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Black Death Predated 'Small World' Effect, Say Network Theorists

Soulskill posted 1 year,6 days | from the good-thing-kevin-bacon-wasn't-around-back-then dept.

Medicine 168

KentuckyFC writes "Epidemiologists know that modern diseases can spread almost simultaneously in different parts of the planet because an individual who becomes infected in Hong Kong, for example, can infect friends in New York the following day. This is known as the small world effect. It is the same property that allows any individual to link to another individual anywhere in the world in just a few steps. But in the 14th century, the Black Death spread in a very different way, moving slowly across Europe at a rate of about 2 kilometers a day. Now network theorists have simulated this spread and say it is only possible if the number of long distances travelers in those days was vanishingly small. In other words, people in medieval society were linked almost exclusively to others nearby and so did not form a small world network. That raises an interesting question. If society in 14th century Europe was not a small world but today's society is, when did the change occur? The researchers say the finger of blame points to the invention of railways and steamships which allowed large numbers of people, and the diseases they carried, to travel long distances for the first time."

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interesting question (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168101)

That's the most interesting question this makes you think of?

Re:interesting question (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168171)

They should have said "this begs the question". This is Slashdot, after all.

Re:interesting question (4, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168181)

Rats. Crusades. Trade.

They had Silk in freaking Budapesht, Kiev, Oslo, Bruges, Orleans, Stuttgart and Florence. How isolated do you think the world was?

Re:interesting question (3, Informative)

drakaan (688386) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168479)

I think the not-so-amazing revelation is that people in the 14th century were generally travelling very small distances on a daily basis. The world wasn't isolated in terms of accessibility, but in terms of time-to-destination. That's my understanding of the summary, at least.

Re:interesting question (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168551)

Just because the mean was so bad, doesn't mean that there weren't significant outliers, with difference on orders of magnitude.

Agree, about the revelation. Then? There are folks in rural Wisconsin who've never been to Milwaukee, Des Moines or Chicago.

Re:interesting question (1)

disposable60 (735022) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168809)

There are a fair number folks in Brooklyn who are born, mature, marry, reproduce and die without going outside a 25-mile radius. The percentage of peripatetics is much larger now, but the sticks-in-the-mud are still multitudes even in industrialized countries.

Re:interesting question (1)

drakaan (688386) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169859)

Well, we're talking about a difference in speed of horse-based travel compared to human walking. There's a difference, but not orders of magnitude. Color me unsurprised about the speed with which the plague spread.

Re:interesting question (4, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168511)

How fast do you think this silk moved across Europe?

Re:interesting question (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168777)

Well, rather fast.
We had a network of roads, the Hanseatic societies and most importantly rivers and the sea.
It took a ship a few weeks to get from here in Amsterdam to anywhere in the Baltic, and the same counts for the Mediterranean. Recall that the Italians and Catalonian had huge fleets?

And BTW, 2km is crap, in these times you would have travelled much more just from one village to another. These 2km per day make no sense at all.
OK, it's maybe the mean or the average but it still makes no sense. OK, people in villages may have stayed close to home... but our smart "scientists" just forgot that in these days people had a favourite hobby that consisted in gather in huge numbers dressed in fancy metallic suites and go paying their neighbours a visit... they called in "armies" you know?

And there were fairs, and the aforementioned merchants, and comedians and pilgrims.... and this was just our dear old Europe, a little place in the backwaters of the medieval world filled with simple barbarians.

Re:interesting question (1)

aBaldrich (1692238) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169147)

>these days people had a favourite hobby that consisted in gather in huge numbers dressed in fancy metallic suites and go paying their neighbours a visit

Yea, and today people have a favourite hobby that consists in building small scale unmanned aircrafts and go bombing their neighbours... oh wait, they don't.

Re:interesting question (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169801)

Then again, those armies were generally not in the habit of hugging or kissing those neighbours, slowing down the rate of spread of disease as well.

Re:interesting question (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168891)

How fast do you think this silk moved across Europe?

I'm not sure but I've heard they already used bitcoins back then to pay for it.

Re:interesting question (2)

medv4380 (1604309) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169135)

One year for the silk to travel the silk road. The black death spread rapidly along it as well.

