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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Wilder Than the Weather: The Limitations of Predicting Pandemics

How can changes in human behavior alter the progression of COVID-19? That is the question as government and public health leaders worldwide look to identify what kind of policies are working to stem the spread of the virus and when it's safe to reopen for business. However, the answers remain elusive: while epidemiologists have developed models that enable anyone to understand the basic mechanisms responsible for the spread of an infection, they have yet to develop models that can predict what millions of people will do in response to the progression of a global pandemic like COVID-19 and how that impacts rates of infection and death. (Predicting the course of pandemics is not, unfortunately, as straightforward as predicting the weather.)

Northwestern professor of chemical and biological engineering Luis A. Nunes Amaral, joined by colleagues Marta Sales-Pardo, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Roger Guimera, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies professor, both from Rovira i Virgili University, discussed the limits of models that predict the spread of pandemics, and what's needed to make them stronger during a recent Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs webinar.