Models of Doom: A Critique of The Limits to Growth

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H. S. D. Cole, Christopher Freeman, Marie Jahoda, K. L. R. Pavitt
Universe Books, 1973 - 244 ˹
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Hailed by some as an "intellectual bombshell" and decried by others as unprofessional sensationalism, The Limits to Growth has created a stir throughout the world. Dennis L. Meadows, its main author, and his mentor Jay Forrester are MIT system analysts whose work represents the most ambitious attempt so far to bring together forecasts of population growth, pollution, resource depletion, food supply, and industrial output into a general model of the world's future.

Models of Doom, by an interdisciplinary team at Sussex University's Science Policy Research Unit, examines the structure and assumptions of the MIT world models and a preliminary draft of Meadows' technical reports. Based on computer runs, it shows that forecasts of the world's future are very sensitive to a few key assumptions and suggests that the MIT assumptions are unduly pessimistic. Further, the Sussex scientists claim that the MIT methods, data, and predictions are faulty, that their world models--with their built-in Malthusian bias--do not accurately reflect reality.

The second part of the book assesses the models and their assumptions in the context of historical forecasts about economics (including those of Malthus and Keynes), population, the environment, and technology. Here the Sussex scientists criticize the MIT approach for its lack of concern with politics, social structure, and human needs and aspirations. They assert that changing social values, not a part of the MIT computer input, can significantly affect the exponential growth of the world's physical properties. Nevertheless, they agree with Forrester and Meadows about the urgency of the challenge and believe that dealing with foreseeable physical limits and disturbing the fruits of growth equitably will require radical political and social, as well as technological, changes.

Claiming that the Sussex critics have applied "micro reasoning to macro problems," the authors of The Limits to Growth, in "A Response to Sussex," describe and analyze five major areas of disagreement between themselves and the Sussex authors. Hailed by some as an "intellectual bombshell" and decried by others as unprofessional sensationalism, The Limits to Growth has created a stir throughout the world. Dennis L. Meadows, its main author, and his mentor Jay Forrester are MIT system analysts whose work represents the most ambitious attempt so far to bring together forecasts of population growth, pollution, resource depletion, food supply, and industrial output into a general model of the world's future.

Models of Doom, by an interdisciplinary team at Sussex University's Science Policy Research Unit, examines the structure and assumptions of the MIT world models and a preliminary draft of Meadows' technical reports. Based on computer runs, it shows that forecasts of the world's future are very sensitive to a few key assumptions and suggests that the MIT assumptions are unduly pessimistic. Further, the Sussex scientists claim that the MIT methods, data, and predictions are faulty, that their world models--with their built-in Malthusian bias--do not accurately reflect reality.

The second part of the book assesses the models and their assumptions in the context of historical forecasts about economics (including those of Malthus and Keynes), population, the environment, and technology. Here the Sussex scientists criticize the MIT approach for its lack of concern with politics, social structure, and human needs and aspirations. They assert that changing social values, not a part of the MIT computer input, can significantly affect the exponential growth of the world's physical properties. Nevertheless, they agree with Forrester and Meadows about the urgency of the challenge and believe that dealing with foreseeable physical limits and disturbing the fruits of growth equitably will require radical political and social, as well as technological, changes.

Claiming that the Sussex critics have applied "micro reasoning to macro problems," the authors of The Limits to Growth, in "A Response to Sussex," describe and analyze five major areas of disagreement between themselves and the Sussex authors.

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Christopher Freeman holds a bachelor's degree in math and an master's degree in math education from the University of Chicago. He teaches math to grades 6-12 at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Freeman also teaches math enrichment classes in the "Worlds of Wisdom and Wonder" and "Project" programs for gifted children in the Chicago area, sponsored by the Center for Gifted at National-Louis University. His books are the fruits of curricula he has developed for gifted children in these programs and in the regular classroom.
All of Freeman's activities involve students in inductive thinking. Students are presented with an intriguing situation or set of special cases, and they formulate conjectures about the fundamental mathematical properties that govern them. Students in Freeman's classes practice inductive thinking when they find winning strategies for math games, formulate conjectures about the structure of many-pointed stars, or figure out which polygons can fit together to form polyhedra-and why.
Freeman is a regular presenter at the annual conventions of the National Association for Gifted Children. He contributed a chapter on math curriculum in the NAGC publication "Designing and Developing Programs for Gifted Students", edited by Joan Franklin Smutny. He has published three books with Prufrock Press, "Nim: Variations and Strategies", "Drawing Stars and Building Polyhedra", and "Compass Constructions".

Marie Jahoda, 1906 - 2001 Marie Jahoda was born in Vienna in 1906 and was brought up on the teachings of Freud and Young. She graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctorate in sociology and gained immediate recognition with a sociological study in Marienthal with Hans Zeisel and her first husband, Paul Lazarsfeld. The project consisted of measuring the psychological impact of unemployment in a hard working person. Jahoda was a Social Democrat who opposed the Austrian government and Hitler. When he annexed Austria, she was imprisoned but managed to escape to England. There she concentrated on issues such as unemployment and coal mine workers. She then traveled to the United States after World War II and did research for the American Jewish Committee and for Columbia University before going to work at N.Y.U, where she was a professor of social psychology and it's founding director of the Research Center for Human Relations. She worked at N.Y.U. from 1949 to 1958. She returned to Britain to work as a researcher and teacher at the University of Sussex until 1965 as well as attaining the level of emeritus professor during her tenure. Marie "Mitzie" Jahoda died on April 28 at her home in Keymar, England at the age of 94.

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