Re:interesting question (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169895)

2KM a day sound legit. In reality, you stayed in town for a week doing merchant things, then went 12KM to the next town where you would spend the next week.

Re:interesting question (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168643)

good point.

And we have to recall that Europe was jsut a very small part in the backwaters of a huge world connected mostly by sea with the Arab traders on one side, Asia and China on the other (until China closed itself later) and of course, the Mongols.

Re:interesting question (5, Interesting)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168875)

The "Arab" traders were really a remarkable multi-ethnic amalgamation of Levantine and peninsular Arabs, Africans from the horn, Persians from the gulf, and Indians from the Arabian sea - Malabar Coast and Gujurat. There were also Genoans, Turks and Georgians from the Caucasus - with plenty of overlap by Chinese through the time of Kublai, under the Mongols.

This was the world of Sinbad, and the true inheritor of the great maritime civilizations in the Mediterranean - Tyre, Mycenae and Athens.

Re:interesting question (1)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169247)

Great post.

Re:interesting question (1)

wanax (46819) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168693)

The wide distribution of silk merely implies that there was some trade -- it doesn't imply at all that the markets weren't so thin that a single caravan's choice of whether to travel or not didn't control the availability of new silk for year(s) at a time. Try reading Hakluyt's voyages some time -- organizing even a single successful long distance trading caravan was not an easy operation.

I think one thing that people often forget about the great steam age of transportation, is that the flows of people were bilateral, and mostly symmetric. While some residual of the passengers who left Europe for, say, the US stayed, mostly they eventually came back to were the left from -- those steam ships leaving from New York were crowded. Comparing that to the Crusades is apples to oranges: Sure, quite a few people left France and the HRE for the middle-east, but nearly all of them stayed once they arrived. Only a very few top-tier nobility and traders ever intended to return to their homes.

The difference between 'large' and 'small' world networks here is that for a small world, we can make the statistical assumption that there will be interpersonal contact between people all over the world at a fairly small tau (say, 4 days). What this research shows is that assumption isn't met by medieval European society at the time of the Black death. Quite likely, because long-distance travel and trade were sufficiently small scale that a few individuals' decisions (say, on hearing about the plague) could radically change the structural dynamics of the network for substantial periods of time.

Re:interesting question (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169713)

They also aren't paying enough consideration to climate/weather patterns and political stability. Back in those days it often wasn't safe to travel, most people didn't stray far from home not just because they might have been poor or lacked access to fast transport, but because if you didn't want to end up dead in the wilderness you'd have to hire guards or join in a caravan. Not something most people could do. Once nations became more "lawful" people were able to travel farther in greater numbers because there was far less "overhead" involved.

Climate, although less of a factor, also played into it. People in Europe in the 14th century didn't have all that much time to be traveling long distances just due to weather. Keep in mind the early 14th was the shift into the "mini Ice Age" which further reduced mobility.

So while I agree with them that pointing to steamships and rail as a major accelerator, I don't know that there even IS any kind of "tipping point" where we started shifting to a "small world" network.

Re:interesting question (2)

roc97007 (608802) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169049)

Rats. Crusades. Trade.

They had Silk in freaking Budapesht, Kiev, Oslo, Bruges, Orleans, Stuttgart and Florence. How isolated do you think the world was?

I think the point was, it's not the distance, it's the speed and frequency.

Re:interesting question (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169319)

That's what I keep telling my wife.

Re:interesting question (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169269)

This author is astonishingly ignorant. There was a bigger bubonic plague outbreak in the 7th century in Constantinople. It spread to...

central and south Asia; North Africa and Arabia;[citation needed] and Europe all the way to Denmark and Ireland

(thanks wikipedia), and its suspected to have originated in China or in Egypt (a lot of wheat was imported from there).

This meme that somehow the world wasnt "globalized" until the 19th century is hilarious, and wrong.

Re:interesting question (1)

bhagwad (1426855) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168475)

It's ridiculous that you need researchers to tell you that spreading disease became more easy with rail technology or with long distance shipping. I mean, what have they revealed that we didn't already know?

Re:interesting question (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168723)

what have they revealed that we didn't already know?

They have revealed that high speed long distance travel was not common before it was possible. Who would have guessed?

