All posts by Arika Virapongse

Ronin Public Seminar: Human Swarming: Towards Better Decision-making Systems

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

PresenterGregg Willcox, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date: Mar 10, 2021
Time: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM US Eastern Time / 16:00-17:00 UTC (in your local timeAdd to your calendar
Hosted byVarsha Dani, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary: Many social species amplify their decision-making accuracy by deliberating in real-time closed-loop systems made of many independent individuals. Known as Swarm Intelligence (SI), this natural process has been studied extensively in schools of fish, flocks of birds, swarms of bees, and even groups of slime molds. Artificial Swarm Intelligence (ASI) is a hybrid AI technology based on natural swarms that enables distributed human groups to think together in real-time systems. Along with Louis Rosenberg, Hans Schumann, and Colin Domnauer, I help to show that by forming “human swarms,” networked groups can substantially amplify their combined intelligence and produce significantly more accurate forecasts than traditional methods.

This seminar will introduce human swarms in the context of forecasting and group decision-making. I seek to answer: (i) What structures enable groups to make better decisions? (ii) To what extent are these structures already present in different societal contexts, and what can we learn from these other contexts? (iii) How can we develop tools that enable teams–both human and human-AI teams–to work together more effectively?

Fun Fact from Gregg: I just started a freshwater aquarium and my one snail (Gary) has cloned themself rather unexpectedly (and asexually?) into 50 or so little snails!  

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Ronin Public Seminar: The Value of Social Cohesion in Our Communities

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

…with the world more attuned to risk, lessons can be drawn to strengthen response and resilience. In 2020, the risk of a pandemic became reality. As governments, businesses, and societies grapple with COVID-19, societal cohesion is more important than ever.

From The Global Risks Report 2021 by World Economic Forum


PresenterAngelo Luidens, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date: Feb 26, 2021
Time: 9:00-10:00 US Eastern Time / 14:00-15:00 UTC (in your local time)
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Hosted by: Keith Tse, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
In order to achieve a broadly inclusive state of wellbeing and prosperity within a community, it is essential that individuals of that community are resilient and thus contributing to their collective resiliency. A key factor of a resilient community is the level of social cohesion experienced in that community. It is one thing to know it empirically, and quite a different thing to measure and analyze it to inform policy and enable effective interventions towards a resilient community. The quality of surveys on social cohesion must also meet international standards, enabling timely and equitable comparisons to properly assess the state of social cohesion in a community. Social cohesion is complex and dynamic–it cannot be effectively grasped solely through a conventional reductionist paradigm. 

Social cohesion is a fundamental aspect for greater insights at larger scales. The assessment and approach of Social Cohesion fits within a larger context of the application of complex systems science, or socio-ecological systems science for that matter, by gaining and integrating different perspectives and thereby broader and deeper understanding of the dynamics and challenges small island states like Curaçao face. This seminar will provide a review of a framework and road-map of best practices and different approaches for devising a national social cohesion survey that correlates with international standards, yet is properly localized to suit the needs of the community where it will be implemented.

Fun fact from Angelo:
I am by nature curious, ever so inquisitive. Always wanting to dig deeper and seek greater understanding. Over time I found out I am a seeker, a knowledge seeker. I set out to find out why and how things work or fail to work based on an innate knowing of how it should be. My life experiences and the dissonance these experiences cause with my self, got me onto a journey of self discovery and to a greater extend the mastery of self where I now enjoy waking up in the morning and get right at moving the ball one more step further day by day towards that innately known epiphany. More so, as I see the pieces settling in their place step by step, day by day. I do at times contemplate, now more than before that it was the best thing I have done to dig deep into things very early on asking myself why I am the way I am and do things the way I do, even though it is a longer path, takes a lot more work and intentionality. I enjoy the new discoveries along the way. However, the one thing that can completely recharge me is, ever so often there comes along someone or some people on the journey, who because of my own choices, I can light the light in them, and it is an amazing feeling to see their light, light up and shine brighter!

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Ronin Public Seminar: What Really Happened to the Trees on Easter Island?

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.


Presenter: Candace Gossen, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date: Feb 12, 2021
Time: 2:00-3:00 PM US Eastern Time / 19:00-20:00 UTC (in your local time)
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Hosted by: Stéphanie Cassilde, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
According to historical views by colonizing wayward voyagers, Easter Island was a barren island, devoid of trees and full of giant statues left behind from a cultural collapse. These myths have now been rejected and the truth accepted that slavery diminished Easter Island’s 4,000 people to 111 in 1862. But an important question remains: Did the islanders really cut down all of their trees? The only way to literally dig into the past to uncover what plants, ecosystems, and climate changes were occurring was to core the ancient crater lake of Rano Kao.  In this presentation, Candace will present the results of 15,000 years of discovery with an answer to: What really happened to the trees?


