Month: December 2021

The dynamics of political polarization

The dynamics of political polarization
Simon A. Levin, Helen V. Milner, and Charles Perrings

PNAS December 14, 2021 118 (50) e2116950118;

A number of trends in national and international politics greatly affect our capacity to achieve the cooperation that will be necessary to address the challenges facing society over the coming decades. These involve the interplay among partisanship and party loyalties within countries, populism, and polarization within and among nations. The trends are widespread and seem to be reshaping politics across the globe. They are inherently systems-level phenomena, involving interactions among multiple component parts and the emergence of broader-scale features; yet, they have been inadequately explored from that perspective.

To make progress in understanding these issues, political-science research stands to benefit from insights from other disciplines, including evolutionary biology, systems science, and the disciplines concerned with the fair and efficient provision of public goods of all kinds, but especially those affecting the shared environment and public health. These other disciplines, in turn, stand to gain equally from the perspective developed in political science. In viewing political systems as complex adaptive systems, we can gain a new understanding of the forces that shape current trends, and how that knowledge might affect governance strategies going forward. Extreme polarization is a dangerous phenomenon that requires greater scientific attention to address effectively.

This Special Feature of PNAS draws on this relatively new interdisciplinary field, featuring original joint research from collaborating political scientists and complex systems theorists. Each paper is a true partnership among the different disciplines and illustrates the benefits of closer ties between complex systems and social science. The papers explore the emergence of patterns and structures in societies and the linkages among individual behaviors and societal benefits across scales of space, time, and organizational complexity. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the most recent examples of how patterns of polarization in societies interact with our abilities to solve societal challenges.

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The rise and fall of rationality in language

Marten Scheffer, Ingrid van de Leemput, Els Weinans, and Johan Bollen

PNAS December 21, 2021 118 (51) e2107848118

The post-truth era has taken many by surprise. Here, we use massive language analysis to demonstrate that the rise of fact-free argumentation may perhaps be understood as part of a deeper change. After the year 1850, the use of sentiment-laden words in Google Books declined systematically, while the use of words associated with fact-based argumentation rose steadily. This pattern reversed in the 1980s, and this change accelerated around 2007, when across languages, the frequency of fact-related words dropped while emotion-laden language surged, a trend paralleled by a shift from collectivistic to individualistic language.

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Tina Eliassi-Rad on Democracies as Complex Systems

This week on Complexity, we speak with SFI External Professor Tina Eliassi-Rad, Professor of Computer Science at Northeastern University, about her complex systems research on democracy, what forces stabilize or upset democratic process, and how to rigorously study the relationships between technology and social change.

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The geometry of decision-making in individuals and collectives

Vivek H. Sridhar, Liang Li, Dan Gorbonos, Máté Nagy, Bianca R. Schell, Timothy Sorochkin, Nir S. Gov, and Iain D. Couzin

PNAS December 14, 2021 118 (50) e2102157118

Almost all animals must make decisions on the move. Here, employing an approach that integrates theory and high-throughput experiments (using state-of-the-art virtual reality), we reveal that there exist fundamental geometrical principles that result from the inherent interplay between movement and organisms’ internal representation of space. Specifically, we find that animals spontaneously reduce the world into a series of sequential binary decisions, a response that facilitates effective decision-making and is robust both to the number of options available and to context, such as whether options are static (e.g., refuges) or mobile (e.g., other animals). We present evidence that these same principles, hitherto overlooked, apply across scales of biological organization, from individual to collective decision-making.

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