But Ferguson has a short version of the article in today's Los Angeles Times, and David Ignatius likes it. DougJ and the Balloon Juice crowd have said most of what I would have. I'd like to add one thing, though.
When we physical scientists work up a hypothesis, one of the things we have to show is that it's the best hypothesis. We have to look around to see if other hypotheses fit the evidence. And there's another hypothesis beyond Ferguson's extremely flawed one that predicts societal crashes.
If you have a finite amount of investment to support yourself, say your savings for retirement, and if you spend faster than the investment produces income, things will look pretty good for a while, and then will rapidly crash. It's the inverse of the compound interest effect: you're using mostly interest for a while, but as you start using capital, you get less interest, and you use more capital, and you fall off a cliff. The money disappears in no time at all.
That model implies different causes and remedies than does Ferguson's, so it would be useful to test both of them against the facts and against whatever they are supposed to be. And, as the Balloon Juice crowd shows, Ferguson doesn't know what he's talking about.
We're bound, unfortunately, to hear more stuff like this on complex adaptive systems; they're part of today's intellectual hit parade and can be made to explain or support pretty much anything. As we see, the phrase and the excitement Ferguson produces from it appeal to Ignatius.
Several of the spot-on BJ comments:
Ask them to expand on it. If they can’t, it’s just simple BS. These people need to be called on their crap. Making shit up as if one has a real vision (idea/concept) is game playing. Attach a name tag to it and expect us to buy into it? It’s not 1984 anymore.ericblair:
Ooookay, as an engineer for whom this phrase has actual real meaning: if you have systems that are difficult to characterize and very sensitive to inputs, you stabilize them and treat them gently. In the climate case, you stop throwing megatons of crap into the system and don’t get any ideas about half-assed compensating effects. In the economic case, you reduce financial leverage to stop overdriving the system and regulate the crap out of it to prevent actors in the system from pushing it strongly into unusual states. And if an airplane is getting out of control, you try to place it back into a known stable state, not throw up your hands, call it a complex system, and let is corkscrew into the ground.Doctor Science:
Basically, in biology a system which is both “complex” and “adaptive” is going to be stable, not fragile, which is pretty much the opposite of what Ferguson is saying.Sly:
Complex does not mean opaque, and adaptive does not mean immune to change. CAS is a catch-all term for any network of interdependent operators where all operators are changed whenever one operator changes. An economy, a culture, an ecosystem, a colony of insects, an immune system, etc.