Fun Fact from Candace:
While doing this field research, I learned what it was like to work in a quagmire and walk on water.

Here is the recording of the seminar:



Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Artwork by Koola Adams

Ronin Institute Principle: Art of Hosting

This series of blog posts introduces some of the guiding principles that we use at the Ronin Institute to help the community be its best. Our last post was on Pay it Forward.

In our Code of Conduct, we emphasize an individual’s right to their “peaceful enjoyment” of participating in the Ronin Institute. Here’s one key thing that we all can do to enhance this for everyone: Practice the art of hosting

In a world of getting things done, facilitation is emphasized as the best way to achieve successful and productive meetings. It’s where specific and skilled individuals are tasked with helping a group work through an agenda and toward specific goals. But is that the only way to get the most out of our meetings?

At the Ronin Institute, we consider the importance of hosting, which “draws less on technical proficiency and more on simple warmth and hospitality; less on lecturing and more on listening; less on facilitation and more on curiosity and open inquiry.” Importantly, it doesn’t depend on specific people to make an event a success.

For instance, when you (pre-2020) hosted a dinner party, what did you do to make your guests feel comfortable? Likewise, when you attended such a dinner party, what did you do to be a gracious attendee? I bet you practiced some of those “hosting” skills by listening openly and encouragingly to other guests, as well as helping them feel engaged and connected.

Being a great host doesn’t require many learned skills. It takes empathy and a willingness to make people feel welcome. It may not specifically keep us on the agenda, but it can deepen the quality of our interactions and experiences. Hosting is something that we can all embody and take charge of. When attending another event at the Ronin Institute, try asking yourself: What can I do to help others feel more comfortable, included, and valued? 

[Artwork by: Koola Adams]

Not quite quit lit

By Ronin Research Scholar Jonathan Walter

I’ve decided to leave traditional academia and pursue different ways to be a scientist. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share about why, and what I’m doing next.

Let’s be real, this wasn’t my first choice. Being a professor had long been my dream, and I spent more than a decade working with purpose to make that a reality. However, family considerations made my job search geographically narrow, and that limited my opportunities. For a while, I maintained optimism that I’d find a suitable position, either at my current institution or one within reasonable driving distance. Meanwhile, my career grew in other ways, and as it did, remaining by rank a postdoc became untenable. I felt this way despite working with fantastic collaborators and mentors who are supportive of me, and working with whom I have had intellectual freedom and responsibility beyond what many postdocs experience. Nonetheless, institutional policies put too low a ceiling on what I could do while off the tenure track, and I reached a point where continuing to wait for a faculty job to materialize would diminish my happiness with my work and limit opportunities in my career and personal life.

After considering jobs in government, NGOs, and industry, I decided on something a bit different. Earlier this year, I joined the Ronin Institute, a multidisciplinary community of scholars working largely outside traditional academic institutions. I also started a statistical consulting and quantitative research business called Athenys Research (pronounced “uh-THEEN-iss”). In addition, a colleague and I are in the early stages of co-founding a nonprofit organization for environmental sciences research. I’ll share more about these initiatives in the future, but briefly I will continue pursuing grant-funded research through the Ronin Institute and eventually the nascent non-profit, and pursue consulting and contract work through Athenys Research.

I want to note that I don’t harbor much bitterness over leaving. That doesn’t mean I think all is well in the academy. For one, its hiring practices exclude a considerable number of talented scholars who are dedicated to their fields of study, students, and communities. I just don’t take it personally not to get what had been my dream job, nor do I feel entitled to it, and I am happy with my life choices that had the side effect of limiting my opportunities for tenure-track faculty jobs.

I place enormous value on the freedom to pursue my own research interests, to collaborate with whomever I choose, and to strive that research innovations support public good.

If you think being a soft-money scientist and entrepreneur—beginning coincidentally amidst a pandemic—seems risky, I agree with you, so I want to write a bit about my reasons for pursuing this path.

I love few things more than being a scientist, and I place enormous value on the freedom to pursue my own research interests, to collaborate with whomever I choose, and to strive that research innovations support public good. I want to continue centering my career on doing quantitative research that advances knowledge of the world around us and serves the public interest, and I think these initiatives will keep me engaged in this work and facilitate new opportunities. Academia can offer amazing intellectual freedoms, but as an early-career scientist off the tenure track I experienced them only in somewhat limited ways. Science jobs in other organizations rarely offer such self-determination, even if the work is stimulating and meaningful.

