Dominion Post: Bluenanas and predicting catastrophe

Bob Brockie of the Dominion Post writes in his latest opinion piece about some of the science that failed to hit mainstream news in the recent past.

The science includes figuring out why banana skins go dark, archaeological finds, the role of religion in conservation, and the critical thresholds of complex systems.

An excerpt: (read in full here)

Tipping points: Every so often, catastrophic events overtake us. Think of the global finance collapse, abrupt shifts in oceanic circulation, sudden descent into an ice age; the sudden collapse or explosions in fish or wildlife stocks and unpredictable asthma or epileptic attacks.

“Attempts have been made to predict these events, such as the American financial VIX (an index that measures market expectations and is classed as a way to interpret investors’ fears), but without much success.

“It has become clear to mathematical theoreticians that many of these complex systems have one thing in common: they have critical thresholds, or tipping points, beyond which things turn seriously pear- shaped. A new breed of mathematicians is trying to spot early warning signals common to all these very different critical transitions.”