Long distance travel (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168155)

The study assumes people did not have long distance links. Alternatively, they had long distance links, but did not travel when they were infected with the bubonic plague.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Ultra64 (318705) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168167)

>Alternatively, they had long distance links

Do you know of some secret mode of transportation that has been lost to historians?

Re:Long distance travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168261)

>Alternatively, they had long distance links

Do you know of some secret mode of transportation that has been lost to historians?

Yes, it's called "the horse". It used to take people all over the place, even those that couldn't walk a mile or two in a single day. This "horse" should not be confused with the Unicorn, which can fly on rainbows (which is well documented by historians).

Re:Long distance travel (1)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168285)

and rats like ships

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168795)

Don't forget "the ship" another mythical contraption

Re:Long distance travel (1)

MightyYar (622222) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169075)

But surely it would fall off of the edge of the earth! Dragons!

Re:Long distance travel (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168269)

You mean like horses?

Re:Long distance travel (5, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168461)

Horses are expensive to maintain, and have a rough daily limit of about 30 miles. In comparison, a human walking at 3 mph can go the same distance in only 10 hours. The difference, of course, is that horses can carry more and get there faster, before taking more time to rest.

For the peasants who made up the majority of the population during the 14th century, a horse was a good tool for farmers or messengers, but regular travel would best be done on foot with a light pack and a steady pace.

Re:Long distance travel (3, Informative)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168923)

Very good point.
And sum to it that people had a very good reason to do that as many laborers mved from place to place for the harvests.

Here in Central Europe young men used to travel long distances during their time of apprenticeship in the different guilds, this tradition is still held in Germany (Wanderschaft). Guilds like the stonemasons travelled from Spain to Cenral Europe and you can find their guild emblems in Romanic and Gothic buildings across the whole continent. Some may even have been in Africa with the Arabs during the period of Al Andalus.

Re:Long distance travel (2)

Shinobi (19308) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169085)

Even up until WW2, the horses were what limited the rate of advance for armies, including the german invasion of Belgium and France, since horses were what pulled the majority of the logistics train.

Also, in regions where roads were not common, or in VERY bad shape, you usually had no horse depots, meaning that humans were much faster, especially over broken terrain

Re:Long distance travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169931)

Also, in regions where roads were not common, or in VERY bad shape, you usually had no horse depots

That must be why there are no horse depots in Michigan....

Re:Long distance travel (4, Informative)

khallow (566160) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169093)

Horses are expensive to maintain, and have a rough daily limit of about 30 miles. In comparison, a human walking at 3 mph can go the same distance in only 10 hours.

That's not comparable. The horse could do that forever (for example, see this US cavalry manual [] which stipulates cavalry can go 35 miles a day, six days a week indefinitely - page 152) while the person would not be able to maintain that sort of pace for more than a few hours to a day unless they were in really good shape.

In comparison, typical indefinite marching rates for an army were about 10 miles a day [] (both for roman legionaires and US soldiers).

horses weren't common and stopped the spread (3, Informative)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169957)

Almost nobody had horses back then, compared to the 19th century. Working the land was done manually, or with the aid of oxen and such. Horses were more or less used as battle transportation and sometimes very important couriers. There was occasional other use for them, but horse ownership was usually reserved to the nobility and rich cities due to the cost of maintenance in the times that the black plague was hitting Europe.

Keep in mind that the black plague was spread by fleas that favoured rats, cats, dogs and such as hosts. They would choose humans as hosts, but were repelled by horses and their smell. As such, people that lived in horse staples and worked with horses, or rode them to the next town, most often were spared. If a lone person travelling on horse back would come from an infested city and was not bitten by an infested flea by the time he left that city, he wouldn't be carrying any infested fleas or the bacteria by the time he arrived in the next town. The spread of the virus might have actually occurred without any human interaction whatsoever in a lot of cases where fleas just infected rodents living in the wild, or actually by people that travelled by foot and brought their dogs and such along.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168575)

Exactly! Don't you idiots learn anything about history in school? People travel for long distances all the time in World of Warcraft and Game of Thrones, and those are both fairly realistic depictions of the 14th century.

Re:Long distance travel (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168937)

Fuck mate, but that's only newbs until they get a decent flying mount.

boats (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168327)

Boats have been around for thousands of years and move faster than the 2km per day spread the study shows.

