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Higher education responses to COVID-19 in the United States: Evidence for the impacts of university policy

Fri, 10/15/2021 - 12:39

Brennan Klein, View ORCID ProfileNicholas Generous, View ORCID ProfileMatteo Chinazzi, Zarana Bhadricha, Rishab Gunashekar, Preeti Kori, Bodian Li, View ORCID ProfileStefan McCabe, View ORCID ProfileJon Green, View ORCID ProfileDavid Lazer, View ORCID ProfileChristopher R. Marsicano, View ORCID ProfileSamuel V. Scarpino, View ORCID ProfileAlessandro Vespignani

Brennan Klein, Nicholas Generous, Matteo Chinazzi, Zarana Bhadricha, Rishab Gunashekar, Preeti Kori, Bodian Li, Stefan McCabe, Jon Green, David Lazer, Christopher R. Marsicano, Samuel V. Scarpino, Alessandro Vespignani

With a dataset of testing and case counts from over 1,400 institutions of higher education (IHEs) in the United States, we analyze the number of infections and deaths from SARS-CoV-2 in the counties surrounding these IHEs during the Fall 2020 semester (August to December, 2020). We used a matching procedure designed to create groups of counties that are aligned along age, race, income, population, and urban/rural categories—socio-demographic variables that have been shown to be correlated with COVID-19 outcomes. We find that counties with IHEs that remained primarily online experienced fewer cases and deaths during the Fall 2020 semester; whereas before and after the semester, these two groups had almost identical COVID-19 incidence. Additionally, we see fewer deaths in counties with IHEs that reported conducting any on-campus testing compared to those that reported none. We complement the statistical analysis with a case study of IHEs in Massachusetts—a rich data state in our dataset—which further highlights the importance of IHE-affiliated testing for the broader community. The results in this work suggest that campus testing can itself be thought of as a mitigation policy and that allocating additional resources to IHEs to support efforts to regularly test students and staff would be beneficial to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the general population.

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The complexity of human cooperation under indirect reciprocity

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 15:11

Fernando P. Santos, Jorge M. Pacheco and Francisco C. Santos

Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc.

Indirect reciprocity (IR) is a key mechanism to understand cooperation among unrelated individuals. It involves reputations and complex information processing, arising from social interactions. By helping someone, individuals may improve their reputation, which may be shared in a population and change the predisposition of others to reciprocate in the future. The reputation of individuals depends, in turn, on social norms that define a good or bad action, offering a computational and mathematical appealing way of studying the evolution of moral systems. Over the years, theoretical and empirical research has unveiled many features of cooperation under IR, exploring norms with varying degrees of complexity and information requirements. Recent results suggest that costly reputation spread, interaction observability and empathy are determinants of cooperation under IR. Importantly, such characteristics probably impact the level of complexity and information requirements for IR to sustain cooperation. In this review, we present and discuss those recent results. We provide a synthesis of theoretical models and discuss previous conclusions through the lens of evolutionary game theory and cognitive complexity. We highlight open questions and suggest future research in this domain.

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GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 13:59

The 2021 GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar provides an overview of science trends and breakthrough predictions at 5, 10 and 25 years in 24 science and technology areas, a synthesis of the related fundamental debates in society, and an exploration of opportunities for concerted action through initial contributions on the implications for international affairs, global challenges, and the SDGs.

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Complexity and change: thinking, practices and processes for addressing global challenges (2nd Edition)

Mon, 10/11/2021 - 17:32

16, 17, 18, 19, 22 (+23) November 2021, 11:00am – 06:00pm (GMT)

Online | SECOND CALL for applications >> until 14 October 2021

This CES Winter School is a 2nd Edition of the previously named “Sustainable development, complexity and change: thinking and practices for the SDG and other objectives” CES Winter School, held on December 2020. It is based on a logic of deep interdisciplinarity, oriented towards promoting productive, collaborative, critical and creative dialogues between different disciplines and modes of thinking, between theory and research and the practices that “in the real world” enact and realise, critique or present alternative or complementary proposals to current global challenges.

