Consortium takes lead to advance emerging science
From finding ways to sustainably manage the Earth's resources to mitigating or even preventing pandemics, three research centers at Arizona State University have united to bring about insight into global challenges to improve the human condition through the emerging field of complex adaptive systems.
The three centers – the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity; the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center; and the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity – celebrated ASU’s new Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems during a recent event held on ASU's Tempe campus.
“This latest effort at ASU is designed to join forces on biosocial complex systems across disciplines and team up with collaborators from around the world. In this model we are better equipped to create local solutions to issues in social, environmental and health policy that will have a global impact,” said Sander van der Leeuw, director of the the consortium. He is also the director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and co-directs ASU’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative, or CASI.
The consortium brings together social scientists, mathematical modelers, epidemiologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists and biologists, among others, who will look at the epidemiology of infectious diseases and human-landscape interactions, social institutions, human decision-making and the emergence of social organization in insect societies, among other topics.
Complex systems are found in everyday life, from the structure of the immune system, to the Internet, to the global economy. The consortium’s faculty seeks to answer some critical questions about what guides these, and other, self-organizing systems.
Each of the consortium’s member centers focus on various aspects of complexity in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity seeks a better understanding of how the performance of institutional arrangements — defined as the norms and rules people use in repeated collective action situations — are influenced by contextual social and ecological dynamics.
“Governance of social-ecological systems is a major policy problem of the contemporary era," said Marco Janssen, associate director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity. "Recognizing that there are no panaceas to complex problems, we need to understand the relevant complexity of social-ecological systems to enhance sustainability and public health."
The Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center integrates research and education in the life and social sciences by addressing specific scientific, social and policy questions by using computational, mathematical and statistical methods and modeling.
“Modeling and computational approaches are at the heart of this center’s efforts to integrate knowledge and information across temporal, spatial and organizational scales,” said Carlos Castillo-Chavez, director of the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center. “Our faculty thrives in transdisciplinary research and consequently has expertise in scientific disciplines while carrying out cutting-edge research in applied, computational and pure mathematics.”
The Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity leverages the emerging field of complex systems to foster interdisciplinary research and fundamental questions of social life.
“We focus the diverse disciplinary expertise of our faculty on studies of the dynamics of social behavior across human and natural systems,” said Michael Barton, co-director of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity. “Combining complex adaptive systems concepts with advanced modeling technologies in interdisciplinary research helps us better understand and capture the rules underlying the origins, evolution and dissolution of societies.”
The consortium currently has 23 core and 53 affiliated faculty members who are involved in various complexity research projects.
“The consortium draws broadly from a broad range of natural and social sciences to understand such systems as never before,” said Quentin Wheeler, university vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It symbolizes the kind of transdisciplinary, creative approaches that are a departure from the disciplinary silos of the past.”
As part of the celebration, the three center directors, along with Stephen Pratt, assistant professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences, participated in a panel discussion that provided a comprehensive overview of the ideas underlying complex systems science.
Elinor Ostrom, Nobel laureate and founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, provided video remarks during the ceremony. She praised the consortium for moving ahead and showing universities around the world how to organize effectively across the social and biological sciences.