CASA has been awarded a substantial grant (circa £3m) by EPSRC to develop a programme in global dynamics and complexity theory: CASA will lead ten academics in UCL who will build models of migration, trade, security, and development. Many jobs will be advertised in due course.
Most of our science which is used to inform policy makers about future social and economic events has been built for systems that are local rather than global and are assumed to behave in ways that are relatively tractable and thus responsive to policy initiatives. Any examination of the degree to which such policy-making has been successful or even informative yields a very mixed picture with such interventions being only partly effective at best, and positively disruptive at worst. Human policymaking shows all the characteristics of a complex system. Many of our interventions make problems worse rather than better leading to the oft-quoted accusation that “the solution is part of the problem”.
Complexity theory recognizes this dilemma. In this research programme, we will develop new forms of science which address the most difficult of human problems: those that involve global change where there is no organised constituency and whose agencies are largely regarded as being ineffective. We will argue that global systems tend to be treated in isolation from one another and that the unexpected dynamics that characterises their behaviour is due to their coupling and integration that is all to often ignored.
To demonstrate this dynamics and to develop appropriate policy responses, we will study four related global systems:trade, migration, security (which includes crime, terrorism and military disputes) and development aid which tend to be determined as a consequence of these three individual systems. The idea that this dynamics results from coupling suggests that to get a clear view of their dynamics and a better understanding of global change, we need to develop integrated and coupled models whose dynamics can be described in the conventional and perhaps not so conventional language of complexity theory: chaos, turbulence, bifurcations, catastrophes, and phase transition.
We will develop three related styles of model: spatial interaction models embedded in predator-prey like frameworks which generate bifurcations in system behaviour, reaction diffusion models that link location to flow, and network models in which epidemic-like diffusion processes can be used to explain how events cascade into one another. We will apply spatial interaction models to trade and migration, reaction diffusion to military disputes and terrorism, and network models to international crime. We will extend these models to incorporate the generation of qualitative new events such as the emergence of new entities e.g. countries, coupling them together in diverse ways. We will ultimately develop a generic framework for a coupled global dynamics that spans many spatial and temporal scales and pertains to different systems whose behaviours can be simulated both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The researchers involved are: Alan Wilson and Michael Batty, CASA; Francesca Medda Transport; Alex Braithwaite, Political Science; Sean Hanna, Bartlett School of Graduate Studies; Shane Johnson, Jill Dando Institute for Crime Science; Steven Bishop and Frank Smith, Mathematics; and Pablo Mateos, Geography.