While the international political agenda is guided by the concept of sustainable development, both the concept and it’s expression, configured in the 17 SDG and their indicators, remain under discussion, raising issues about their adequacy to places, contexts and specific problems, about the practices that sustain the concept of sustainable development and the degree of congruence between the thinking underlying such political agendas, the complexity of the world and the actions informed by such thinking. The question needs to be raised that an insufficient recognition of the complexity of the problems that sustain local and global policies and the realities they aim to dress, as well as of the need to develop modes of thinking and practices congruent with such complexity, may prevent or limit the success of this international agenda, even leading, in unpredictable ways, to the configurations of new, more or less preferred or unwanted realities.

In this Winter School, we propose to address key global challenges, exploring a variety of critical, alternative and complementary views on how to address their complexity. As such, the School will combine lectures/seminars and guided and creative moments of group discussion aimed at the integration of knowledge and experiences towards the production of new ideas and projects.

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Anil Seth on Emergence, Information, and Consciousness – Sean Carroll’s Mindscape

Mon, 10/11/2021 - 12:11

Those of us who think that that the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely known tend to also think that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon that must be compatible with those laws. To hold such a position in a principled way, it’s important to have a clear understanding of “emergence” and when it happens. Anil Seth is a leading researcher in the neuroscience of consciousness, who has also done foundational work (often in collaboration with Lionel Barnett) on what emergence means. We talk about information theory, entropy, and what they have to do with how things emerge.

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The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2021

Mon, 10/11/2021 - 07:09

This year’s Laureates – David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens – have provided us with new insights about the labour market and shown what conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments. Their approach has spread to other fields and revolutionised empirical research.

Many of the big questions in the social sciences deal with cause and effect. How does immigration affect pay and employment levels? How does a longer education affect someone’s future income? These questions are difficult to answer because we have nothing to use as a comparison. We do not know what would have happened if there had been less immigration or if that person had not continued studying.

However, this year’s Laureates have shown that it is possible to answer these and similar questions using natural experiments. The key is to use situations in which chance events or policy changes result in groups of people being treated differently, in a way that resembles clinical trials in medicine.

Using natural experiments, David Card has analysed the labour market effects of minimum wages, immigration and education. His studies from the early 1990s challenged conventional wisdom, leading to new analyses and additional insights. The results showed, among other things, that increasing the minimum wage does not necessarily lead to fewer jobs. We now know that the incomes of people who were born in a country can benefit from new immigration, while people who immigrated at an earlier time risk being negatively affected. We have also realised that resources in schools are far more important for students’ future labour market success than was previously thought.

Data from a natural experiment are difficult to interpret, however. For example, extending compulsory education by a year for one group of students (but not another) will not affect everyone in that group in the same way. Some students would have kept studying anyway and, for them, the value of education is often not representative of the entire group. So, is it even possible to draw any conclusions about the effect of an extra year in school? In the mid-1990s, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens solved this methodological problem, demonstrating how precise conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments.

“Card’s studies of core questions for society and Angrist and Imbens’ methodological contributions have shown that natural experiments are a rich source of knowledge. Their research has substantially improved our ability to answer key causal questions, which has been of great benefit to society,” says Peter Fredriksson, chair of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee.

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Perseverance rover reveals an ancient delta-lake system and flood deposits at Jezero crater, Mars

Fri, 10/08/2021 - 10:56

Observations from orbital spacecraft have shown that Jezero crater, Mars, contains a prominent fan-shaped body of sedimentary rock deposited at its western margin. The Perseverance rover landed in Jezero crater in February 2021. We analyze images taken by the rover in the three months after landing. The fan has outcrop faces that were invisible from orbit, which record the hydrological evolution of Jezero crater. We interpret the presence of inclined strata in these outcrops as evidence of deltas that advanced into a lake. In contrast, the uppermost fan strata are composed of boulder conglomerates, which imply deposition by episodic high-energy floods. This sedimentary succession indicates a transition, from a sustained hydrologic activity in a persistent lake environment, to highly energetic short-duration fluvial flows.

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The Harmful Effects of Social Media

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 17:24

Today we’re talking to IU Professor Johan Bollen about the impact social media is having on us, and the complex relationship we have with the tech companies that run them.

