The Math of Pandemics is Hard

All the arguments about the right thing to do in a pandemic made me take a step back and wonder why is this so hard for a community to agree on what is to be done. Intelligent people come to wildly different conclusions about the right thing to do. In many cases different sides of an argument cannot even agree on the facts they are arguing over.

This is not going to be an article on a moral philosophy and the ascendance of rights over responsibilities. Instead I ponder a more basic problem:

Is the maths of a pandemic just hard

The dominant mathematics of contagion is that of exponentials. While this is the mathematics that underlies much of finance and physics, it is not the mathematics of the every day.

Exponential processes are both:

  • Poorly handled by our intuition
  • Inherently difficult to calculate

Perhaps this can explain some of the difficulties we have in seeing our way through as a community