About Complex System Failure

July 30, 2019

The failure of the to develop a “magic bullet” drug that safely promotes weight loss is evidence that a reductionist single biologic mechanism is unlikely to account for the obesity epidemic.

We have conquered most of the communicable diseases, the next phase of medicine needs a systems approach.

About complex system failure:

Complex systems are intrinsically hazardous systems. All of the interesting systems are inherently and unavoidably hazardous by the own nature.

Complex systems are heavily and successfully defended against failure. The high consequences of failure lead over time to the construction of multiple layers of defense against failure.

Catastrophe requires multiple failures – single point failures are not enough. Overt catastrophic failure occurs when small, apparently innocuous failures join to create opportunity for a systemic accident. Each of these small failures is necessary to cause catastrophe but only the combination is sufficient to permit failure.

Complex systems run in degraded mode. Complex systems run as broken systems. This is what most of medicine treats.

Attribution to a ‘root cause’ is fundamentally wrong.
Overt failure requires multiple faults, there is no isolated ‘cause’ of an accident. There are multiple contributors to accidents. Each of these is necessary insufficient in itself to create an accident. Only jointly are these causes sufficient to create an accident. It is the linking of these causes together that creates the circumstances required for the accident.


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