A Biostatistician Uses Crochet to Visualize the Frightening Infection Rates of the Coronavirus

Chances are you’ve looked at more graphs this past year than you did over the pre­vi­ous decade — not just while work­ing at home, but while scrolling through cas­cades of often-trou­bling quan­ti­ta­tive infor­ma­tion dur­ing your “off” hours as well. This phe­nom­e­non has hard­ly been lim­it­ed to the Amer­i­cans who obsessed over the pre­dic­tions of and returns from their pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last month, an event turned prac­ti­cal­ly into a sideshow by the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic. Around the world, we’ve all want­ed to know: Where did the coro­n­avirus come from? What is it? Where is it going?

Apolo­gies to Paul Gau­guin, who did­n’t even live to see the Span­ish flu of 1918, a time when nobody could have imag­ined instan­ta­neous­ly and wide­ly shar­ing visu­al ren­der­ings of data about that dis­ease. The world of a cen­tu­ry ago may not have had dynam­ic ani­mat­ed maps and charts, updat­ed in real time, but it did have cro­chet. Whether or not it had then occurred to any­one as a viable medi­um for visu­al­iz­ing the spread of dis­ease, it can be con­vinc­ing today. This is demon­strat­ed by Nor­we­gian bio­sta­tis­ti­cian Kathrine Frey Frøs­lie, who in the video above shows us her cro­cheted rep­re­sen­ta­tions of var­i­ous “R num­bers.”

This now much-heard term, Frøs­lie’s explains, “denotes repro­duc­tion. If the R num­ber is one, this means that each infect­ed per­son will on aver­age infect one new per­son dur­ing the course of the dis­ease. If R equals two, each infect­ed per­son will infect two per­sons,” and so on. Her cro­cheted ver­sion of R=1, with a pop­u­la­tion of ten, is small and nar­row — it looks, in oth­er words, entire­ly man­age­able. Such a dis­ease “will always be always present, but the num­ber of infect­ed per­sons will be con­stant.” Her R=0.9, which steadi­ly nar­rows in a way that resem­bles an unfin­ished Christ­mas stock­ing, looks even less threat­en­ing.

Alas, “for the coro­n­avirus, the R is most­ly larg­er than one.” In cro­cheted form, even R=1.1 is pret­ty for­mi­da­ble; when she brings out her R=1.5, “it is evi­dent that we have a prob­lem. Even the cro­chet patch kind of crum­bles.” Then out comes R=2, which must have been quite a project: its ten orig­i­nal infec­tions bloom into 2,560 new cas­es, all rep­re­sent­ed in almost organ­i­cal­ly dense folds of yarn. As for R=2.5, when Frøs­lie even­tu­al­ly gets it hoist­ed onto her lap, you’ll have to see it to believe it. Through­out 2020, of course, many of our at-home hob­bies have grown to mon­strous pro­por­tions — even those tak­en up by med­ical sci­en­tists.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Inter­ac­tive Web Site Tracks the Glob­al Spread of the Coro­n­avirus: Cre­at­ed and Sup­port­ed by Johns Hop­kins

Sim­u­lat­ing an Epi­dem­ic: Using Data to Show How Dis­eases Like COVID-19 Spread

Every­thing You Need To Know About Virus­es: A Quick Visu­al Expla­na­tion of Virus­es in 9 Images

The His­to­ry of the Plague: Every Major Epi­dem­ic in an Ani­mat­ed Map

An Artist Cro­chets a Life-Size, Anatom­i­cal­ly-Cor­rect Skele­ton, Com­plete with Organs

The Beau­ti­ful Math of Coral & Cro­chet

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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