Social networks and obesity from the expert
February 26th, 2008

This week’s Edge features a terrific talk by Nicholas Christakis on several aspects of social networks. His review of the emergence of our understanding of networks over recent decades is interesting, as is the description of the investigations he leads of the spread of obesity through social networks. I learned from this essay the definition of a contagion and its importance:

But here is something else: Once you have recognized that there is a topology, the next thing you must understand is that there can be a contagion as well — a kind of process of flow through the network. Things move through it, and this has a different set of scientific underpinnings altogether. Understanding how things flow through the network is a different challenge from understanding how networks form or evolve. It is the difference between the formation and the operation of the network, or the difference between its structure and its function. Or, if you see the network as a kind of super-organism, it is the difference between the anatomy and the physiology of the super-organism, of the network. You need to understand both. And they both interconnect and affect each other, just as in our bodies our anatomy and our physiology are interrelated.

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