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W. Brian Arthur on Economics in Nouns and Verbs

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 15:17

What is the economy?  People used to tell stories about the exchange of goods and services in terms of flows and processes — but over the last few hundred years, economic theory veered toward measuring discrete amounts of objects.  Why?  The change has less to do with the objective nature of economies and more to do with what tools theorists had available.  And scientific instruments — be they material technologies or concepts — don’t just make new things visible, but also hide things in new blind spots.  For instance, algebra does very well with ratios and quantities…but fails to properly address what markets do: how innovation works, where value comes from, and how economic actors navigate (and change) a fundamentally uncertain shifting landscape.  With the advent of computers, new opportunities emerge to study that which cannot be contained in an equation. Using algorithms, scientists can formalize complex behaviors – and thinking economics in both nouns and verbs provides a more complete and useful stereoscopic view of what we are and do.

This week we speak with W. Brian Arthur of The Santa Fe Institute, Stanford University, and Xerox PARC about his recent essay, “Economics in Nouns and Verbs.” In this first part of a two-part conversation, we explore how a mathematics of static objects fails to describe economies in motion — and how a process-based approach can fill gaps in our understanding.

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Also, listen to Part 2 on “Prim Dreams of Order vs. Messy Vitality” in Economics, Math, and Physics

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021

Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:36

Building molecules is a difficult art. Benjamin List and David MacMillan are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis. This has had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener.

Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of diseases. This work requires catalysts, which are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product. For example, catalysts in cars transform toxic substances in exhaust fumes to harmless molecules. Our bodies also contain thousands of catalysts in the form of enzymes, which chisel out the molecules necessary for life.

Catalysts are thus fundamental tools for chemists, but researchers long believed that there were, in principle, just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Benjamin List and David MacMillan are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 because in 2000 they, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.

“This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn’t think of it earlier,” says Johan Åqvist, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Organic catalysts have a stable framework of carbon atoms, to which more active chemical groups can attach. These often contain common elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur or phosphorus. This means that these catalysts are both environmentally friendly and cheap to produce.

The rapid expansion in the use of organic catalysts is primarily due to their ability to drive asymmetric catalysis. When molecules are being built, situations often occur where two different molecules can form, which – just like our hands – are each other’s mirror image. Chemists will often only want one of these, particularly when producing pharmaceuticals.

Organocatalysis has developed at an astounding speed since 2000. Benjamin List and David MacMillan remain leaders in the field, and have shown that organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells. In this way, organocatalysts are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.

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The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021

Tue, 10/05/2021 - 11:51

Complex systems are characterised by randomness and disorder and are difficult to understand. This year’s Prize recognises new methods for describing them and predicting their long-term behaviour.

One complex system of vital importance to humankind is Earth’s climate. Syukuro Manabe demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures at the surface of the Earth. In the 1960s, he led the development of physical models of the Earth’s climate and was the first person to explore the interaction between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses. His work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.

About ten years later, Klaus Hasselmann created a model that links together weather and climate, thus answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic. He also developed methods for identifying specific signals, fingerprints, that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in he climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperature in the atmosphere is due to human emissions of carbon dioxide.

Around 1980, Giorgio Parisi discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials. His discoveries are among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems. They make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena, not only in physics but also in other, very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.

“The discoveries being recognised this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations. This year’s Laureates have all contributed to us gaining deeper insight into the properties and evolution of complex physical systems,” says Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

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The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021

Mon, 10/04/2021 - 12:55

Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival and underpins our interaction with the world around us. In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates.

David Julius utilized capsaicin, a pungent compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. Ardem Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs. These breakthrough discoveries launched intense research activities leading to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli. The laureates identified critical missing links in our understanding of the complex interplay between our senses and the environment.

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Linguistic laws in biology

Sun, 10/03/2021 - 11:50

Stuart Semple, Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Morgan L. Gustison

Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Linguistic laws, the common statistical patterns of human language, have been investigated by quantitative linguists for nearly a century. Recently, biologists from a range of disciplines have started to explore the prevalence of these laws beyond language, finding patterns consistent with linguistic laws across multiple levels of biological organisation, from molecular (genomes, genes, and proteins) to organismal (animal behaviour) to ecological (populations and ecosystems). We propose a new conceptual framework for the study of linguistic laws in biology, comprising and integrating distinct levels of analysis, from description to prediction to theory building. Adopting this framework will provide critical new insights into the fundamental rules of organisation underpinning natural systems, unifying linguistic laws and core theory in biology.

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Anil Seth Finds Consciousness in Life’s Push Against Entropy

Fri, 10/01/2021 - 11:48

How does consciousness arise in mere flesh and blood? To the neuroscientist Anil Seth, our organic bodies are the key to the experience.

