Monday, July 4, 2016

Izabella Kaminska Talks Scale

And a reader teases her with mushrooms. See after the jump.
I was thinkin' of linkin' to a post on Uber's network effects (and some of the lack thereof) but this is better.

From FT Alphaville:

The London scaling effect
Geoffrey West, theoretical physicist at the University of Santa Fe, has made a name for himself crunching data from cities, organisms and companies and figuring out the commonalities in how they all scale.

Thus far his work is indicating that a single universal scaling law — linked to network effects — could be behind the growth patterns of all these systems.

For example, the mammals he’s looked at scale in a sub-linear manner, meaning the bigger they are the less energy they use per unit of mass, and the slower their metabolic rates become. The smaller the animal, meanwhile, the more energy they use per unit of mass. The findings are consistent across a wide range of animals.

This means that the bigger a mammal is the more efficient it is at distributing energy the larger it gets. But the growth is not open-ended. Eventually things plateau out and the organism gets old and dies.
The same scaling phenomenon, West says, applies to city infrastructure. The bigger the city, the fewer petrol stations/restaurants/hospitals it needs per capita etc. And the same can equally be said of most companies.

And yet, West has found that unlike biological entities or companies, city growth seems thus far to be open ended. It’s very hard to kill a city, he says — something he puts down to the influence of the socio-economic systems from which cities are ultimately derived.

Unlike other network systems, socio-economic systems — everything from social encounters, creativity, innovation, art and culture — scale in a super-linear fashion, meaning the bigger the system is the more of these things become observable and the faster the system moves in general. Equally, an ever greater share of cognitive input is needed to keep them going and growing, something that becomes expressed in a faster pace of life....MORE, including video.
To which one of the commenters replied:

... This seems to be confusing variation in size across species with variation in size in a single organism over the course of an animal's life. And there are very obvious reasons why, for example, a mouse should not continue growing until it is the size of the Emirates Stadium, which have nothing to do with efficiency of distributing energy.
Conversely, the largest organism in the world at present weighs 6,000 tonnes and is about five miles across, and there's no obvious reason why it should not grow to ten times that size.
That organism is a Honey fungus, or Armillaria, about which one U.S. Forest Service scientist writes:
...One of the primary questions that is asked is why does anyone care about distinguishing the species of Armillaria?
From the mycophagist's view they are all similarly edible and delicious... 
Mycophagist is a fancy word for mushroom eater.