The modern world is characterized by an unprecedented fragmentation and specialization of knowledge, including scientific knowledge. Yet to solve the problems—especially environmental problems—created in part by the successful application of this knowledge to expanded agricultural and industrial production, scientists must bring together this dispersed knowledge to inform collective deliberation. In this introduction to the special Roundtable section on “collectively seeing complex systems,” we outline the problem and highlight the ways in which scientists have until now relatively unselfconsciously addressed it, using as an example the broad range of scientists who collaborate in the scientific support of modern agriculture. We look at the problems of judgment and deliberation in the scientific understanding of complex systems as they relate to democratic practices, and advance some modest suggestions for improving the ability of scientists to respond to the increasing demands for policy-relevant, interdisciplinary information.
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