Power laws without complexity Academic Article uri icon


  • Power laws have been invoked in describing the sizes of a wide variety of objects in evolution and ecology. The apparent ubiquity of power laws is commonly attributed to a form of complex behaviour called self-organizing criticality. It is shown that power law behaviour inevitably arises from the statistics of large values from heavy-tailed distributions and that such distributions can be generated by processes that do not involve self-organized criticality. It follows that power law behaviour cannot be taken as prima facie evidence of self-organizing criticality.

publication date

  • April 2005