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James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative
2006 Advisory Board and Program Meetings
June 7-9, 2006, IBM Palisades Conference Center
Palisades, New York

Nota Bene

"We talked about the rule of hand, not the rule of thumb; that is, in any ecological system there are something less than six critical sets of variables that will explain 90% of the behaviour of a complex landscape scale ecosystem; sometimes five, sometimes three, but not two. Even for complex ecosystems, with thousands of species, and with a variety of space and time properties, its essential features can be captured in that way. We were pretty sure that the great complexity of life and complexity of the relationships that develop between people and the natural world, could be captured, not as simply as economists do nor as simply as some ecologists do, but with just a little bit more complexity. This was essentially Einstein’s phrase “make it simple but no simpler than necessary” and, for us, what was emerging was that the level of simplicity was really what defined a more general theory. If you had fewer than five variables trying to explain what you were doing, then you were a little too simple..."

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