Re:Long distance travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168393)

Well, not actually lost, just not used. Before trains and steam ships, travel was incredibly slow being on foot, horseback, or horse drawn wagon. Thus, the notion of not traveling when sick could include the notion that one could not get far from home before becoming too sick to continue the journey.

Re:Long distance travel (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168949)

Tell that to Ghengis Khan.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Ultra64 (318705) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168423)

Yes. Thank you people, I know about ships and horses.

Explain how a person with bubonic plague is going to survive traveling long distances on one of those.

Re:Long distance travel (4, Informative)

damienl451 (841528) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168709)

There are other ways that the plague could spread. Yes, someone infected with the plague would die before reaching their destination. However, ships also carried cargo, which could be contaminated. Standard procedure was to quarantine ships and their cargo but, understandably, there could be pressures to rush things because people didn't like their precious fabrics to be kept on an isolated island for forty days, especially since they could easily get damaged in the process.

This is how the Great Plague of Marseilles began: a ship laden with cargo belonging to important people was not quarantined according to procedure. Unfortunately, it had come from the Middle East where the plague was rampant and it starting spreading through the city.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168755)


Re:Long distance travel (1)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169025)

The problem with rats is that they tend to be more sedentary than humans.
Modern bubonic pest (endemic in some parts of India until recent times) has only been able to infect small numbers of people, despite a much higher population density and a similar degree of (in)salubrity.

Birds maybe? (if the Plague was not the bubonic pest, as we know it at least)

Re:Long distance travel (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168981)

Incubation period?

And note that the fact that the Black Plague was actually the bubonic pest is not yet confirmed, we can't thus be sure if there may have been people infected with the plague while being asymptomatic.


Re:Long distance travel (2)

Quasimodem (719423) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169421)

IIRC the incubation period between exposure and first symptoms of bubonic plague is approximately six days, which would mean a determined walker could cover over 100 miles spreading his disease wherever he stopped to eat, converse, and sleep. Retarding that spread would be the fact that most travelers were not traveling any great distance. Serfs and peasants were tied to the land, seldom traveling further than the nearest market, but there were peddlers, pilgrims and couriers, as well as the upper classes and their servants, who were more mobile.

All things considered, two miles a day does not seem too unbelievable a pace if the disease was spread by human vectors. And yes, of course, railroads and steamships were the catalyst for the great nineteenth century human migrations and, naturally, their diseases.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168679)

Ships can deliver rats a long distance. As can wagon loads of produce.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Richy_T (111409) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168311)

Though it would seem likely that some of the spread was due to traveling to get away from the plague when one was (unwittingly) infected with it.

Re:Long distance travel (2)

Mobster75 (234793) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168325)

I would suspect the major factor back then on why the plague didn't spread so far, so quickly was that while they had long-distane trade links, the time period during which the plague would incubate and ultimately kill someone was far shorter than the time it took to travel great distances. I'm sure that if someone in a travel party began exhibiting symptoms of the plague, they were rather quickly left to die on their own in some remote location to avoid infecting the rest of the party.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168649)

This could actually speed the spread, if people fled while not realizing it was rat fleas that carried the plague. Plague-stricken victims don't get far, but people with fleas & flea eggs in their clothing trying to get away from the Black Death can.

I don't know if this particular reaction was a contributing factor in the spread, however.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169099)


And I don't really understand the whole point of the study... if people weren't able to travel far they did not infect too many others... yet the plague wiped Europe clean, Wikipedia says it killed 75-200 million people... in 2 years !!!

So... what's the point of the study then?

Re:Long distance travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168403)

We know for a fact that there were long distance links, at least to some extent. I'd argue the main factor is whether the means of long distance transportation were fast enough to get there before the disease killed you...

Re:Long distance travel (2)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168629)

You have to evaluate the transit time required via any given mode of transportation, compared to the time it takes to incapacitate a person after initial infection.

That limits the distance a lone carrier could spread the disease. People going to the next village to trade, or (once the danger becomes apparent) to request help or warn them would be the likely rural vectors, and that sounds like the two km / day limit. People could obviously walk farther in a day, but didn't need to. The next village or settlement was the extent of their every-day wandering).
That assumes foot traffic as the default mode of transportation.

However when horses became affordable for everyday travelers, as well as wagon freight transport, and carriage travel became common between villages, you would expect that distance could be pushed out to 18 to 25 miles per day. Either on horseback or by carriage or wagon, it was typical to cover about that distance in a day.

This would be the first time non-human disease carriers (rats) would become a significant vector, as wagon cargo could deliver rats, dead or alive, over distances of 100 miles or more in 7 or 8 days.

So I don't believe you have to postulate the existence of rail travel to see much wider spread over the gestation period. All you need to is assume some goods might be transported (in bulk big enough to accidentally include rats) over several days of journey. Rats in cargo, even if dead, would typically arrive at their destination regardless of how long the trip took. and 7 or 800 miles would not be unreasonable in harvest times.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

swb (14022) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169457)

I've read that most of the road network in Europe at this time was originally built by the Romans and Roman armies would basically build a fort at the end of every day's march; these forts would be the basis of towns along the road. This meant that the nearest village was basically a day's walk.

I would argue that they didn't have much reason to travel even to the next village. At best they would trade for agricultural products or craft goods they didn't have or have enough of (pottery, animals, wood goods, ground flour maybe, wine or beer). There really wasn't anything else to buy even if they had gold because they wasn't that much else made.

It really wasn't a consumer products society. People made what they needed.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169985)

That sounds reasonable. So how far apart did they build them?

As north america was being settled, horses were in wide use, by every household. Walking was less of an influence.

The average distances between towns averaged 18 miles, the distance you would want to travel on horseback per day. Someone did some research on the distances horses could cover in a day [] , given the conditions of un-improved trails and found that pretty much agreed with historical records of the location of Roadhouses, which tended to spring up near where common camp sites were, and towns sprung up around the Roadhouses.

This distance, variable by type of terrain, held true as settlement progressed all the way across the continent, EXCEPT for those towns that sprung up along rail lines through mostly un-populated territory. Those tended to spring up near spaced to where steam engines needed to replenish their water and fuel.

So even in Washington, Oregon, and California, towns tended to be on average 18 miles apart. Roadhouses would spring up at that distance, supplies would be transported that far, and stores would appear.

Re:Long distance travel (1)

dpilot (134227) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169321)

> but did not travel when they were infected with the bubonic plague.

Or at least not far. Any idea what the incubation time of the plagues were, or how that time compared to how long a trader would spend in one market before moving to the next? In other words, were they in one spot long enough to get infected and start showing symptoms before they would have been scheduled to move on.

Another thought... Someone once wrote about mapping plague outbreaks to elevation in London - really to river and sewer rats carrying the fleas that carried the plague. There is a preference to make roads follow higher ground, to avoid getting mired. Traders might have generally accidentally avoided the plague because of this.

As for shipping, you probably couldn't go far before falling sick with the plagues, so this might be one more cause for shipping loss back then.

Douglas, Boeing, DeHavilland... (-1)

TigerPlish (174064) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168165)

Goodbye to all my friends at home
Goodbye to people I've trusted
I've got to go out and make my way
I might get rich you know I might get busted
But my heart keeps calling me backwards
As I get on the 707
Ridin' high I got tears in my eyes
You know you got to go through hell
Before you get to heaven

-- Dave Matthews Band

Re:Douglas, Boeing, DeHavilland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168273)

Dave Matthews Band definitely spread diseases.

Re:Douglas, Boeing, DeHavilland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168283)

Dave Matthews Band

Um, no. It was originally done by Steve Miller (aka 'The Steve Miller Band').

Re:Douglas, Boeing, DeHavilland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168293)

um, wasnt that Steve "Guitar" Miller

I thought I had a case of the Black Death once (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168227)

but it was just gas

Said nobody ever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168291)

This is either a horrible summary or a waste of research money. You're telling me that Eurpoean society in the 14th century didn't travel a whole lot?

Wow. Water *is* wet

Re:Said nobody ever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168673)

Yeah, but exactly *how* wet is it, and why is it that way?

This makes a lot of sense.. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168307)

The Bubonic plague was carried by the rats. It can only be transmitted human to human in it's final stages and the fleas can't survive long on human body. Two km a day seems about right for rats.

Not news (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168341)

From TFS:

In other words, people in medieval society were linked almost exclusively to others nearby and so did not form a small world network.

