With the pandemic looming over our heads it has become more or less the only thing that we talk about. Addressing anything other than this feels almost unimportant. We are anxious to know what stage of the pandemic are we on and when can we expect our lives to go back to normal. In the meanwhile, while the world is at chaos, to understand the nature of diseases The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski may just be the right one to reach for.
Kucharski, an epidemiologist, tells a tale of the mathematical modelling of diseases which are infectious. Kucharski, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is well positioned to educate readers and has been active as a biostatistician in modeling disease outbreaks such as Ebola and the 2015 Zika epidemic. His book was effectively signed off when the coronavirus outbreak started in different parts of the world. The rules of Contagion bear witness to how well Kucharski understands his subject, and that he chose not to undertake a panicked update given the situation.
The hero of the novel is Ronald Ross, who was honored in physiology or medicine with the 1902 Nobel Prize. He was the first one to mathematically define an outbreak, with thorough knowledge of the biological and social processes which formed it. He predicted the path of an epidemic, and how it might be affected by different actions. His theories form the foundation of the current modeling of disease, and the strategies of our governments to battle Covid-19. Some of the book’s most fascinating and relevant sections relates to the mathematical simulation of false news. We already knew that this was contagious, a pandemic of false news will feed a pandemic of infectious disease and communicate with it.
The Rules of Contagion applies to issues common to all pandemics – from the ice bucket challenge to bitcoin to infectious diseases – rather than those unique to each. Modelers have been testing those laws for the last century and now their findings are being put to test. This book describes how they got to those conclusions, and why they believe each one of us does next will make a difference. There may still be much confusion surrounding Covid-19, but one thing is for sure: it will be one more learning opportunity for Kucharski and his fellow modelers.