"Times of change can be drastic -- revolutions topple dictators, extreme weather kills tens of thousands and market crashes plunge people into poverty -- but for scientists studying complex systems they are fertile ground. Few would want to predict the outcome of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, or of financial crises or natural disasters, but scientists say there are common traits in seemingly diverse systems that point to "tipping points." Identifying and analyzing these, they say, can help people see the risks inherent in an interdependent world more clearly and take action to mitigate them."


"According to Yaneer Bar-Yam, director of the New England Complex Systems Institute in the United States, this kind of science is a vital tool for protecting societies from such dangers as pandemics, natural disasters, terrorism, climate change, resource exhaustion and economic crises.

His previous work has included looking at financial market crashes and building predictive mathematical models of ethnic conflicts in India, central Asia, the former Yugoslavia and Kenya, but he says it's not just about forecasts.

'Prediction tells you that something is going to happen, and that can be helpful so you can run away from it if you need to,' he said in a telephone interview. 'But much better is understanding why it happens, that can enable us to take action that may prevent things.'"