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We use mathematical models and computer simulations to study a wide range of problems in population biology, animal behavior, and evolutionary theory. Our current research efforts are concentrated in two areas.
Information in biological systems.
How do living organisms acquire, store, and make use of information? How and why does communication evolve?
Together with evolutionary theory, I use mathematical game theory and the statistical theory of signal transmission in order to understand the flow of information in the natural world. I am particularly interested in the strategic aspects of communication: Why do organisms share information even when their interests conflict? Why do individuals share some pieces of information and not others? Why do signals take the forms that they do? Why don't cheaters exploit and undermine communication by sending deceptive signals? How does information flow through biological and social networks?
The ecology and evolution of infectious disease:
How do pathogens evolve and spread through populations? How do populations evolve in response to pathogen challenge?
In an age of emerging infectious diseases and of rapidly spreading antibiotic resistance, ecologists and evolutionary biologists have significant contributions to offer to medical research and practice. In order to anticipate and to contain disease spread and disease evolution, we need to understand the underlying population biology and population genetics of both pathogen and host. Conversely, through the wealth of available data and the rapidity of the pathogen evolution, infectious disease biology offers to population biologists an opportunity to observe evolution taking place in real time, and as such provides a rich set of study systems for biologists who are interested in the basic ecological and evolutionary principles. I am particularly interested in finding ways to use our understanding of ecology and evolution to better understand and ultimately prevent the appearance and spread of emerging infectious diseases such as SARS and H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu).
In addition to these two areas, I maintain an active program of research on the structure and economics of scholarly publishing. In addition our journal articles on the subject, our website Eigenfactor.org is devoted to ranking and mapping the structure of scientific communication.
(Photo: Tania Cristofari)
Carl Bergstrom is a Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington. Though trained in evolutionary biology and mathematical population genetics, Carl is perhaps best known for working crossing field boundaries and integrating ideas across the span of the natural and social sciences. The unifying theme that runs through all of Carl’s work is the concept of information. Within biology, he studies problems such as how communication evolves and how the process of evolution by natural selection creates the information that is encoded in genomes. In the philosophy and sociology of science, he studies how the incentives created by scientific institutions shape scholars’ research strategies and, in turn, our scientific understanding of the world. In physics and network science, he explores how to extract the relevant information from massive networks comprising tens of millions of nodes, and how information flows through networks of this scale. Within informatics, he studies how citations and other traces of scholarly activity can be used to better navigate the overwhelming volume of scholarly literature. Most recently, Carl has teamed up with Jevin West to launch the Calling Bullshit project, developing a website and course materials for teaching quantitative reasoning and information literacy: http:callingbullshit.org.