SFI Professor and senior scientist at the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History, Douglas H. Erwin, recently reviewed the book, Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis. The first part of the book is comprised of 16 essays on topics ranging from origins of life to the relation of evolution to society and religion. The remainder of this book contains an encyclopedia containing 200 short essays. Erwin notes many informed readers will wonder why some of the bigger names in the field are missing from the book and why certain ones are included. To summarize his review of this book, Erwin states, “For students and the general public, many of the essays in this volume provide useful introductions to a number of central issues in evolution, and the shorter contributions are a ready reference on a wide range of topics.”
Dr. Jeremy Sabloff will join the Institute August 1 to lead SFI’s cutting-edge research community as it celebrates its 25th Anniversary. “We are delighted Jerry has accepted our offer,” says Bill Miller, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Legg Mason Capital Management and Chairman of SFI’s Board of Trustees. “We need a broad and deep intellectual to build SFI’s scientific footprint and Jerry uniquely combines an understanding of our multidisciplinary science with executive level administrative and fundraising experience."
This month 20 secondary school science teachers from around the country are attending an SFI workshop to learn the latest on the chemical origins of life and the development of modern genetic code. They then will take the ideas, tools, and inspiration from the workshop back to their students this fall.
Cyber phenom feels home with the ‘smart crazies’ — ‘Disruptive technologist’ drawn to Santa Fe Institute
Virgil Griffith, the creator of WikiScanner, has spent the past four summers as an undergraduate researcher at SFI. WikiScanner is a program that lets you see who is editing content in Wikipedia. Griffith began his work on WikiScanner while at SFI. This WikiScanner program has busted Wal-Mart and several other major corporations editing and removing content from the Wikipedia entry of their companies. Griffith has been drawn to SFI since he was in high school. He always wanted to be “where all the really smart crazies are.” And as SFI President Geoffrey West said, “He’s certainly one of our crazy smart people. He’s very interesting and he’s very SFI-ish.” Griffith will spend all of September at SFI continuing work on his plethora of projects.
Mobile phones are being used to collect data for a variety of different disciplines and SFI Omidyar Fellow, Nathan Eagle, is studying human movement and behavior through mobile phones. In an experiment at MIT, Eagle studied call logs of 100 students and staff and found he could sort the business students from other majors with 96% accuracy. Eagle is going to experiment on a larger scale next by studying millions of mobile phone users throughout Europe and parts of East Africa. Part of his study is to see if certain phone behaviors can help alert public health officials in the early stages of disease outbreaks.
SFI researcher, Virgil Griffith, created a program called WikiScanner, which tracks computers used to make changes and edits to Wikipedia entries. WikiScanner revealed CIA and FBI computers were used to edit topics on the Iraq War and the Guantanamo prison. WikiScanner also found computers at other organizations were used to edit topics related to them.
SFI postdoctoral fellow Elhanan Borenstein and collaborators have used a technique called “reverse ecology” to see what life was like on Earth millions of years ago. By studying the genome and metabolic networks of an organism, Borenstein and colleagues were able to see the organism’s environment and how it relates to other species. This information could then be utilized on a larger scale to figure out the environmental events throughout millions of year of life on Earth.
The APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) region is hit by more geological and hydrometeorogical disasters than any other part of the world. SFI external professor, Mark Newman and colleagues found that of all people affected by disasters between 1975 and 2004; 43 percent live in Southern Asia and 41 percent live in Eastern Asia. For years researchers and scientists have been working on having more prediction structures readily available. A new tool from APEC Climate Centre in Korea may have found the answer. The Climate Information Tool Kit (CLIK) is a user-friendly interface that allows data to be retrieved for anywhere on earth.
SFI Chair of the Faculty and professor, David Krakauer was interviewed by Mary Charlotte on the Santa Fe Radio Café. Krakauer started the discussing by explaining the basics of theories, research, and science. He goes on to tell a history of Darwin and evolution. Throughout the interview, Krakauer also discusses how Darwin helps the scientific world today by research on diseases, vaccines, historical restructuring, and complex social systems.
