December 9, 2021

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Supermodeller Neil Ferguson: should we trust his science?

Supermodeller Neil Ferguson: should we trust his science?
Imagine two toy cars. One is very detailed — headlights, windscreen wipers and so on. The other is just a block that doesn’t look like a car at all. Which is the better model? This is a question Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, puts to her students. The answer is the…

Imagine two toy cars. One is very detailed — headlights, windscreen wipers and so on. The other is just a block that doesn’t look like a car at all. Which is the better model? This is a question Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, puts to her students. The answer is the block car, for one very simple reason: the wheels on the detailed model don’t turn; on the block they do.

When you ask the question “Which of these will inform and instruct the child who plays with it about how a car actually works?”, she explains, the answer is: “The thing, the abstraction, where the wheels move.”

That, in a nutshell, is what mathematical modelling is all about. It is

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