Complex Systems

Pushing the Complexity Barrier: Diminishing Returns in the Sciences Download PDF

Claudius Gros
Institute for Theoretical Physics
J. W. Goethe University
Frankfurt, Germany


Are the sciences not advancing at an ever increasing speed? This popular perspective is contrasted with the view that scientific research is actually closing in on complexity barriers and that, as a consequence, science funding actually sees diminishing returns, at least in established fields. In order to stimulate a larger discussion, two exemplary cases are investigated: the linear increase in human life expectancy over the past 170 years and advances in the reliability of numerical short- and medium-term weather predictions during the past 50 years. It is argued that the outcome of science and technology funding in terms of measurable results is a highly sublinear function of the amount of resources committed. Supporting a range of small to medium research projects instead of a few large ones will be, as a corollary, a more efficient use of resources for science funding agencies.