Health & Medicine
Health & Medicine
Special Episode
Featuring Yaneer Bar-Yam
Demetri speaks with Yaneer Bar-Yam, President of the New England Complex Systems Institute. Yaneer has been actively applying theories of complexity science to the study of COVID-19 in search of ways to curb what he believes is an increasingly dangerous pandemic that threatens to destabilize our societies and the world.

In this Special Episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Yaneer Bar-Yam, President of the New England Complex Systems Institute. Professor Bar-Yam studies the unified properties of complex systems as a systematic strategy for answering basic questions about the world. His research is focused both on formalizing complex systems concepts and relating them to everyday problems. In particular, he studies the relationship between observations at different scales, formal properties of descriptions of systems, the relationship of structure and function, the representation of information as a physical quantity, and quantitative properties of the complexity of real systems. Applications have been to physical, biological, and social systems. 

He has applied this background to COVID-19 by not only studying the virus, but by actually launching, a website built and maintained by NESCI whose “goal is to minimize the impact of COVID-19 by providing useful data and guidelines for action.” Yaneer and his colleagues have put out more alarming numbers than those often cited by public officials in recent weeks and months. According to Yaneer’s research team, which has co-faculty, students and affiliates from MIT, Harvard, Brandeis and other universities, “COVID-19 is a rapidly transmitting disease that evolves in 20% of cases to require extended hospitalizations and roughly 2-4% of cases result in death, with risks increasing rapidly for those over 50 years old. It can transmit even with mild symptoms (coughing, sneezing, or elevated temperature) and perhaps before symptoms appear.” He believes that reducing the likelihood of transmission requires everyone to reduce their likelihood of contact not only so they aren’t infected but also so that they don’t transmit the disease to others. If everyone got tested for COVID-19, according to Yaneer, we could temporarily separate the infected from the uninfected, and this would help reduce the spread of the virus and allow for societies to function normally.

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Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

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Yaneer Bar-Yam was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a Jewish family in 1959. He received his B.S. degree in 1978 and his Ph.D. degree in 1984, both in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a Bantrell Postdoctoral Fellow, and a joint postdoctoral fellow at MIT and IBM. In 1991, after a junior faculty appointment at the Weizmann Institute, he became an Associate Professor of Engineering at Boston University.  He left Boston University in 1997 to become president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. He is also an Associate of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University. He is chairman of the International Conference on Complex Systems and managing editor of InterJournal.


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