My new path also enables me to earn full credit and a market rate for my work. As is not uncommon for early-career academics, institutional policies and practices prevented me from accruing the full benefits of my efforts. Since finishing my PhD six years ago, I’ve been the primary or a major contributing author of several funded grant and fellowship proposals. This has, naturally, been a boon to my career: I have picked my research projects, collaborators, and where I live; these projects have produced a lot of exciting science; and they have supported excellent students and postdocs. Yet, it underscores a degree of unfairness in the system. Despite these successes, I remained a postdoc with a middle-of-the-road salary, I’ve worked countless unpaid hours to manage multiple projects, and a meaningful degree of my leadership of these projects flies under the radar because institutional policies hindering postdocs from being a PI meant I “ghost wrote” some of them.

So, while leaving behind established institutions has costs, so too would remaining, and for me the risks of this path are outweighed by the opportunity to continue work I love and believe is important, to be better compensated for it, and to build organizations that—if successful—will help others do the same.

In an odd sort of way, I feel like my career thus far has prepared me well for this.

My approach to science is largely that of a broadly analytical thinker with skills in statistics and mathematical modelling, which I bring to many problems and study systems, collaborating with a variety of groups. My new career model consciously takes advantage of this. I have a wide network of fantastic collaborators, and I’m excited to establish relationships with new people and organizations. My breadth of research, which has sometimes come across as atypical and unfocused, can be made a strength when I can benefit from multiple concurrent projects, with different groups, with diverse sources of support.

I started Athenys Research to have another means of finding interesting work, because it would be unrealistic to believe I can continuously support myself through research grants, given funding rates and award sizes in my field. I see substantial parallels between developing a funded research program and entrepreneurship, which makes me confident that—with effort and learning—I can make this model work for me. Experience tells me that working with non-profits, government agencies, and industry will be intellectually stimulating, and that there’s a lot of good, impactful work to do in these settings.

I want to be real that one of my greatest misgivings about this career path is whether I can handle supporting my salary entirely through grants and contacts over the long run. I’m extremely privileged that I can withstand some short-term failures, and if those become too great I’ll re-evaluate my path. In the near term, I’ve been fortunate to smooth the transition through part-time gigs at two universities. I’ll complete ongoing research projects with some terrific people and continue putting things in place for this new phase in my career.

So, there’s the story, in broad strokes. I titled this “not quite quit lit” because in many ways I haven’t “quit.” I continue to pursue many ideals espoused by academia (such as intellectual freedom and the production of knowledge for public good), through some conventional means (such as grants and journal publications), often in collaboration with scientists at established institutions. I’ll just be doing it on different terms.


Jonathan Walter is an ecologist and statistical consultant. Jonathan is a Research Scholar at the Ronin Institute and the founder and lead scientist of Athenys Research.

Ronin Public Seminar: Open Science, Culture Change, and You

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Bruce Caron, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date:  Jan 29, 2021
Time: 1:00-2:00 PM  US Eastern Time / 18:00-19:00 UTC (in your local time)
Add to your calendar
Hosted by: John Paulas, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
For open science to transform the academy, technology is not sufficient. Culture changes in hundreds (thousands) of academy organizations will need to be contemplated, discussed, argued, and implemented. But how do you, as a working scientist, become an open science culture change agent? Where do you start? What do you need to know? You already know that culture can work against your interests, and against the interests of scientific work (perverse incentives, etc.). How can you make culture work to nourish the new, transparent, open, generous, abundant, and kind outcomes that are the promise of open science.? Take a look at the Open Science Handbook.  It’s a reference work you can use to become an open science change agent in your department, laboratory, college, learned society, or research agency. The next step is to work together to build “play books” that capture the actual culture change experiments from organizations around the globe.  I’m looking for culture change agents who want to create collective intelligence around the work of culture change for open science!

Fun fact from Bruce: 
My database for this book has 3500 items with 24 million words.

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Ronin Institute in Numbers

At our Ronin Institute Holiday Party in December 2020, we had a trivia game asking attendees to guess the quantity of some of our accomplishments for 2020. Here are the questions and answers.

