Policy ForumSCIENCE AND LAW

Harnessing legal complexity

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Science  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1377-1378
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag3013

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Summary

Complexity science has spread from its origins in the physical sciences into biological and social sciences (1). Increasingly, the social sciences frame policy problems from the financial system to the food system as complex adaptive systems (CAS) and urge policy-makers to design legal solutions with CAS properties in mind. What is often poorly recognized in these initiatives is that legal systems are also complex adaptive systems (2). Just as it seems unwise to pursue regulatory measures while ignoring known CAS properties of the systems targeted for regulation, so too might failure to appreciate CAS qualities of legal systems yield policies founded upon unrealistic assumptions. Despite a long empirical studies tradition in law, there has been little use of complexity science. With few robust empirical studies of legal systems as CAS, researchers are left to gesture at seemingly evident assertions, with limited scientific support. We outline a research agenda to help fill this knowledge gap and advance practical applications.