Covid’s Pareto distribution

This is bad news for people who like to play with simple models where they can change R_0

  • The wind carries glowing embers (the virus) ahead of the blaze (the epidemic)
  • Only a few of those embers land on spots with enough connected dry brush to get new fire going
  • Other embers, indeed most of them, may make small fires that flare up for a moment, but those flare-ups run out of local fuel and die out
  • Since this action is going at the leading edge of the big fire and is soon subsumed by the moving conflagration, we may not notice this mechanism at work
  • Depending on how fuel is distributed in the unburned part of the forest, it would not be unusual for the effect of each ember to follow a Pareto distribution.
  • Indeed, there is a classic toy Fire Model (kids can run it using Net Logo) that demonstrates clearly a phase transition from “fizzle out” to “full fire” when fuel density crosses a 67% threshold

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Will Bates writes about science, technology, and business. His journalism has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous magazines.

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Will Bates

Will Bates

Will Bates writes about science, technology, and business. His journalism has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous magazines.

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