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Applied Physics/Physics Colloquium: Sloppy models, Differential geometry, and How Science Works

Topic: 
Sloppy models, Differential geometry, and How Science Works
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 4:30pm
Venue: 
Hewlett 201
Speaker: 
Prof. James Sethna (Cornell)
Abstract / Description: 

Models of systems biology, climate change, ecosystems, and macroeconomics have parameters that are hard or impossible to measure directly. If we fit these unknown parameters, fiddling with them until they agree with past experiments, how much can we trust their predictions? We have found that predictions can be made despite huge uncertainties in the parameters – many parameter combinations are mostly unimportant to the collective behavior. We will use ideas and methods from differential geometry to explain what sloppiness is and why it happens so often. We show that physics theories are also sloppy – that sloppiness may be the underlying reason why the world is comprehensible.