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[Computational Complexity] A Failure of Social Networks?

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  • Lance
    One of Northwestern s professors made quite a splash a month ago with his group s predictions on the spread of the Swine Flu (now called H1N1). Dirk Brockmann
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2009
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      One of Northwestern's professors made quite a splash a month ago with his group's predictions on the spread of the Swine Flu (now called H1N1). Dirk Brockmann claimed a worst-case scenario of 1700 flu cases by the end of May. Another group in Indiana made similar predictions. The research got picked up on a front page New York Times article. Brockmann's group used data from Where's George, a site that tracks movement of dollar bills, to understand interactions that would lead to the spreading of disease.

      So how did these groups do? Not even in the right ballpark, off by two orders of magnitude. As a follow-up article in Tuesday's Science Times the CDC estimated there were well over 100,000 cases by the end of last month. What went wrong? In short Brockmann claims faulty initial data. Nevertheless I always worry that bad predictions from scientists make it harder to have the public trust us when we really need them to.

      Might this be an instance where prediction markets greatly out-performed the experts? In short, no. There were relevant markets but two big problems: 
      • No one thought to create a market for the number of flu cases over a couple of thousand. 
      • Prediction markets require a verifiable outcome so they were based on CDC confirmed cases. But after the flu turned out not to be that dangerous, the CDC stopped confirming most cases and there were less than 7500 confirmed cases by the end of May.



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      Posted By Lance to Computational Complexity at 6/04/2009 06:45:00 AM
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