Um, who exactly is this news to? Historians and sociologists have known this for decades.

Or sick people didn't travel (1)

nullchar (446050) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168347)

The researchers say the finger of blame points to the invention of railways and steamships which allowed large numbers of people, and the diseases they carried, to travel long distances for the first time.

Or sick people didn't travel. Or the long-distance traveler stopped traveling after they became ill. Or a horse drawn cart didn't hold as many rats as ships or trains.

It would be neat to see a visualization of the spread of various diseases in our known history.

This rumor I heard (5, Funny)

jovius (974690) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168353)

So it's true that I could catch some disease if I go out then?

Re:This rumor I heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168647)

Yes. Better stay in your mom's basement.

Re:This rumor I heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168751)

So it's true that I could catch some disease if I go out then?

True - all the more reason to not leave your Mom's basement!

Re:This rumor I heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169949)

> I could catch some disease if I go out then?
That's why those years are locked out -- you'll need proof of your antibody status and authorization from the Time Police to go out then.
Otherwise they'll catch _you_.

Madagascar? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168355)

Through extensive simulations I have discovered an important exception to the small world effect, which I call the Madagascar effect.

Roughly speaking, my theory states that diseases carried by travellers can spread quickly to anywhere in the world, except for Madagascar. If they shut down their harbors, you're fucked.

Vectors (2)

Richy_T (111409) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168365)

What if human beings were not, in some way, a vector?

Re:Vectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168867)

I think humans were a vector, just not a long distance one. As the article says, plague victims were only contagious for a limited period and because of the severity of the disease weren't likely to be doing any traveling at that time. The scale of the disease probably put a damper on trade too. Nobody is going to want to go near you if you're from a city half dead with the plague.

The disease probably spread neighbor to neighbor across the whole continent as long distance trade ground to a halt.

Black death resided in fleas on rats (1)

kawabago (551139) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168995)

Ships spread infested rats from port to port. So it was a small world network in the technology of the day.

Re:Vectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169127)

Epidemiologists also know how black death was spread, but network theorists apparently do not. There was very clearly small network effect at work on the coasts where ships were carrying infected rats but not inland. They start from wrong assumptions and draw a conclusion that isn't even supported by their data if the wrong assumptions were true. The authors should be pointed out and laughed at whenever they go in public.

insert... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168367)

[opening of "Survivors" from the 1970s]

Also, the property of rain is to wet. (1, Informative)

starX (306011) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168375)

I recommend they publish this in Duh: The Journal of the Insipidly Obvious. Does anyone really believe you need to be a medievalist to know that communication and travels was much slower in the middle ages than it is in the modern day? Simulations of how the disease spread are interesting from a historical point of view, but it's not even like we're talking about a time when humanity was on the cusp of "small world" connectiveness.

Re:Also, the property of rain is to wet. (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169061)

What they are talking about is the same phenomenon in medieval terms; they're arguing that even by our current understanding they had limited contact with the wider world. Look at it this way, at an average spread of 2km per day and an incubation period of days or weeks, all it would is a single traveler to blow that average out of the water. One guy riding a horse for 2 hours a day could plant incubation sites 50 or 100 km ahead of the larger wave of the outbreak before he even knew he was sick. So, either there were practically zero long distance travelers (an idea which I find hard to believe) or long distance travel all but stopped after the outbreak started.

Double edged sword (1)

DidgetMaster (2739009) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168387)

The "small world" nature of modern travel is a double edged sword. Yes, infectious diseases can spread rapidly and can quickly affect people over long distances, but because societies are constantly interacting with other societies, a large segment of the population is able to develop immunities to a large number of pathogens. When Europeans first came to the Americas, large numbers of the native populations were decimated by smallpox and other diseases. Because they had never been exposed to these diseases before and had no immunities built up to defend against it, a whole villiage would be wiped out within a short time. I have heard that far more Native Americans died from diseases this way than were ever killed during wars.

Re:Double edged sword (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168425)

The thing is, because pathogens in China are transmitted globally, people as a whole are pretty immune to anything that comes their way in general.

The downside is getting that cold and cough after a plane trip.

The good side is that a black plague-like disease can never happen again because there is likely herd immunity to its weaker cousin, similar to cowpox and smallpox.

