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New Approaches for 21st Century Social and Health Sciences: Causality in Complex Systems

Event type

Seminar , Webinar



May 27, 2022 (Fri)


by Zoom


10:00 AM - 11:30 AM


Dr Michael ZYPHUR
New Approaches for 21st Century  Social and Health Sciences:  Causality in Complex Systems

Research Postgraduate Conference
May 26 - 28, 2022
Keynote Seminar 1

New Approaches for 21st Century Social and Health Sciences: Causality in Complex Systems

Dr Michael ZYPHUR
Director, Institute for Statistical and Data Science


May 27, 2022 (Friday)
10:00 – 11:30 Hong Kong Time (via Zoom)


Zoom meeting link:


Experiments and regression models have been the two dominant methodological workhorses in the social and health sciences for over 60 years (both being statistically formalized by Sir Ronald Fisher in the 1920s). However, these 20th century approaches have limitations that make them unsuitable for modeling complex dynamic systems. For example, when domestic partners interact with each other, their emotions and cognitions become causally related, which changes the ways they interact with their environments and in turn this influences their emotions and cognitions (and so forth). Such everyday systems involve interactions and feedback loops that can produce seemingly unpredictable behavior that is hard to study experimentally or by using typical regression models. Indeed, to understand such systems many researchers have used qualitative methods in part because the complexity of the system cannot be captured using classic quantitative approaches. As an alternative, physical sciences such as ecology have recently witnessed the advent of revolutionary new methods designed to study complex dynamic systems. Referred to as empirical dynamic modeling or EDM, these methods allow: 1) characterizing the complexity of a system and the degree of nonlinearity that defines its evolution over time; 2) distinguishing correlation from causation to allow causal inference (i.e., a data-driven method for causal discovery); and 3) estimating causal effects as they change over time to better understand when and why causal associations exist. Qualitative methods have often been used precisely because they can address complex dynamic systems. The talk explores how new quantitative methods, such as EDM, are emerging in the social and health sciences to address 21st century problems in ways that are sensitive to the complex dynamics of real-world systems. The talk will also give brief examples of these methods.

About the Speaker
Michael Zyphur is currently Director of the Institute for Statistical and Data Science (, which specializes in quantitative methods workshops, custom training programs, and consulting. He has previously held academic appointments at the University of Melbourne, University of Washington, and the National University of Singapore. His research focused on the application of quantitative methods to answer questions in the social and health sciences has been cited roughly 10,000 times on Google Scholar. The new EDM Stata and R packages resulting from his collaborations are now available for free download here and here.

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