Q & A for the 2021 version of the map of the complexity sciences

As each new version of the map of the complexity sciences is released, there are questions regularly asked of us. Social media is not the best place for having such discussions -- particularly when people get mean or aggressive or do not actually take the time to read the Map Legend or explore things before commenting. Also, even when there are great questions asked, others may miss our response. We therefore thought it usefult to try and answer the questions typically posed to us on social media or email.

Brian Castellani and Lasse Gerrits




What is this map? 


This map is an introduction to the complexity sciences – from physics and biology to sociology and psychology to computational modelling and policy evaluation. We purposely use the term ‘sciences’ in the plural because there is no one complexity science and no one boundary around it. The map was created as an educational tool. It is to be treated as an introduction, not an in-depth investigation into the field. Experts in the field will also find the map useful for exploring new areas and for teaching.


What about the Arts and Humanities?


Unfortunately, we cannot address the Humanities or Arts as the map would become unwieldy. Complex systems thinking, fractals, chaos theory and other areas of investigation have been used in the arts; and the Humanities have added key insights, for example, Buddhist meditation, deep ecology, fractal architecture, urban design, and assemblage art.


Is the map historical? 


It is roughly historical. The five lineages, running from left to right, are based on Fritjof Capra’s  The web of life: A new synthesis of mind and matter (1996), which organises the field into: (1) dynamical systems theory and complexity in mathematics (purple), (2) systems thinking/systems science (blue), (3) the core concepts of complexity (yellow), (4) cybernetics (grey), and (5) artificial intelligence/methods (orange). While not perfect, we’ve kept this basic framework as it provides a nice skeleton on which to assemble the map.


How should the map be read? 


It should be read left to right, moving from the early 1900s to the present. Topics are placed approximately at the point when they became a major area of study. For each topic, we have provided a handful of top scholars, including, when possible, the individual or team that was instrumental in advancing the topic.


How was the map compiled? 


Between the two of us, the map represents over forty years of combined research and reading, as well as in-depth discussions with colleagues across the various fields and around the world. Castellani launched the first version of the map in 2009. Since then, it has been revised every several years, as the field has massively expanded over the last decade. The current version, which is an update on the 2018 map, is rooted in our fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study of the University ofAmsterdam.


Why didn’t you use a bibliometric analysis to make the map? 


Bibliometric analyses are all the rage, and they can be powerful tools. There are a couple of reasons why we don’t use those tools. First, bibliographic analyses struggle to construct a history of a topic. They are better at providing cross-sectional snapshots. For a good overview, see Thomas, J., & Zaytseva, A. (2016). Mapping complexity/Human knowledge as a complex adaptive system. Complexity, 21(S2), 207-234. Second, those tools depend heavily on articles (as opposed to books), recognised journals (which is an issue, as many complexity works are often in obscure journals or blogs, etc) and sources that are online as opposed to libraries, archives, conference letters, and so forth. They also do not capture historical impact beyond citations. Third, there is range of more minor technical problems that make us unsure if those tools can do a better job than we did manually.


Is this map complete? 


The map is not complete, and was not designed to be – in fact, we are not sure what would even entail. The complexity sciences represent a loose (but connected) and quickly evolving body of knowledge that intersects with almost every field in the sciences and the social sciences. A map created in 2019 will not look like a map in 2020. We focus on providing a reasonably comprehensive introduction to the field. The nice thing about the online version is that, by clicking on the links, users are taken into even more in-depth reviews that link to an even wider range of information.


How about diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and nationality?


We made a concerted effort to make sure the map highlighted the work of a wide variety of scholars around the world and up-and-coming researchers. We also sought gender and stage of career balance as well as ethnicity and nationality. We will continue to advance the work of everyone we can.


Why is author x not on the map? 


We often receive questions about why a certain author is not on the map. Sometimes the scholar is missing because of the limitations in our knowledge. Most of the time it is because the map is an educational tool, and of limited size and space, and can only include so many people.


Could you please include author x on the map? 


Unfortunately, we are unable to fulfil such requests.


Could you please include me on the map? 


Unfortunately, we are unable to fulfil such requests.


I know how to improve the map.


We invite everyone who believes that our map needs to be improved to make an alternative one themselves. We are looking forward to such initiatives.


This is not a good map / I don’t like your map / Your understanding of the field is incorrect.


As stated above, we are looking forward to alternatives. In the meantime, in the brave new world of social media, it is easy to be cruel. Please do not be mean.


Can I use your map? 


You can always use the map if you attribute correctly with this reference:

Castellani, B and Gerrits, L (2021). Map of the complexity sciences. Art and Science Factory, LLC.

While we encourage sharing of the map, we want to point out that the map may not be used for commercial purposes and / or without proper attribution.


CLICK HERE for downloads of the map as a jpg and pdf, which are located on the Map Legend page.



Under what license is the map released? 


The map is licensed on Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


Will you continue to update the map?


Yes, we plan to update the map regularly, as was done since the original version from 2009.


How do you know what is complexity and what is not? 


As others have said before us, and we agree with, the complexity sciences are not defined by clear boundaries. It is a sprawling and growing group of theories, methods, findings, and big and small ideas, that permeates in almost every field imaginable. The boundaries between what is about complexity and what is not are amorphous.


The map is skewered / biased towards…


Bias is real. For starters, we can only cover English / German / Dutch / French between us, as such we may overlook work published in other languages. There is also the fact that map-making is somewhat path-dependent, where those who are said to have made an impact may remain to be designated as such. Above all, it can be hard to trace the origin of ideas, especially going further back in time. It may very well be that someone took an idea from someone else without proper attribution. Sadly, some labs or research groups tended to build on the work of PhD’s and postdocs without giving much credit to their work. This continues to be an issue until this very day. We’ve tried our best to present a balanced overview of the people who have driven the study of complexity, and those who continue to do so.


I don’t think that all the names on the map are the big names…


This is correct. We purposely include names of upcoming scholars that we find worth following as they push the field into interesting directions. Map-making is not only about charting the terrain just crossed but also an attempt to charter the unknown terrains. That is why we include scholars that we believe have something novel to say.




No comments:

Post a Comment