How many Kitsune Newsletters did the Ronin Institute Communication Working Group publish this year? 
5 (in 2019: 0)

How many new Research Scholars joined the Ronin Institute in 2020? 
111 (in 2019: 76)

How many Interest Groups do we have? 
19 (in 2019: a few existed but they weren’t called Interest Groups)

How many blog posts did we publish? 
15 (in 2019: 2) 

How many weekly Updates were sent to the Ronin Research Scholar community? 
37 (in 2019: 11)

How many Working Groups do we have at the Ronin Institute? 
6 (in 2019: 0)

How many peer-reviewed articles did Research Scholars publish in 2020 (according to our Kitsune Newsletter)? 
46

How many Ronin Institute seminars (both internal and public) did we have? 
8 internal & 5 public   (in 2019: 5 internal & no public seminars)

How many followers do we have on Twitter (as of Dec 14th, 2020)? 
1235

A Year in Review for the Ronin Institute community: 2020

It’s safe to say that this is a year that will not easily be forgotten. Let me count the ways: COVID-19 (!!), waking up to the reality of racism, political exhaustion by the one who shall not be named, and about a decade of economic breakdown all happening in one year. But there is a shining light here! The Ronin Institute. 🙂 

This is a summary of what WE have collectively accomplished  this year. 

At the end of 2019, we established a new governance structure for the Ronin Institute. It was based on lots of community input, and marked the start of a whole new era for our Institute. In one of our working documents used to plan our new Governance structure, we described our status at the time as: 

[The Ronin Institute] governance model consists of Jon doing most of the bureaucratic work of running the institute in conjunction with a few other Research Scholars helping out from time to time on specific tasks… (Sept 2019)

That is pretty much how it used to work: Jon Wilkins did almost 99% of everything at Ronin. 

It’s certainly not like that anymore. Arika Virapongse is now around to share the weight by helping to structure and be responsive to the community. Importantly, there are 6 Working Groups (WGs: Governance, Communications, Infrastructure, Events, Membership, and Research) with committed leadership and members, an Advisory Board composed of WG leads, activity leads within the working groups, and a good number of volunteers for one-off activities (e.g., seminar hosts, planning special events). 

We have 18 interest groups, ranging from Math-Physics to Book Admirers to Open Science, and each one of these has a lead. In addition to these folks, we have had 17 Research Scholar seminar speakers, and innumerable Scholars who have participated in events and on our weekly #watercooler on Slack and Coffee Chats on Remo. There are also many Ronin Research Scholars who use the Ronin Institute as an affiliation on their papers and presentations, and apply for grants to be administered by the Institute. We are proud to say that we welcome and are grateful for the contributions of everyone in our community–in any way that feels most right for them. 

Here are other wins for us this year: 

Our institutional values of  Truth and Empathy have proven themselves to be the bedrock of every decision that we make at the Ronin Institute. We also continue to develop the principles that help to guide how we function as an institute and community and who we are. Here are the ones that we’ve figured out so far, and we look forward to sharing others with you in the coming year: 

We are a thriving community of about 375 Research Scholars representing 47 countries, and we continue to grow. We pretty evenly represent the life sciences (31%), math & computational sciences (30%), and social sciences (26%), while we have a little more catching up to do in arts & humanities (13%).  

We are a far-flung communicative bunch thanks to Slack. Just take a look at our trend line for 2020!

Our first Code of Conduct was developed through thoughtful community input over several months and rounds of feedback from the whole Ronin Institute community via the Membership WG.

The action the Membership WG has taken towards inclusion, equity, and care in the Code of Conduct and in member on-boarding and development has made me happiest. Foremost in our minds has been the idea that all who need and want to join the Ronin Institute are welcomed into the community and have an environment in which to thrive.John Paulas, Membership WG lead

We’ve developed so many events this year to help our community interact and share, including unconferences, speed networking, and public seminars. We’ve also stood up some regular community spaces for interacting, like our #watercooler chat on Slack and Coffee Chat on Remo that both meet every Tuesday (via the Events WG). 

We have laid the groundwork for more scholars to participate in the Ronin Institute through communication opportunities, from contributing to the newsletter and the blog, Community Journalism, and welcoming our first Community Journalist this year. We also have exciting plans for our landing page, updating it with videos of scholars, so we can let the world know who we are, what we do, and why Ronin!  Emily Monosson, Communication WG lead

Our institutional communications have been busy this year producing 5 newsletters, weekly Updates since March 2020, blog posts almost every month, developing guidelines for Ronin Institute communications, and a coordinated effort at leveraging our social media (via the Communication WG).  

