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Web Game Helps Predict Spread of Epidemics 201

An anonymous reader writes "Using data from the web game, which traces the travels of dollar bills, scientists have unveiled statistical laws of human travel and developed a mathematical description that can be used to model the spread of infectious disease."
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Web Game Helps Predict Spread of Epidemics

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  • by mattjb0010 ( 724744 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:41PM (#14564418) Homepage
    I wonder how much of what we do on a daily basis is a result of free will when I hear about science like this.

    Overall statistical laws don't say much about free will or not. There are always going to be regular patterns in behaviour (caused by things like the fact that most people don't want to walk 10 miles to work every day).

    Governments would love equations that predict human behavior on a macroscopic scale.

    The Australian Reserve Bank uses equations to predict macroeconomic conditions and adjusts interest rates accordingly.
  • by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:44PM (#14564435)
    "The physicists were intrigued: Like viruses, money is transported by people from place to place. " The problem is that you give a bill to only one person. Most disease is not like that.
  • Re:Business model (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xdc ( 8753 ) * on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:45PM (#14564446) Journal
    I object to this practice. Money should not be marked up or defaced with advertising, IMHO. I think it has a devaluing effect, and is disrespectful, at least to future recipients of the bank note.
  • I tried this once.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:45PM (#14564449)
    I wrote the url to Where's George on a dollar bill and use it in a convient store. I live in West Texas, the dollar bill was in Georgia in a week.
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:47PM (#14564463) Homepage
    How long until people start trying to think up ways of using bank-notes to deliver deadly chemical or biological agents to the mass population? They've already discovered "radioactive banknotes in Kazakhstan []".
  • Urban Dead (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Saeger ( 456549 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {jllerraf}> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:51PM (#14564496) Homepage
    Urban Dead [] gets no love? That webgame is truly infectious -- what with its "243,575 dead and rising" :)
  • by AoT ( 107216 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:57PM (#14564524) Homepage Journal
    Well, the whole idea in the books was that there were trillions and trillions of people and because of the sheer numbers you could create somewhat workable equations. I doubt it would work in real life, but given enough people and enough observation, it might.
  • Get AIDs Today! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ral8158 ( 947954 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @11:07PM (#14564578)
    It's not nearly as infective as GetAIDs []... A web game you can actually get AIDs from! What will they think of next?
  • by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <<moc.xobreven> ... .vidavsxd54sals>> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @11:21PM (#14564673) Homepage
    That is exactly why Asimov said psychohistory had to fail, and he made it do so.

    Although the fact it failed due to a genetic mutation was a bit silly.

    And note psychohistory couldn't predict everything, even outside genetic mutation. The First Foundation was to 'change history' by keeping a storehouse of knowledge, without any psychohistory at all, but the Second wasn't only to fix any minor problems that crop up, but to narrow the possiblities to one that were predictable.

    If you want an analogy...everyone else thought they were playing roulette, but the psychohistorians figured out a way to make everyone play blackjack, and only they knew it. The fact they were counting cards and knew optimal betting patterns was trivial to the fact they were defining the game.

    You can read it and get the impression Seldon predicts the exact events of the un-altered fall for thousands of years, and he likewise predicts the exact events after he changes them, but he really just predicts the long fall itself, we have no indication he can figure out stuff to any extent within it. And he rigs the new future history so he can control it.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday January 26, 2006 @12:18AM (#14564962) Journal
    Another novel and interesting way I came across to predict the spread of infectious disease is the University of Iowa's Flu Prediction Market []. A description from their page:

    Information about influenza activity is diverse and widely distributed. Different health care professionals have different information regarding influenza activity. This information could be quite helpful in predicting future influenza activity if it could be aggregated and analyzed efficiently. However, because this information is disparate, standard research and statistical methods have not proven to be effective. Thus, the medical community does not have access to accurate influenza forecasts. The Influenza Prediction Market is an attempt to satisfy the need for accurate information regarding future influenza activity.

    The first experimental prediction market was the Iowa Electronic Market (IEM). It has developed methods to predict future events ranging from election results to movie box office receipts and has a forecasting record substantially superior to alternative mechanisms. We propose that markets for infectious diseases may be useful for predicting infectious disease activity quickly, accurately, and inexpensively by aggregating the expert opinion of health care professionals.

    They're currently working on expanding the system, but with their current market they give various health care workers $100 they can bid with, and depending on how accurate their bidding is they can get additional money.
  • by NichG ( 62224 ) on Thursday January 26, 2006 @12:47AM (#14565109)
    Hey, it works for atoms when we can't even solve the three body problem analytically. And yet somehow when there's 10^23 of the things, we can get the scaling laws, phase diagrams, equations of state, etc with pen and paper. I don't find it hard to believe at all that while one person's behavior may be very hard to predict well, the average behavior and even scale of the fluctuations in behavior of a few billion people would be very easy to predict.

    Population density seems to be a good place to start... so many things seem to be tightly coupled to population density. If you look at political affiliations in the US for example, there's a correlation between liberal/conservative and population density. Crime, etc of course scales with population density.

    In a sense its a measure of 'how much am I affected by other people'. In a low density area, encounters with other people that have a significant unintentional and undesired effect are low. In a high density area, you can't help but press up against dozens of people a day who might mug you, smoke near you, transmit a disease to you, or whatever.

    So thats one variable; there's likely to be two or three that are really important, and the rest are sort of small perturbations. Second might be economic level perhaps? Or technological? Get some output data like crime rate, distribution of causes of death, education levels, job occupancies, population density, tech level, economic level, and so on and do a principle component analysis on that. Maybe it'll reveal the significant contributors, or maybe not, but it's probably worth a shot for some grad student doing social science.

    Then you can do fun things like construct a phase diagram from your data and find out little factoids like 'if the population density rises above X, dictatorships become fundamentally unstable!' that let the more power hungry analysts set up a perpetual dynasty with rules controlling population growth or something like that.

    Isn't statistical mechanics fun?
  • by ennadaiit ( 837188 ) on Thursday January 26, 2006 @02:29AM (#14565457)
    I remeber visiting a site that adopted a similar concept - Book Crossing []. Except, instead of dollar bills, they tracks books.

    You can assign each book a reference number at the site. Crossers can leave a book at any location once they are done. Those who pick the book can then goto the site to login information about where they picked it from and etc.

    Pro's and cons to each mechanism:

    Dollar bills:- Better to track since they are more widespread in usage as oppose to an eclectic few who might be interested in reading particular books (tastes come into play).

    Books:- Their network holds uniform across borders. Dollar bills on the other hand may not be as exchangeable in another country as they are in the U.S.

  • by OfficialWheresGeorge ( 949555 ) on Thursday January 26, 2006 @09:29AM (#14566498)

    Those bills have been deleted and blocked from entry on the site, as will any others you post here.

    As I said, I take data integrity very seriously, and tricks and games like this will not be tolerated.


Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay