THE WORD VEXING A NATION
I wonder how many people really know what “exponential” means and how it works?
A little sampling among a small group of well-educated friends strongly suggests that the percentage of our population that understands the meaning is tiny.
The standard reply is along the lines of ‘a greatly expanding number.’ That is true, as far as it goes, but when pushed to explain further, there is no further answer.
That is where the big problem lies.
The dictionary is not much help. Merriam Webster offers the self-referential and unhelpful “expressible or approximately expressible by an exponential function,” while another simply says “becoming more and more rapid.”
Ben Franklin explained it simply and brilliantly in the early 1800s. He asked how much money one would have if, starting with a penny, you doubled the amount every day for a month. The correct answer is many millions of dollars. THAT IS EXPONENTIAL!
If you do not believe me, just try it. It should be obvious pretty fast.
Exponential is really a technical term in mathematics and has special relevance in epidemiology.
In this case, the novel coronavirus is so contagious that until it runs out of new customers it can continue to expand exponentially, which is why it is so dangerous and difficult to deal with.
If Ben Franklin resonates with you, you have the answer that has eluded so many citizens. If you’re mathematically inclined, a recent piece in Wired offers a richer explanation.
The exponential element is what takes an ordinary and normally infectious virus and transforms it into powerful scythe that can cut through the whole world very fast –if not dealt with very QUICKLY and effectively.
Lacking a vaccine or antidote, our only defense is to prevent transmission as best as possible UNTIL they become available.
The outliers who do not get the relevance of exponential growth are not doing themselves, or others, a favor by ignoring it and doing their own thing at the expense of all of us!