A question you always wanted to ask but you never had the time to: Is the “EROI” of energy studies the same as the R factor in epidemiology?
There is a certain logic in the way the universe works and so it is not surprising that the same models can describe phenomena that seem to be completely different. Here, I’ll show you how the same equations describe chain reactions that govern such different phenomena as the spread of an epidemic, the cycle of extraction of crude oil, and even the nuclear reaction that creates atomic explosions. All these phenomena depend on the efficiency of energy transfer, the parameter that’s known in energy studies as EROI (energy return on energy invested), related to the “transmission factor” (R) of epidemiological models. Above, a classic clip from Walt Disney’s 1957 movie, “Our friend, the atom.”
You may be surprised to discover that epidemiological models share the same basic core of peak oil models. And it is not just about peak oil, the same models are used to describe chemical reactions, resource depletion, the fishing industry, the diffusion of memes on the Web, and even the nuclear chain reaction that leads to nuclear explosions. It is always the same idea: reinforcing feedbacks lead the system to grow in a frenzy of exploitation of an available resource: oil, fish, atomic nuclei, or people to be infected. In the end, it is perhaps the most typical way the universe uses dissipate potentials. As always, entropy rules everything!
Modeling these phenomena has a story that starts with the model developed in the 1920s by Vito Volterra and Alfred Lotka. They go under the name of “Lotka-Volterra” models or, sometimes, “Prey-Predator” models. This heritage is not normally recognized by people in the field of epidemiology, but the model is the same: the virus is a predator and we are the prey.
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