"The Hard Lessons of Modeling the Coronavirus Pandemic"

Recent Quanta piece on the abysmal track record of disease modeling outside the ivory tower:

But on September 3, just one week into its fall semester, the university faced a bleak reality. Nearly 800 of its students had tested positive for the coronavirus — more than the model had projected by Thanksgiving. Administrators had to issue an immediate campus-wide suspension of nonessential activities.

What had gone wrong? The scientists had seemingly included so much room for error, so many contingencies for how students might behave. “What we didn’t anticipate was that they would break the law,” Goldenfeld said — that some students, even after testing positive and being told to quarantine, would attend parties anyway. This turned out to be critical: Given how COVID-19 spreads, even if only a few students went against the rules, the infection rate could explode.

Wow, it’s almost as if toy models, simulations and observational data are not sufficient to inform policy decisions. Who knew!

I’m just glad that no one is using 2.4GHz electromagnetic packet exchange as a proxy for aerosolized droplet transmission… Oh wait.


Jim Bagrow
Jim Bagrow
Associate Professor of Mathematics & Statistics

My research interests include complex networks, computational social science, and data science.