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These questions, along with many others, are at the heart of the nascent scientific field of outbreak forecasting. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. In January, the World Economic Forum called pandemics one of the greatest risks to business and human life.

Over the last several centuries, scientists have become ever better at predicting many aspects of the world, including the orbit of planets, the ebb and flow of tides and the paths of hurricanes. The ability to understand natural and physical systems well enough to make accurate forecasts is perhaps one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

Much of this success at forecasting begins with Isaac Newton’s fundamental insight that there are unchanging universal laws that govern the natural phenomena around us. The ability to rapidly perform large calculations has fostered the Newtonian perspective that, given enough data and computing power, most complex phenomena can be predicted.

… continue reading ‘Why It’s So Difficult for Scientists to Predict the Next Outbreak of a Dangerous Disease’

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