Transcript of the Interview with Dr. Stephen Eubank on the New Field of Policy Informatics
August 24, 2009
What's policy informatics?
Policy informatics is the art and sort-of science of informing people who make policy with the results of scientific models. It's particularly important nowadays when we're trying to understand really complicated or complex systems.
What are some of the cultural differences between the modelers and the policy planners?
Typically modelers inhabit this culture where there's plenty of time to think about issues. They like to compare and contrast the models as they're building them, they like to publish the results and get plenty of peer review on what's happening. Whereas analysts come from a culture where they really need an answer now. Tell me about your demo.
We've provided a system to the government which allows them to answer questions that arise during the course of a workday and get the answers they need by the time the official meeting comes up the next morning. This kind of fast-turnaround modeling hasn't really been available to people making decisions in previous outbreaks.
How have you used modeling to understand the H1N1 outbreak?
We've used modeling to think about questions like when flu shows up in a school in NYC, say, should we send all the students from that school home, should we close all the schools in the area, what should we do. Some of these things have really major impacts on the economy. And it's not always easy to understand which ones have the biggest impacts and which ones have the biggest impacts on stopping the spread of disease.
And without the models it's very hard to know exactly what would happen if you do these things and also what kind of unintended consequences you might see. The models are particularly good at letting you compare the outcomes of different courses of action.
Why is the government interested in your modeling?
Our focus has been on creating models that are easy enough for them to use without so much being part of the decisions they actually make. So it's hard to say exactly what decisions have been made based on this model but I do know that it's one of a very few that are capable of adapting quickly to the changing circumstances that we see in the middle of an outbreak.