constructing — and deconstructing — collectives

From fireflies to ants to microbes to humans, we all form collectives. Figuring out how that happens can help us understand our responses to some of the world’s biggest challenges. A January workshop met to explore new directions for collective-behavior research. 

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SFI launches new research theme on emergent political economies

The Santa Fe Institute has received funding for a new five-year research theme on emergent political economies. The theme, funded by a $6.5 million grant from the Omidyar Network, will take up the ethical imperative to develop better theoretical frameworks and methods to understand the social, ecological, and material inequalities at the core of the modern economy, as well as imagine the role that innovation will play in emergent political economies of the future – both for good and ill.

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Roots as drivers of South African landscape pattern

In South Africa's western cape, the shrubby Fynbos biome and the abutting Afrotemperate Forest biome share an underlying geology and are subject to the same climatic patterns, yet exist as alternative stable states. In a new study in PNAS, SFI Omidyar Fellow Mingzhen Lu and colleagues dive deep to understand the role of root systems in maintaining these two biomes. 

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Deciphering the large-scale patterns of the written record

A recent study led by SFI External Professor Marten Scheffer identified a set of striking patterns in the written record that suggest that, in the universe of language, an era framed by sentiment and individuality has been on the rise for decades. A response from External Professor Simon DeDeo gives a replication of the findings with similar results and also offers remarks on both the methodological challenges and some of the interpretive questions the work raises.

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To combat online hate speech, organize!

Hate speech and disinformation have become intractable problems on social media and other online platforms— might counter speech be an effective strategy to curb it? It’s a difficult thing to address scientifically because so many societal factors are at play beyond the online forums. However, a study published in EPJ Data Science uses a multifaceted approach to begin exploring the question.

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Research brief: The emergence and perils of polarization

We can’t understand polarization unless we analyze it as a complex system, argues SFI External Professor Scott Page (University of Michigan) in a commentary for a special feature on the dynamics of political polarization in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Research brief: Polarization, diversity, and democratic robustness

Polarization is dangerous for democracy. Though the U.S. Constitution was designed to harness rivalry with a diverse, redundant, and modular set of institutions, if that rivalry curdles into the belief that your competitors are your enemies, those institutions may not be strong enough to hold a nation together. In a Perspective piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, SFI External Professor Jenna Bednar (University of Michigan) argues that polarization poses three perils in particular.

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Preventing extreme polarization of political attitudes

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests extreme polarization can be avoided when two sides of a stubbornly intolerant population have low exposure to each other. This paper is part of a PNAS special issue on the dynamics of polarization.

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Santa Fe Institute receives $50 million from Bill Miller

In the largest single donation in its history, the nonprofit Santa Fe Institute will receive $50 million from legendary investor Bill Miller. The gift will advance the Institute's pioneering science of complex systems by growing its research community and expanding the facilities in which it works. 

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Strengthening the second law of thermodynamics

For the past few years, SFI Professor David Wolpert and physicist Artemy Kolchinsky, a former SFI postdoctoral fellow, have been collaborating to better understand the connection between thermodynamics and information processing in computation. Their latest exploration of the topic, published in Physical Review E, looks at applying these ideas to a wide range of classical and quantum areas, including quantum thermodynamics.

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When is a basin of attraction like an octopus?

Mathematicians who study dynamical systems often focus on the rules of attraction, finding the “basins” that show the states the systems are drawn to. For straightforward systems, the shape and size of a basin is comprehensible, but not so for more complicated systems. In fact, they may look like the tentacles of an octopus, according to a new paper by SFI Postdoc Yuanzhao Zhang and co-author Steven Strogatz. 

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