Abstract: Pathogens can spread epidemically through populations. Beneficial contagions, such as viruses that enhance host survival or technological innovations that improve quality of life, also have the potential to spread epidemically. How do the dynamics of beneficial biological and social epidemics differ from those of detrimental epidemics? We investigate this question using three theoretical approaches. First, in the context of population genetics, we show that a horizontally-transmissible element that increases fitness, such as viral DNA, spreads superexponentially through a population, more quickly than a beneficial mutation. Second, in the context of behavioral epidemiology, we show that infections that cause increased connectivity lead to superexponential fixation in the population. Third, in the context of dynamic social networks, we find that preferences for increased global infection accelerate spread and produce superexponential fixation, but preferences for local assortativity halt epidemics by disconnecting the infected from the susceptible. We conclude that the dynamics of beneficial biological and social epidemics are characterized by the rapid spread of beneficial elements, which is facilitated in biological systems by horizontal transmission and in social systems by active spreading behavior of infected individuals.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).