Complexity science

Complexity science is revealing surprising order in what was hitherto the most intractable of systems. Consider, for instance, wildfires in California, which have caused big losses to the insurance industry in recent years. An analysis of wildfires in different parts of the world (Malamud et al., 1998) shows several remarkable phenomena at work: first, that wildfires exhibit negative linear behaviour on a log-log graph of frequency and severity; second, that quite different parts of the world have comparable gradients for these lines; and third, that where humans interfere, they can create unintended consequences and actually increase the risk, as it appears that forest management by stamping out small fires has actually made large fires more severe in southern California. Such log-log negative linear plots correspond to inverse power probability density functions (pdfs) (Sornette, 2004), and this behaviour is quite typical of many complex systems as popularized in the book Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan (see Suggestions for further reading).

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