Everyone remembers the Ironforge Plague, back when Zul’Gurub was new and some enterprising raiders brought the Curse of Corrupted Blood back from fighting Hakkar, and in doing so turned the Undercity and Ironforge into a scene from a charnel house. You remember it: Skeletons lining the hallways of every urban locale, the plaintive cries of the newbies as they died matched in intensity only by the laughter of the high-end hunters who brought the curse back with them by stashing their infected pets in ZG and then releasing them in IF. At the time I recall hearing that the Centers for Disease Control were excited by this story as a way of using virtual worlds as a way of understanding the spread of disease. And a couple of months ago Elizabeth alerted me to the article in Nature in which a couple of epidemiologists discussed exactly this idea in some detail.[fn1]
Now the problem for me is that Lofgren and Fefferman’s Nature article is really nice. It’s smart and informed and actually demonstrates that the authors actually know their Jin'dos the Hexxers from their Bloodlords Mandokir. The thing is that I’ve used the “Problem with Hakkar’s Blood” as one of my standard pitches about the dangers with drawing real world conclusions from virtual world behaviors.[fn2] And the article has once again made me ask what are appropriate questions for the field of what might be labeled “computational social science.” So after the fold, I want to discuss the conclusions of the article, and ask the Terra Nova hivemind for some help with understanding what computational social science might look like.