In recent years, our society has been challenged by numerous societal threats that have emerged from different sources. Many events have threatened democratic values, such as online election manipulation, radicalization, the “normalization” of extreme behavior, and the re-emergence of racist phenomena across all the spectra of social life. Additionally, other events have brought political instability, conflicts, and terrorist activities, while others are still posing significant challenges for dealing with climate change, appropriately responding to global epidemics, and sustainably managing natural resources. For example, the recent events in Afghanistan illustrate how fringe, extremist groups can still rise to prominence with blind attacks (Kabul airport), while at the same time, the world is still trying to understand how the Taliban will govern and what the consequences in the area, in terms of both the power dynamics (the power balance in the Middle East) and the exploitation and management of natural resources (oil and gas lines, rare minerals, etc.), will be.
Thus, it has become critical to design policies that mitigate these threats without producing unintended consequences for our society or planet, or infringing on fundamental human rights, which the United Nations proclaimed in 1948 in a document entitled the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights) (UDHR).
We believe that addressing and better understanding these issues could benefit from the application of systemic and quantitative methods (e.g., analytical methods, different simulation paradigms, optimization techniques, probabilistic approaches, etc.), regardless of whether such challenges are not easily quantified, are dynamic and history-dependent, are composed of many tightly coupled interdependent factors, and contain many nonlinear relationships and delays. Addressing these issues is challenging because they are often counterintuitive, as cause and effect are distant in time and space, resistant to intervention policies, and commonly characterized by trade-offs between short- and long-term impacts and goals.
Examples of such approaches are neither new nor isolated. For example, Sandberg (2000) used system dynamics to investigate the routes of democracy’s global diffusion from 1800 until 2000. Stave (2002) used simulation to illustrate how public participation in environmental decisions can be improved, while Hirsch et al. (2007) modeled how educational reform can impact society. Só et al. (2017) used a system dynamics model to investigate the vicious cycle of low human development observed in Guinea-Bissau, in which the authors found political instability and several coups among its root causes. Finally, Armenia et al. (2020) used systemic thinking and system dynamics to illustrate how racism permeates football and how it can be dealt with.
The methodology is not limited to such general societal issues; specific problems are also addressed. Armenia and Sellito (2014) asserted that quantitative methods can be used to detect acts of opinion manipulation in online forums, Armenia and Tsaples (2017) used epidemiological models to analyze how individual behavior could help or hinder the diffusion of cyberthreats, and finally, Pruyt et al. (2015) used system dynamics to help policymakers to design and test the effectiveness of policies enacted to mitigate the consequences of foreign fighters.
However, such issues are not addressed only through simulation and system dynamics. Armenia and Sellitto (2014) outlined a framework that combines simulation, network analysis, and control theory with the purpose of supporting regional impact analysis. Finally, other methodologies such as game theory have a long tradition in dealing with issues, from voting (Brams, 2008); (Kling, Kunegis, Hartmann, Strohmaier, & Staab, 2015) to designing strategies for searching communities in networks (Narayanam & Narahari, 2012).
Our society is facing severe environmental challenges that threaten our survival and endanger the future of our planet. One iconic study was published by Meadows et al. (1972), where the authors, using a computer simulation model, concluded that, without drastic changes to resource consumption patterns and due to the uncontrolled population and economic growth, the Earth would be doomed to ecological overshoot and pending disaster. Since then, several studies have explored many aspects of these environmental challenges, such as global warming, severe climate changes, water supply crises due to climate-change effects, energy transition (i.e., aiming at renewable and sustainable sources), etc.
The Special Issue is focused on applying such methods to subjects that somehow impose threats to our society, our planet, and proclaimed fundamental human rights, which can manifest in several domains. Studies that use these methods in the following areas (for example, but not limited to these) are sought:
The methods could include but are not limited to the following:
Dr. Stefano Armenia
Dr. George Tsaples
Dr. Eduardo Ferreira Franco