The Loh Down On Science

A potential downside of living in a major metropolis

Dalziel et al., Proc. Royal Soc. B, 2013.

Mobility patterns of workers in cities. The thickness and colour of edges show the number of individuals commuting between CTs. Circles are actually short edges, representing individuals who live and work in the same CT. Larger cities tend to have more highly organized commuting patterns, as measured by the average number of workers who have their workstation in the same CT as a randomly chosen worker (m*). However, cities also show marked differences in organization that are independent of population size.

Can an excellent public transportation system make you . . . sick?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

It's long been known that infectious diseases tend to spread faster in certain cities.  But why?  Meet Benjamin Dalziel from Cornell University.  He simulated the spread of an airborne disease in 48 cities in Canada.  He considered the population size in and around each metro.  Also, how it changed during the daily rat race of some 7,000,000 commuters!

And?  As expected, bigger cities generally had bigger outbreaks.  The twist?  The best-organized metropoli were the worst off!  Especially those with a star-shaped design.  Such cities import workers by the burb-load, and pack ‘em into a relatively small city center.  With more germs in close daily contact?  Bugs body-hop like mad.  Then the newly infected go home, tainting communities in literally all directions.  These cities had three times more disease risk than they should, based on population size alone.

The findings should improve outbreak predictions.  With one small side effect:  The hub-city heebie-jeebies.  Yikes!


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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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