Introduction to Concepts of Complexity Science

Presented by Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam

President, New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
10:00am - 11:00am


Potomac Institute for Policy Studies

Ballston Metro Center Office Towers

901 North Stuart Street, 12th floor

Arlington, VA 22203


Identifying what is important to focus on (what matters) is the essence of effective strategic decision making and policy. In this presentation Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam will review the capabilities of complexity science to provide that focus as well as quantitative analyses that can be built to provide decision support. Rooted in mathematics developed in physics that transcends calculus and statistical assumptions, complexity science provides essential concepts that are necessary to identify the important information in data for strategic decision making in both the public and private sector. He will provide brief reviews of previous applications, including: the use of ethnic demography to determine areas of ethnic conflict; the role of food prices in the Arab Spring; the combination of these factors in specific countries, e.g. Yemen and Syria; the relationship of revolutionary activity to national stability in the aftermath of the Arab Spring; trend following and panic in the financial crisis; the dynamics of social interaction and fragmentation around the world; Fed policy and its impact on economic growth, polarization and its impact on democracy; and the impact of changing global connectivity on pathogen evolution and pandemics. We have used these insights to advise policy makers about the financial crisis, diplomatic and military engagement in Egypt and Syria, and the Ebola outbreak responses in West Africa and DRC. Depending on audience interest he will also touch on private sector applications, e.g., in supply chain optimization and organizational dynamics. The talk will not present the underlying mathematical frameworks, so that no mathematics background is needed for participants.


Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam holds an SB and PhD in physics from MIT. Since the late 1980s he has contributed to founding the field of complex systems science, introducing fundamental mathematical rigor, real world application, and educational programs for new concepts and insights of this field. His work quantitatively analyzes a wide range of scientific and real world problems such as the origins and impacts of market crashes, social unrest, ethnic violence, military conflict and pandemics, the structure and dynamics of social networks, as well as the bases of creativity, panic, evolution and altruism. He has advised the Chairman’s Action Group at the Pentagon about global social unrest and the crises in Egypt and Syria, the National Security Council and the National Counter Terrorism Council on global strategy, the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group about military force transformation, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Barney Frank, about market regulation and the financial crisis, the UN and World Health Organization about pandemic control the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about delivery of prevention services and control of hospital infections, and other government organizations, NGOs, and corporations on using principles and insights from complex systems science. He has authored more than 200 research papers in professional journals, including Science, Nature, PNAS, American Naturalist, and Physical Review Letters, and has 4 patents. In addition to having taught more than 2,000 graduate students, professionals and executives, he has been a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the MIT Media Laboratory.

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