Simulating Sweden


If you want to model how infectious diseases spread, you need a decent simulator to see how the various coping strategies pan out. Your simulation needs to take into account the population, its age and gender distribution, where people live and how far they travel from home to work and which people share homes.

But making this data realistic would be hard. After all, would anybody willingly agree to have their real data entered into such a simulation?

Actually yes. Swedes. All nine million of them.

Yep, the personal details of the entire Swedish population have been used to create what must be the world’s largest and most realistic computer simulation of the way infectious diseases spread.

Lisa Brouwers at the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control and buddies have built a simulation called Microsim in which every member of the Swedish population is represented with details including their sex, age, family status, school, workplace and their geographic location at these places to within 100 metres.

That makes for potentially fantastic simulations but it also raises extraordinary questions over privacy. The data is only minimally anonymized: each individual is given a random identifier but otherwise their personal data is intact.

Given that the team is combining data from three different sources, this doesn’t sound like nearly enough protection.

But Brouwers must know what she’s doing. Or at least be praying that the rest of Sweden doesn’t find out what she’s done.

Ref: MicroSim: Modeling the Swedish Population

6 Responses to “Simulating Sweden”

  1. […] 10, 2009 av Thomas Lennartsson The physics arXiv blog uppmärksammar en artikel som lades ut på arXiv förra veckan. Som man skriver på bloggen: If you want to model […]

  2. XiXiDu says:

    Privacy concerns seem to become ever greater obstacles for scientific investigation and discovery. At one point we’ll have to decide what is more important.

  3. Jonas B. says:

    You will probably get more comments from Sweden regarding that last part, so I just want to point out that we do know about it.

    The normal order here is transparency, information about individuals such as taxation, school grades but also all documents handled by authorities is publicly available to anyone.

    But when you want to compile larger studies like this one you have to get a permit which requires data to be somewhat anonymized. So the order is regulation of use rather than of availability. A pretty rational way to go about it which I believe matches our image of ourselves fairly well.

  4. Valgrind says:

    Yea, we know about it and generally ok with it.

  5. […] from Chris Kelty — a post from a blog called physics arXiv that describes an infectious disease simulator that has been loaded up with data of the entire […]

  6. […] privacy advocates would get their way, studies like this one would be impossible: […]