Tag Archives: common words

Student blogpost: on bad-small-things and small animals

11 Nov

Nicolas Cole (MSc student at SFSU) does a great job explaining the Hersft et al 2012 paper on airborne Influenza A in ferrets using only the 1000 most common words of the English language. Enjoy!  


Figure 2 from Herfst et al 2012 Science

There is a “bad-small-thing” that goes from one flying animal to another flying animal, causing death. It can also go from a flying animal to a human, if a human touches that flying animal while it is dead. This causes the human to get sick. Does this “bad-small-thing” go from human to human through the air? A group of doctors studied the “bad-small-thing” in “small animals” that do not fly. The “small animals” can also die because of the “bad-small-thing” being in their bodies.

First, the doctors changed the “bad-small-thing” in small ways that could make it go from “small animal” to “small animal” through the air. At first, the “bad-small-thing” and the “changed-bad-small-thing” did not move through the air from one “small animal” to the next.

Then they passed the “bad-small-thing” from one “small animal” to the next, to change it more. They did this ten times with both the “bad-small-thing” and the “changed-bad-small-thing”. They found that the “changed-bad-small-thing” grew easier and more often after passing from “small animal” to “small animal”.

Next, they wanted to see if the “passed-changed-bad-small-thing” could pass from “small animal” to another “small animal” through the air. The doctors put the “small animals” in boxes that did not let the “small animals” touch, but air could pass between them. They put small animals with the normal “bad-small-thing” next to boxes of not-sick “small animals” and they put the “small animals” with the “passed-changed-bad-small-thing” next to not-sick “small animals”.

So, if the “passed-changed-bad-small-thing” could be passed, it could not pass by touch but could pass by air. Sure enough, the doctors found that the “passed-changed-bad-small-thing” passed from sick “small animals” to not-sick “small animals” but the “normal-bad-small-thing” did not pass through the air. However, none of the not-sick “small animals” that became sick through the air died.

The doctors took a closer look at the “air-passed-changed-bad-small-thing” and the “changed-bad-small-thing” and found that the “bad-small-thing” only needs 5 changes to be able to pass through the air from “small animal” to “small animal”. The doctors also say that even though the “small animals” were able to get sick from the “air-passed-changed-bad-small-thing” through the air, this does not mean that humans can change the “bad-small-thing” in the same way as the “small animals” so that it could pass through the air.

Finally, the doctors studied “man-made-human-good-stuff” that is meant to stop “bad-small-thing” from passing from humans to humans. They put the “man-made-human-good-stuff” in the “small animals” that were sick from the “air-passed-changed-bad-small-thing”. The “man-made-human-good-stuff” was able to stop the “air-passed-changed-bad-small-thing”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (because happy points are free).

For the first time doctors were able to show that a “bad-small-thing” can pass from animal to animal enough that it can become a “air-passed-changed-bad-small-thing” and that can be bad for humans.