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Mathematical Models of the Spread of Rumors, Diseases, Fish Population Growth, and the

Effects of Fishing!

Basically, all of the above can be described, in simple terms at least, by the logistic (differential)
equation, though no calculus will be required, as we will only find it necessary to examine the
quadratic term on the right-hand side of the equation, describing the growth rate of the rumor, or
disease, or population. We would start off with a heuristic derivation of the logistic equation by
supposing that there are two categories of people comprising a closed community: the population
is constant. This may seem very unrealistic, except over short periods of time, for what about
births, deaths, "emigration" and "immigration" within such a community? And while this is a
valid criticism, there are several contexts in which a constant population is valid: cruise liners,
and political bodies (House, Senate, etc.) being two such examples. A cruise liner may have a
thousand passengers (and several hundred crew members) on board, whereas the United States
Senate has one hundred members. In each case, the total population is constant (ignoring people
falling overboard in the former case, of course!), but within each community, there may be two
classes of subpopulations. Obviously the number of males and females remains fixed, so what
could vary?

We might examine the simplifying assumptions inherent in such a model by supposing that a
passenger with a contagious and easily transferable disease boards the cruise liner (without
exhibiting any symptoms at that time). Over time, assuming all the other passengers are
susceptible to this disease, as the infected individual comes into contact with them, the number of
infected passengers increases -- and this is certainly something that has happened on several
occasions in recent years. So in this case, at any given time in this simplified model, there are two
categories of passengers: those that are infected and those that are not. And in this model these
populations will vary monotonically over time subject only to the condition that their sum is a
constant, K. We could change the scenario from transference of a disease to that of a rumor:
gossip! In that case there would be additional assumptions to be made: (i) that everyone who
knew the rumor would be willing to share it, and (ii) that everyone who did not know it would be
willing to listen (and hence pass it on!). A related context is that of advertising by word of mouth:
"Did you hear about the special offer being made at Sunbucks? They're giving away a Caribbean
cruise to everyone who buys a grande peppered Latvian pineapple-cauliflower espresso mocha
latté..."

In the case of the US Senate, we might suppose that Senator A introduces a Bill (perhaps to
restrict the availability of the above coffee at Sunbucks because of its harmful effects on the local
populace?). Perhaps there is little support for the Bill initially (many of the Senators like that
coffee), and as acrimonious but eloquent debate continues, more and more Senators begin to see
the error of their ways, and well…we'll just have to tune in to C-Span to see the outcome...

There is a major limitation in this approach, regardless of context. In describing the rate of
change of the two populations, we are making the implicit assumption of differentiability, and
hence continuity of the populations. But the populations are discrete! There are always an integral
number of infected passengers, or of senators disposed to vote for the Bill (and despite one's
personal misgivings about Senator B, though he may only do the work of half a senator, he is one
person). Our model is strictly valid when there is a continuum of values of the variables
concerned, and in that sense can never be totally realistic, even when there are billions of
individuals (such as the number of cells in a tumor). It is usually the case in practice that the more
individuals there are in a population, the more appropriate the mathematical description will be
from a continuum perspective, because small populations can be subject to fluctuations that are
comparable in size with the population! Under these circumstances a discrete approach is
desirable. Nevertheless, when the number of possible "states" is limited (as in "Aye" or "Nay",
infected or not), frequently the calculus-based approach is sufficiently accurate to "interpolate"
the behavior of the more accurate discrete formulation. And that is what we could do here in the
context of the Cruise liner epidemic, neglecting all complications like incubation times, and
likelihood of recovery and/or immunity from the disease. Such considerations are very important
in realistic epidemiological models, but these would not be addressed in this model.