As a virtual institute, we’ve been staying on top of our infrastructure by continuing to fine-tune our use of tools. Importantly, we’ve created better processes for solving tech issues, updating our website, trying new tools, and planning our next improvements (via the Infrastructure WG).

We’re happy that we’ve managed to keep the Ronin website, our conferencing tools (Zoom), and communication platforms (Slack) operational through COVID-19. We’re also having fun experimenting with new virtual platforms like Remo, Gather, Omniscope, and Discord. We’re making more baby steps towards distributing tasks across more Research Scholars — we would love to get more folks involved, so please reach out. — Alex Lancaster & Vesta Korniakova, Infrastructure WG leads

We continue to make progress on our Research support for Research Scholars. We’re developing structures to help support peer-to-peer review of proposals, and next year we hope to have our Research Ethics Guidelines hammered out (via the Research WG).

We’ve been collaboratively working hard on development of an Institutional Research Board (IRB) that will help many of our members overcome at least one obstacle in their research. — Michelle Susberry Hill, Research WG lead

Most importantly, Ronin Institute Research Scholars have had numerous publications, speaking events, interviews, spotlights, and more. Scholars have published more than 40 peer reviewed publications this year, and those are just the ones that we know about (via all of you!)

So that is it for 2020. Despite the challenges in the world as we have known it, it has been pretty exciting times for the Ronin Institute. We’ve really hit our stride. Next year, we hope to have lots more to show for all our hard work in laying the foundation for the Institute to grow in all the right ways. Our goal is to reinvent academia so that is equitable, accessible, and inclusive. I’d say that we are well on our way! 

Scientiam Consecemus!
 
– Arika Virapongse, Research Scholar & Community Director of the Ronin Institute

Ronin Institute Principle: Pay it Forward

This series of blog posts introduces some of the guiding principles that we use at the Ronin Institute to help the community be its best.

We build long-term sustainability into the Ronin Institute by planning our activities and their maintenance so that they can be done as easily as possible by us, and with the least amount of everything (bureaucracy, infrastructure, work, outside expertise etc). We try to keep things simple, while focusing our energy on creating the right structures that people can work within on their own. With this strategy, community volunteers can easily step into discrete roles, and channel their good will to help out in small ways–without the burden of trying to figure out how to do it.

Our Pay it Forward principle is based on creating a chain reaction of good will. After “seeding” a new initiative (e.g., helping support a community member’s activity), we hope that the member(s) who benefits will consider paying it forward to the next Ronin Research Scholar who could also benefit. Here are some examples of how this works: 

  • A Scholar has given a seminar at Ronin => In the future, they volunteer as a seminar host
  • A Scholar has had a great experience at one of our events => They help plan a future event
  • A Scholar got some useful feedback on their research proposal => In the future, they give feedback on someone else’s proposal
  • A Scholar has been featured in a Ronin Institute blog post or in our Newsletter => In the future, they contribute some writing or social media posts in Ronin Institute spaces to help highlight other Scholars

In this way, heavy loads become a lot lighter and we all benefit, while also building and strengthening our community along the way. 

Ronin Public Seminar: Biolinguistics and Language Evolution: What is Linguistic Simplicity?

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Keith Tse, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date/time: Nov 6, 2020 at 12:00 PM US Eastern Time / 16:00 UTC (local time)(add to your calendar)
Hosted by: Varsha Dani, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Abstract. Modern linguistic theory goes one step further than standard scientific conventions of formal simplicity (‘Occam’s Razor’) in denoting the simplest formalisations for language structures not only for theory-internal reasons but also for empirical reasons (Martin and Uriagereka (2000)), since it has been established human infants acquire their first language at such an exceptionally high rate that, in accordance with Plato’s Problem, there may be an innate component in the human mind which is species-specific and genetically designed for human language. This is Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (UG), and formal metrics of ‘simplicity’ are a hot topic in contemporary syntactic debates as numerous definitions have been proposed throughout the development of Chomskyan models of language whose latest version known as the Minimalist Program (MP) (Chomsky (1995)) provides a backdrop to language variation and change. While assumptions such as Plato’s Problem and formal simplicity are widely agreed upon, consensus with regards to technical details remains elusive, since Chomsky (2004) radically revises his earliest definitions of formal simplicity (Chomsky (1995, 2000, 2001)) which has given rise to lively debates in modern syntactic theory. This presentation critically examines the history and evolution of modern syntactic theory from a Chomskyan perspective and compares the various principles of ‘simplicity’ proposed which drives us to the conclusion that extraneous elements in language may indeed be eliminated in favour of the simplest structures.

Here is the recorded seminar: