We’re all paying more attention these days to contagion dynamics.  Starling advisor, Nicholas Christakis, is a physician and esteemed social scientist at Yale.  In our 2019 Compendium, he discussed how conduct within firms follows rules of contagion.

Mathematical models allow us to anticipate how a contagion will likely spread. This is true also for behavioral contagion, as Nicholas argues and still more fully in his Ted Talk on the topic.

Nicholas has recently offered his well informed views on a question that many are struggling with currently:  will shutting down public schools help the broader community during a time of growing concerns with COVID-19?  

Nicholas studies social networks. He’s also developing software and statistical methods to forecast an epidemic’s spread before it happens. He believes that these closures are beneficial.

For example, he cites several studies that look at reactive closures. They typically find that reactive school closures (for a moderately transmissible pathogen) reduces the cumulative infection rate by about 25%. They also delay the peak of the epidemic by about 2 weeks.

This provides an enormously valuable buffer to help alleviate the strain on already overstretched medical care staff and facilities.  But, Nicholas observes, proactive school closures can have an even bigger impact.  

In fact, it’s one of the most powerful non-pharmaceutical interventions for a virus like this. These measures have been shown to save thousands of lives.

Bottom line: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  As we’re reminded of this truism during the current public health crisis, with all its attendant economic consequences, we may also want to give some thought to how these same lessons apply in the context of managing conduct risk among scandal-beleaguered firms.

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, where he directs the Human Nature Lab and is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2006, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, and known for his research in the areas of social networks, biosocial science, behavior genetics, and public health.

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