Look at tourism (1)

Aviation Pete (252403) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168495)

the small world effect is possible by low cost and fast transportation. The same holds true for tourism. So the intrepid British explorers who started early in the 18th century to roam all across Europe are the first indicators of this change. Look how old Thomas Cook (the company) is (Link: [] )

American Natives could have told you that (1)

themushroom (197365) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168561)

...or the ones that survived the smallpox.

Is that the lineup of a Death Metal concert? (2)

Optali (809880) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168565)

Srry mates, it's friday...

Did they compare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168603)

The rate of spread of the Black Death versus the rate of spread of other plagues at different times?

There's the third pandemic of the bubonic plague [] which spread from Pakhoi, China in 1882 to Hong Kong in 1894, then from (probably) Hong Kong to western India in 1896.

Pakhoi, China to Hong Kong is a pretty short distance, yet it took the plague many years to travel that route.

Hong Kong to western India is about 2,000 miles at the crow flies. Assuming it took exactly two years for the plague to travel that distance, it averaged about 3 miles a day.

So, was southern China a "small world" in 1882? How about Hong Kong and the ports of British India? I could see it being very likely that there was regular traffic between Hong Kong and British India, yet the plague traveled slowly between the two points. Perhaps the plague isn't as quickly traveling as human beings, for various unknown reasons.

my hometown (1)

JustNiz (692889) | 1 year,6 days | (#45168661)

My hometown (Weymouth, Dorset) has the dubious distinction of being the port where the black death entered England. Cool huh?

And it constantly gets smaller. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168765)

With the creation of planes, boats, trains, cars, and more and more improved versions every few decades, it becomes a much smaller world.

I won't be hard to imagine that in a century, people will have good friends _in another country_ and for that to be quite common.
"Just popping out to the friends mom.", 30 minute supergodliketurbomegaultra plane remix HD from one side of the planet to the other to hang out.

Hell, who knows, science might surprise us and we might even invent teleportation.
That is, the kind that doesn't clone and kill you, or maybe actually the kind that does clone and kill you, nobody will ever know since everything that gives you your external image as far as everyone else is concerned has been replicated, all that you are, all the memories, etc.
The only thing that might not be replicated is YOU specifically. It would be like a new session, a twin, not you. (sorry for that bomb of philosophical comments in 3...2...1)

mod U#p (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168785)

megs of ram runs Rivalry. While I have 4 life to

Cowpox to Down Under (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45168971)

Delay makes life difficult for diseases. I read once that in the era of sailing ships, immigrants to Australia from the UK tried to keep a cowpox infection going for the length of their voyage, passing it from volunteer to volunteer to bring the smallpox inoculation down under.

Try though they might, they weren't successful. The voyage was simply too long. Now the same trip might take about a day. It's a different world.

Huh (1)

koan (80826) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169009)

Did they factor in other vectors? Birds, weather, insects etc.

Interesting (1)

koan (80826) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169035)

I wonder how today's societies would react to the modern day equivalent of one of these plagues.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169261)

with SARS masks

The bright side... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169073) that we wouldn't have modern epidemiology and many advances in modern medicine had the issue not been pushed by the "small world" effect.

Holy Carp! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169171)

You mean to say that the jet set didn't exist in the 14th century? But how did the elite socialites ever find each other??!!!!!

Re:Holy Carp! (1)

geminidomino (614729) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169839)

Back then, it was called Prodigy.

Worse Yet (3, Interesting)

b4upoo (166390) | 1 year,6 days | (#45169309)

Passenger airline traffic has the potential to disperse a world wide plague more deadly than all past wars combined. It is another issue which is shrouded by deliberate blindness as the cure would be very disruptive.

other vectors. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169545)

Here in Washington state at one point there was a study which put tags on salmon hatchlings and asked people to report where they found the tag. One was found in a tree In New Zealand. The conclusion was that a bird had a snack during its annual migration. Humans aren't the only vector for long distance infection. In medieval times birds probably beat ship going rats for speed of global transmission.

Feudalism may have been a factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#45169933)

England was also Feudal at the time, meaning most people were tied to the land. Most didn't have freedom of movement even if they wanted to visit other areas, marry in other areas, or visit relatives who had, there were none. So that kind of cramped movement too. There was a small world effect.. disease would spread like wildfire around your own town.

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