Simplifying Assumptions

in Models of Complex Systems: Break, Make, Justify


The use of mathematical/computational models is essential for understanding complex systems and increasingly widespread in the sciences. However, modeling a complex system in its entirety is often unfeasible - perhaps even undesirable - and so some simplification is inevitable. Any model focuses on some process(es) of interest while glossing over others; this doubtless influences its predictions, and yet the process of making these decisions is largely subjective. While the technical design of a particular model may be of little interest to researchers outside the specific field it relates to, the decision-making process will be comparable across all disciplines.

This workshop is aimed at researchers from disciplines as diverse as computational psychology, climate modelling, philosophy of science, and many more. We see this as an opportunity for attendees to reassess the basic assumptions of their models through the questions of researchers from different backgrounds, who will not take those assumptions for granted; a useful exercise that will doubtless pay off when explaining one’s model to reviewers, the public, and industry partners. Talks all be general enough to be understood by a diverse scientific audience, and the workshop will be a unique opportunity for modellers across disciplines to share their experience.

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Invited speakers

  • Tim Benton

    A leading researcher of ecological systems, Prof Benton has lectured at the University of Leeds since 2005 and has been UK Champion for Global Food Security since 2011.

  • Paul Andrews

    Based at the University of York, Dr Andrews applies agent- and network-based models to problems in infrastructure and immunology. He is a key researcher in the CoSMoS project.

  • Brian Castellani

    Starting his academic career as a psychologist, Prof Castellani of Kent State University, USA, has an international reputation as a researcher of complex social systems, community health, neural networks, and many more areas.

  • Alan Herbert

    Senior Lecturer in Radioactive Waste Disposal and Remediation here at the University of Birmingham, Dr Herbert is a leading mathematical modeler and hydrogeologist specializing in the understanding of coupled processes and heterogeneous groundwater systems.

Important dates


  • Robert Clegg

    A PhD student in the School of Biosciences, Rob uses his mathematical background to develop computational models of bacterial cooperation and competition.

  • Craig Holloway

    A PhD student in the School of Mathematics, Craig researches fibre suspensions in Couette devices.