Written and published at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adam Kucharski’s book The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread – and Why They Stop had a unique momentum. The similarities between fake news, viruses like flu, SARS, and COVID-19, but also rumors and fairy tales are striking. Unlike you might expect, Kucharski doesn’t present an overarching theory or model to explain and possibly predict every single viral outbreak, regardless of its nature. “In outbreak analysis, the most significant moments aren’t the ones where we’re right. It’s those moments when we realize we’ve been wrong” concludes the author. Modelers have a saying: “If you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen … one pandemic.” In numerous cases, Kucharski offers the underlying facts, background stories, and context. It ranges from the WannyCry computer virus to Zika, measles, and smallpox to the Cambridge Analytica manipulation of data and experiments at Facebook to present different timelines to different people.
Despite the uniqueness of every virus, stages and contagion patterns can be recognized and used in modeling. The author looks to past models like Darwin’s tree of life sketches and Ronald Ross’ groundbreaking research of the spread of malaria and draws from literature, computer science, physics, sociology, and behavioral sciences. This authoritative work offers readers means to understand what is happening today, from storming the Washington DC Capitol to the dangerous delta variant of COVID-19 to the many, many links in tweets that remain untouched.
About the author
Adam Kucharski is an Associate Professor and Sir Henry Dale Fellow in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. His research uses mathematical and statistical models to understand disease outbreaks and the effects of social behavior and immunity on transmission and control.
From 2013–17, he held a Medical Research Council Career Development Award in Biostatistics. During 2014–15, he suspended his fellowship to work on analysis of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, funded by the R2HC programme.