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Research

I maintain a portfolio of research projects that combine themes from human ecology, infectious disease dynamics, social network analysis, and biodemography. A very incomplete sampling of this portfolio can be found below.

Behavior Change and Infectious Disease Dynamics

Infectious diseases and host behaviors co-evolve in complex ways, particularly in the case of human hosts with cultural systems that can trigger adaptive behavioral change on time scales closer to pathogen generation times. How behaviors spread through social networks in response to epidemics depends critically on how the pathogen expresses itself, how people translate information into behavior, and how different social networks are structured. This means that epidemiological projections and policy recommendations require a social-scientific approach.

Behavior, Social Structure, and Infectious Disease Transmission

The key theme that links projects in this area is taking very seriously individual behavior – and its inherent variability – to understand how social structure affects diffusion processes like the transmission of infections. I employ a mix of mathematical and computational modeling, advanced statistical tools, and technologically enhanced, naturalistic observation to push the boundaries of our understanding of complex social processes. This work has clear applications to more general questions in Anthropology about the transmission of culture and the maintenance of diversity.

Climate Change, Adaptation, Mobility

Humans have been adapting to changing climates since the origin of the genus Homo. A major focus of current work is understanding how this remarkable capacity for adaptation can be leveraged to deal with the downsides of climate change.

Exchange networks and mobility are key human adaptations to changing environmental circumstances. Changing patterns of network ties and mobility also clearly have consequences for the dynamics of infectious disease. 

Ebola

With former Ph.D. student, Gene Richardson, and a large interdisciplinary team from UCSF, Harvard, UCLA, and Georgia State, I have been working on the epidemiology and transmission dynamics of Ebola Virus Disease in the recent outbreaks in Sierra Leone and DRC.

Ethnographic Networks

More soon. Focus on sampling, missing data, inference.

Check out our Workshop on Social Network Analysis for Anthropologists.

Evolution of Human Life Histories

All of my technical and applied research emerged from longstanding interest in the evolution of human life histories. The principal questions that drive this area of my research include: (1) Why do humans begin reproducing so late, have such low fertility, and live so long? (2) What role has environmental variation played in shaping human life histories? (3) How does biodemographic heterogeneity arise?

Evolutionary Economics

As an outgrowth of my interest in the evolution of human life histories, I have developed a strong interest in what might be called "evolutionary economics." In a nutshell, this work focuses on making predictions about how biological entities living in realistic environments should form preferences and execute decisions. By far the dominant approach to studying human decision-making is neoclassical economic theory, grounded in rational choice and expected utility theory (EUT).

Prehistoric Demography

In collaboration with former PhD-student Mike Price and an interdisciplinary team of scholars, I have recently become interested in problems of reconstruction of past populations.  A central feature of this work is improving inference for past populations. We can do this by applying modern Bayesian statistical methods to historical inference, but also by building in theory from age-structured demography.

Not A Chimp

Primate Biodemography

Humans share a most recent common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos and understanding the human condition is greatly enhanced by the comparisons between the three species. I started out professional life as a primatologist and still occasionally venture into that territory.