Tuesday, March 8, 2011

book report: "Diffusion of Innovations"

Briefly, Diffusion of Innovations is a massive book that has sat on my shelf since 2007. I've always wanted to read it (for reasons I'll go into later) but didn't really have time until now. It's a treat at 471 pages and very readable.

But...to my point. One of the surprisingly enjoyable aspects of it (I was expecting it to be very academic and ridiculous) is that it has plenty of case studies. Although I am reading it cover to cover, I just flipped to a random page today and found this case study:

"Dr. John Snow and the Cholera Epidemic in London"
The diffusion of an innovation and the spread of an epidemic have much in common, and similar mathematical models have been used to understand these processes (Bailey, 1975). One of the important fathers of epidemiology (the study of epidemics, how a disease is distributed in a population and factors that influence this distribution) was Dr. John Snow, a medical doctor in London in 1854. A cholera epidemic was under way in the city, and some five-hundred people had died of the mysterious disease. Some believed that the disease was carried by miasmata ("bad airs"), while other blamed Jews for the illness (a form of anti-Semitism).
John Snow set out to find the cause of cholera through"shoe-leather epidemiology." He plotted the number of cholera deaths in each house on a dot-map for a neighborhood in London, Golden Square (a sub-district of Soho), in which the epidemic was especially sever. Snow found that many of the cholera deaths were concentrated around a water pump on Broad Street. Of the eighty-three cholera victims in the area, all but ten were located closer to the Broad Street pump than to any other public water pump. He talked to the affected families, who admitted that they always fetched their water from the Broad Street pump. Snow conclude that cholera was carried by water polluted by sewage.*
On September 8, 1854, he removed the pump handle, and the cholera deaths soon stopped. Snow became a hero of public health for his theory of waterborne disease transmission. Today, a replica of a handleless pump stand on Broadwick Street (the current name for Broad Street), kitty corner to the pump's original location. A plaque is affixed to a building on Frith Street where Snow had his first medical practice, commemorating him as a pioneer of epidemiology." (pp.336-337 in Diffusion of Innovation, 2003)

Okay, wanna know a cool thing? I looked up the pump on google maps and found it! here's the picture from Broadwick Street:

and also! down the block is a pub called The John Snow! I smell a field trip. Am I home-schooling myself? Well, as long as beer is involved.

*also related to my personal field-trip idea of going to the Abbey Mills Pump House - this was around the time of "The Great Stink."

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