“The Emerging Age of Predictive Computational Science”

J. Tinsley Oden
Director, Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES),
UT Austin

TInsley Oden, Ph.D.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011
5:45 p.m. – Networking Reception
6:30 p.m. – Presentation

What exactly is the purpose of scientific discovery if it is not to inform us sufficiently to make predictions of the outcome of physical events and processes? Science is the enterprise of acquiring knowledge, and knowledge enables us, so we thought, to anticipate how things will behave—to forecast the way things will happen in the future.

A modern look at this idea suggests that scientific predictions aren’t as straightforward as some may think, particularly with the enhanced power of scientific discovery made possible by computer models and computers. The anatomy of computer predictions has recently become the subject of intense research, because we are now relying on computer models to predict events of enormous importance in making critical decisions that affect our welfare and security, such as climate change, the performance of energy and defense systems, the biology of diseases, and the outcome of medical procedures. Just how good are predictions of such complex phenomena, and how can we quantify the inevitable uncertainty in such predictions?

This presentation traces the development of scientific thinking and philosophy that underlie predictivity. It is argued that the fundamental issues of affecting the quantitative prediction of physical events using computer models are code and solution verification, model calibration and validation, and uncertainty quantification. These are the components of Predictive Science. It is also argued that the subjective probability inherent in Bayesian statistics provides a general framework for understanding and implementing predictive computational methods. Some examples of progress in this area at ICES are presented.


J. Tinsley Oden is associate vice president for research and director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) at The University of Texas at Austin. In these roles he supports and develops advanced methods of computational modeling and simulation as powerful tools for scientific discovery. His vision, combined with prolific research, has resulted in authorship of more than 500 scientific works, including 53 books. He currently serves on the editorial boards of 28 scientific journals. His latest book, An Introduction to Mathematical Modeling: a Course in Mechanics, will be published in August by John Wiley and Sons.