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Based on supplementary material provided in an elementary calculus class.

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Suppose there are two categories of people comprising a closed community: the population is

constant. This may seem very unrealistic, except over short periods of time, for what about births,

deaths, “emigration” and “immigration” within such a community? And while this is a valid

criticism, there are several contexts in which a constant population is valid: cruise liners, and

political bodies (House, Senate, etc.) being two such examples. We shall examine the mathematical

genesis of the logistic equation in the former context, but not before identifying a limitation inherent

in this approach. A cruise liner may have a thousand passengers (and several hundred crew

members) on board, whereas the United States Senate has one hundred members. In each case, the

total population is constant (ignoring people falling overboard in the former case, of course!), but

within each community, there may be two classes of subpopulations. Obviously the number of males

and females remains fixed, so what could vary?

We’ll make some simplifying assumptions here. Suppose that a passenger with a contagious and

easily transferrable disease boards the cruise liner (without exhibiting any symptoms at that time).

Over time, assuming all the other passengers are susceptible to this disease, as the infected individual

comes into contact with them, the number of infected passengers increases – and this is certainly

something that has happened on several occasions in recent years. So in this case, at any given time

in this simplified model, there are two categories of passengers: those that are infected and those that

are not. And in this model these populations will vary monotonically over time subject only to the

condition that their sum is a constant, K. We could change the scenario from transference of a

disease to that of a rumor: gossip! In that case there would be additional assumptions to be made:

everyone who knew the rumor would be willing to share it, and everyone who did not know it would

be willing to listen (and hence pass it on!). A related context is that of advertising by word of mouth:

“Did you hear about the special offer being made at Sunbucks? They’re giving away a Caribbean

cruise to everyone who buys a grande peppered Latvian pineapple-cauliflower espresso mocha

latté...”

In the case of the US Senate, suppose that Senator A introduces a Bill (perhaps to restrict the

availability of the above coffee at Sunbucks because of its harmful effects on the local populace?).

Perhaps there is little support for the Bill initially (many of the Senators like that coffee), and as

acrimonious but eloquent debate continues, more and more Senators begin to see the error of their

ways, and eventually vote accordingly... Again, there will be an evolution of the potential “Aye” and

“Nay” votes over time, culminating in, well, you’ll just have to tune in to C-Span to see the

outcome...

So what is the limitation of this approach, regardless of context? Nothing yet, but if we use

calculus to try and describe the rate of change of the two populations, we are making the implicit

assumption of differentiability, and hence continuity of the populations. But the populations are

discrete! The are always an integral number of infected passengers, or of senators disposed to vote

for the Bill (and despite one’s personal misgivings about Senator B, though he may only do the work

of half a senator, he is one person). Calculus is strictly valid when there is a continuum of values of

the variables concerned, and in that sense can never be totally realistic, even when there are billions

of individuals (such as the number of cells in a tumor). It is usually the case in practice that the more

individuals there are in a population, the more appropriate the mathematical description will be from

a continuum perspective, because small populations can be subject to fluctuations that are

comparable in size with the population! Under these circumstances a discrete approach is desirable.

Nevertheless, when the number of possible “states” is limited (as in “Aye” or “Nay”, infected or

not), frequently the calculus-based approach is sufficiently accurate to “interpolate” the behavior of

the more accurate discrete formulation. And that is what we shall do here in the context of the Cruise

liner epidemic, neglecting all complications like incubation times, and likelihood of recovery and/or

immunity from the disease. Such considerations are very important in realistic epidemiological

models, but will not be addressed here.

Let Nt be the number of infected passengers and Mt be the number not infected. Obviously

Nt + Mt = K and, as stated above, N0 = 1 (this initial condition can be changed without loss of

generality). Remembering that the argument we are making here is not a rigorous one, let us take

two such passengers at random, and ask what the probability of the spread of the disease will be from

such an encounter. Certainly, the only way the disease will spread is if each of these two individuals

is in a different category. To reframe this in the “rumor” category, if our two individuals know of the

rumor, then to begin with, they may just talk about the weather (especially if they are from the

U.K!); if both know the rumor, they may just talk about... the weather. It is only if one knows the

rumor, and one does not, that the rumor will spread. And so it is with the disease. The probability of

picking an individual from the infected population and then one from the uninfected is

K K−1

of course, so the probability of the infection spreading from this encounter is proportional to NM,

and this is just NK − N. Furthermore, it is reasonable to suppose that the rate of change of N is

proportional to this probability, i.e. that

dN = rNK − N, (1)

dt

r being the constant of proportionality.

Solution (a):

dN = rN1 − N = r NK − N, hence

dt K K

∫ dN

NK − N

= ∫ 1

K

1 + 1

N K−N

dN = r t + D.

K

Therefore

ln|N| − ln|K − N| = rt + C 1 ; C 1 = KD,

or

N = e C 1 e rt ,

K−N

so

N = Ce rt ; C = ±e C 1 .

K−N

Therefore at t = 0, C = N 0 /K − N 0 , whence

N= CK = K .

C + e −rt 1+ K

− 1 e −rt

N0

Note that

d 2 N = r K − 2N = 0 when N = K ,

dt 2 k 2

so that where there is a point of inflection, it occurs at (K/2, t ∗ , where from the solution,

t ∗ = 1r ln K − 1 .

N0

Solution (b):

Treating equation (1) as a Bernoulli equation, we write it as

dN − rN = − r N 2 ,

dt K

so

N −2 dN − rN −1 = − r .

dt K

Let w = N −1 to obtain

dw + rw = r ,

dt K

which has integrating factor e rt so that we may write

d we rt = r e rt ,

dt K

or

w = 1 + Ce −rt ,

K

or

N= K .

1 + CKe −rt

Applying the initial condition we find that C = K − N 0 /N 0 K so it follows that

N= K .

1+ K

N0

− 1 e −rt

as before.

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