Wrap-Up: Wrestling with Academic, Economic, and Scientific Complexities

This week on gnovis, around CCT and beyond the halls of academia, issues of complexity emerged as a common thread of popular discussion. Authors reflected on the ever-growing complexity of our globally-linked economy, the commodification of everything (including the presidency!), and the future of interdisciplinary research. Some thoughts on the ways in which complexity is complicating our lives…

On gnovis

From commemorative plates to bobble heads, Jason reflects on commodifying the Obama presidency …and he doesn’t mince words on the subject: “Framing our President as an investment or commodity is egregious, disrespectful and speaks volumes about our preoccupation with celebrity culture. President Obama is the leader of the free world, not a cash cow.”

Margarita introduces readers to an oh-so-cool graphical mapping tool developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (NANL), which helps interdisciplinarians identify the main nodes in their network of academic interests. Describing the tool, Margarita writes:” It visualizes the interrelatedness of scientific research (and research in general) and supports the idea that scientific ideas don’t come from a vacuum, but are affected and inspired by work from many different disciplines.”

The MLA citation system no longer requires URLs in bibliographic references!? Jed questions the logic behind this decision, suggesting that this move seems like an all-too-easy easy opt-out for a problem in digital scholarship that demands greater consideration: “[citing Stolley] the MLA’s decision to make URLs optional is a blow to digital information literacy. Moreover, it does little to aid digital and new media scholars who need better tools to aid their readers in finding resources, not a citation system that handicaps itself because new media is tricky.”

Around CCT and the blogosphere

In his post, Condensates, Dust and Phase Transitions Mark Wegner ponders whether our economy is undergoing a phase transition — defined in physics as the structural transformation of one compound into another.  Noting that comparing the structural changes in the economy to those of matter may demand a macro v. micro analysis, he writes: “Just as stepping down the gradients of temperature yields different states of matter and particles (and how could you predict without understanding more interactions between particles?), so do each step of change in the economy have a potential for a phase transition…”

Dr. Garcia considers how complexity theory can speak to interdisciplinary efforts in academia, proposing that the kind of cross training happening at the Santa Fe Institute might be a better model for universities challenged to meet the demands of interdisciplinary scholarship. She writes: “In an increasingly complex environment, in which enhanced feedback is critical, perhaps collaboration around points of interdisciplinary agreement is not what is needed. Instead, we might look to academic disciplines to challenge each other’s assumptions, and thereby enhance the  overall pool of knowledge.”

In his article, Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City New York Times writer, Noam Cohen suggests that that Wikipedia may be the closest thing we have online to a densely populated metropolis: “With its millions of visitors and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, its ever-expanding total of articles and languages spoken, Wikipedia may be the closest thing to a metropolis yet seen online.”

In a fascinating piece for Wired Magazine, Jonah Lehrer writes about the latest project in brain science to map the approximately 20,000 genes in the human brain.  Asked about the ambitious scale of the project, Chief Scientific Officer Allan Jones said: “People ask me why we didn’t start with a more modest goal, like trying to map some small brain area…The point of doing the whole brain, though, is that it allows us to really develop theories about how the brain works. Sometimes, the only way to make sense of a complex system is to be systematic.”

Lauren Alfrey

Lauren worked as the Managing Editor of gnovis in 2009 and graduated with an MA in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University in 2010. Lauren is currently a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Lauren joined gnovis and CCT after working for three years as an online fundraising and advocacy consultant for progressive nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to her professional work, Lauren graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she majored in Communication and minored in Art History with a focus on women's representation in print advertising and high art.