Connecting empirical phenomena and theoretical models of biological coordination across scales

Coordination is ubiquitous in living systems. Existing theoretical models of coordination — from bacteria to brains — focus on either gross statistics in large-scale systems (N) or detailed dynamics in small-scale systems (mostly N=2). Both approaches have proceeded largely independent of each other. The present work bridges this gap with a theoretical model of biological coordination that captures key experimental observations of mid-scale social coordination at multiple levels of description. It also reconciles in a single formulation two well-studied models of large- and small-scale biological coordination (Kuramoto and extended Haken-Kelso-Bunz). The model adds second-order coupling (from extended Haken-Kelso-Bunz) to the Kuramoto model. We show that second-order coupling is indispensable for reproducing empirically observed phenomena and gives rise to a phase transition from mono- to multi-stable coordination across scales. This mono-to-multistable transition connects the emergence and growth of behavioral complexity in small and large systems.


Connecting empirical phenomena and theoretical models of biological coordination across scales
Mengsen Zhang, Christopher Beetle, J. A. Scott Kelso, Emmanuelle Tognoli


Antifragility of Random Boolean Networks

Antifragility is a property that enhances the capability of a system in response to external perturbations. Although the concept has been applied in many areas, a practical measure of antifragility has not been developed yet. Here we propose a simply calculable measure of antifragility, based on the change of "satisfaction" before and after adding perturbations, and apply it to random Boolean networks (RBNs). Using the measure, we found that ordered RBNs are the most antifragile. Also, we demonstrate that seven biological systems are antifragile. Our measure and results can be used in various applications of Boolean networks (BNs) including creating antifragile engineering systems, identifying the genetic mechanism of antifragile biological systems, and developing new treatment strategies for various diseases.


Antifragility of Random Boolean Networks
Omar K. Pineda, Hyobin Kim, Carlos Gershenson


The universal decay of collective memory and attention

Collective memory and attention are sustained by two channels: oral communication (communicative memory) and the physical recording of information (cultural memory). Here, we use data on the citation of academic articles and patents, and on the online attention received by songs, movies and biographies, to describe the temporal decay of the attention received by cultural products. We show that, once we isolate the temporal dimension of the decay, the attention received by cultural products decays following a universal biexponential function. We explain this universality by proposing a mathematical model based on communicative and cultural memory, which fits the data better than previously proposed log-normal and exponential models. Our results reveal that biographies remain in our communicative memory the longest (20–30 years) and music the shortest (about 5.6 years). These findings show that the average attention received by cultural products decays following a universal biexponential function.


The universal decay of collective memory and attention
Cristian Candia, C. Jara-Figueroa, Carlos Rodriguez-Sickert, Albert-László Barabási & César A. Hidalgo 
Nature Human Behaviour (2018)


The chaperone effect in scientific publishing

Experience plays a critical role in crafting high-impact scientific work. This is particularly evident in top multidisciplinary journals, where a scientist is unlikely to appear as senior author if he or she has not previously published within the same journal. Here, we develop a quantitative understanding of author order by quantifying this “chaperone effect,” capturing how scientists transition into senior status within a particular publication venue. We illustrate that the chaperone effect has a different magnitude for journals in different branches of science, being more pronounced in medical and biological sciences and weaker in natural sciences. Finally, we show that in the case of high-impact venues, the chaperone effect has significant implications, specifically resulting in a higher average impact relative to papers authored by new principal investigators (PIs). Our findings shed light on the role played by experience in publishing within specific scientific journals, on the paths toward acquiring the necessary experience and expertise, and on the skills required to publish in prestigious venues.


The chaperone effect in scientific publishing
Vedran Sekara, Pierre Deville, Sebastian E. Ahnert, Albert-László Barabási, Roberta Sinatra, and Sune Lehmann
PNAS December 11, 2018 115 (50) 12603-12607


Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe: Steven Strogatz

From preeminent math personality and author of The Joy of x, a brilliant and endlessly appealing explanation of calculus – how it works and why it makes our lives immeasurably better.

Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We wouldn’t have tamed AIDS or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket.

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it’s about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number—infinity—to tackle real‑world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous.

Infinite Powers recounts how calculus tantalized and thrilled its inventors, starting with its first glimmers in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to the discovery of gravitational waves (a phenomenon predicted by calculus). Strogatz reveals how this form of math rose to the challenges of each age: how to determine the area of a circle with only sand and a stick; how to explain why Mars goes “backwards” sometimes; how to make electricity with magnets; how to ensure your rocket doesn’t miss the moon; how to cure infectious diseases.

As Strogatz proves, calculus is truly the language of the universe. By unveiling the principles of that language, Infinite Powers makes us marvel at the world anew.