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Opinion Models and Social Influence on Networks. Mason Porter

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 19:48

From the spreading of diseases and memes to the development of
opinions and social influence, dynamical processes are influenced heavily
by the networks on which they occur. In this talk, I’ll discuss social
influence and opinion models on networks. I’ll present a few types of
models — including threshold models of social contagions, voter models
that coevolve with network structure, and bounded-confidence models with
continuous opinions — and illustrate how such processes are affected by
the networks on which they occur. I’ll also connect these models to
opinion polarization and the development of echo chambers in online social

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Games in Rigged Economies

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 15:36

Luís F. Seoane
Phys. Rev. X 11, 031058 (2021)

Multiple aspects of an economy can be regulated, tampered with, or left to chance. Economic actors can exploit these degrees of freedom, at a cost, to bend the flow of wealth in their favor. If intervention becomes widespread, microeconomic strategies of different actors can build into emergent macroeconomic effects. How viable is a “rigged” economy? How do growing economic complexity and wealth affect it? We study rigged economies with a toy model. In it, economic degrees of freedom progress from minority to coordination games as intervention increases. Growing economic complexity spontaneously defuses cartels. But excessive complexity leads to large-fluctuations regimes, threatening the system’s stability. Simulations suggest that wealth must grow faster than linearly with economic complexity to avoid this regime and keep economies viable in the long run. We discuss a real-case scenario of multiple economic actors coordinated to result in an emergent upset of the stock market.

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An Inconvenient Truth About AI

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 12:46

Rodney A. Brooks

AI won’t surpass human intelligence anytime soon

Just about every successful deployment of AI has either one of two expedients: It has a person somewhere in the loop, or the cost of failure, should the system blunder, is very low.

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Is America Prepared for the Pandemic After COVID-19?

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 11:41

Ed Yong

This one is far from over, but the window to prepare for future threats is closing fast.

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Origins of Life, MOOC @ SFI’s Complexity Explorer

Tue, 09/28/2021 - 11:08

Lead instructors: Sarah Maurer and Chris Kempes

This course aims to push the field of Origins of Life research forward by bringing new and synthetic thinking to the question of how life emerged from an abiotic world.

This course begins by examining the chemical, geological, physical, and biological principles that give us insight into origins of life research. We look at the chemical and geological environment of early Earth from the perspective of likely environments for life to originate.

Taking a look at modern life we ask what it can tell us about the origin of life by winding the clock backwards. We explore what elements of modern life are absolutely essential for life, and ask what is arbitrary? We ponder how life arose from the huge chemical space and what this early ‘living chemistry’ may have looked like.

We examine phenomena, that may seem particularly life like, but are in fact likely to arise given physical dynamics alone. We analyze what physical concepts and laws bound the possibilities for life and its formation.

Insights gained from modern evolutionary theory will be applied to proto-life. Once life emerges, we consider how living systems impact the geosphere and evolve complexity. 

The study of Origins of Life is highly interdisciplinary – touching on concepts and principles from earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics.  With this we hope that the course can bring students interested in a broad range of fields to explore how life originated. 

The course will make use of basic algebra, chemistry, and biology but potentially difficult topics will be reviewed, and help is available in the course discussion forum and instructor email. There will be pointers to additional resources for those who want to dig deeper.

This course is a Complexity Explorer Frontiers Course.  The goals of a Frontiers Course are to share the excitement and uncertainty of a scientific area, inspire curiosity, and possibly draw new people into the research community who can help this research area take shape.

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Can Mutual Imitation Generate Open-Ended Evolution? Takashi Ikegami University Tokio

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 19:45

We only find open-ended evolution (OEE) in the development of human technology or in the evolution of life itself. The research on OEE at ALIFE aims to discover a mechanism that generates OEE automatically in a computer or machine. A potential mechanism and the conditions required have been discussed in three previous workshops. In this study, we propose and discuss man–machine interaction experiments as a new OEE mechanism. The pertinent definition of OEE here is whether we can continue to create new movements that are distinguishable to us. We consider the development of body movement patterns generated when Alter3 androids imitate each other and when Alter3 androids and humans imitate each other. We use UMAP contraction and transfer entropy to measure these changes and demonstrate that man–machine communication is far more dynamic and complex than the machine–machine interaction. We discuss how human subjects can engender OEE via communication with the android.

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