In March of 2009, the Mexican government confirmed it: A four-year-old boy in eastern Mexico’s La Gloria village had swine flu, or H1N1. Sixty percent of the village had reported an unknown respiratory illness back in February, and since, it looked like the virus had jumped. A flu case later confirmed to be H1N1 popped up in California. Then, it spanned an ocean. By late April, H1N1 had been reported in Spain, Israel, New Zealand, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
Within an increasingly globalized and mobile world, the spread of contagion doesn’t work how it used to. But by taking these factors into account, theoretical physicist Dirk Brockmann and his colleagues have a radical new model that could predict the arrival times of the next global pandemic. The model relies on something called “effective distance,” and it destroys a centuries-old way of thinking about maps