Harvard Medical School professor and SFI external professor, Walter Fontana and colleagues have created Cellucidate, a new tool to help biologists uncover general principles about cellular signaling. Cellucidate would turn network diagrams of signaling pathways into living and breathing systems. Fontana mixed Kappa, a computer language “tuned to express basic interactions between proteins,” with a method called “coarse-graining” into computational models. By coarse-graining under Kappa’s rules, an automated compression is formed, filtering out permutations that have no bearing on the current model. The goals of Cellucidate include modeling and simulation to speed drug discovery and cure cancer. Fontana also helped found a company called Plectix BioSystems which provides a shared online space for scientists to use Cellucidate. Fontana adds, “Plectix wants to be the Facebook of proteins…where scientists will make models collaboratively.”
Warfare was sufficiently common and lethal among our ancestors to favor the evolution of what Sam Bowles, SFI Professor, calls parochial altruism, a predisposition to be cooperative towards group members and hostile towards outsiders. Biologists and economists have doubted that a genetic predisposition to behave altruistically (help others at a cost to oneself) could evolve (excepting the help extended to close genetic relatives). Skepticism among biologists arose primarily because most think that groups are not sufficiently different genetically to favor group selection (the most obvious evolutionary mechanism promoting altruism beyond the family). But both observation in natural settings and experiments (some of them by Bowles and his co authors) show that altruism is quite common among humans (much more so than in most other animals). In a series of recent papers Bowles shows that altruism could have evolved among humans as a result of the advantages that altruistic groups have in military and other competition with other groups.
Authors, including SFI External Professor Jessica Green, present a theoretical framework to describe stochastic, size-structured community assembly, and use this framework to make community-level ecological predictions. The model can be thought of as adding biological realism to Neutral Biodiversity Theory by incorporating size variation and growth dynamics, and allowing demographic rates to depend on the sizes of individuals.
Mark Buchanan, the science writer for Physics World, discusses the new field of “econophysics” which began at the Santa Fe Institute, a facility focused on innovative, high-risk, and inter-disciplinary research. Physicists are creating models of the economy and trying to help the future of markets and the economy.
We live in a post-Darwinian world, and it is no longer possible to conceive of life without some reference to Darwin's theories. But the world is more complex than Darwin supposed. Whereas an evolutionary perspective pervades all of biology, economics and politics, we are confronted by a range of post-Darwinian complexities and challenges that require a new and expanded set of ideas. Five short presentations by SFI faculty explore both the influence and the limitations of Darwin's thought on modern science, and introduce several of the ways the Santa Fe Institute has responded to and built upon Darwin's legacy.
To establish the Omidyar Fellows Program which aims to attract the brightest and most creative thinkers to spend two to three years as postdoctoral fellows at the Santa Fe Institute. Consistent with SFI's multidisciplinary approach, the fellowship program will draw scholars from across the social, physical and natural sciences with the common denominators being intense curiosity, creativity and a desire to delve deep into the major questions facing science and society.
A $15,000 grant from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation is helping SFI reach out to middle schoolers in Taos, N.M., says Irene Lee, who is principal investigator of SFI’s Project GUTS (“Growing Up Thinking Scientifically”) educational effort. Project GUTS aims to engage students in research projects that promote an understanding of complex systems and the value of computer modeling and simulation in scientific research.
"A Significant Upward Shift in Plant Species Optimum Elevation During the 20th Century" by SFI External Professor and former International Fellow Pablo Marquet and collaborators is featured in this week's issue of Science Magazine
Sign up to View a lecture by SFI President Geoffrey West at Imperial College, London, on his work developing a unified quantitative theory of biological and social structure and organization. Here he describes scaling -- whereby many of life’s most fundamental and complex phenomena scale with size in a surprisingly simple fashion.