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Non-robustness of Diffusion Estimates on Networks with Measurement Error

Innovations in Methods and Data

Network diffusion models are used to study things like disease transmission, information spread, and technology adoption. However, small amounts of mismeasurement are extremely likely in the networks constructed to operationalize these models. We show that estimates of diffusions are highly non-robust to this measurement error. First, we show that even when measurement error is vanishingly small, such that the share of missed links is close to zero, forecasts about the extent of diffusion will greatly underestimate the truth. Second, a small mismeasurement in the identity of the initial seed generates a large shift in the locations of expected diffusion path. We show that both of these results still hold when the vanishing measurement error is only local in nature. Such non-robustness in forecasting exists even under conditions where the basic reproductive number is consistently estimable. Possible solutions, such as estimating the measurement error or implementing widespread detection efforts, still face difficulties because the number of missed links are so small. Finally, we conduct Monte Carlo simulations on simulated networks, and real networks from three settings: travel data from the COVID-19 pandemic in the western US, a mobile phone marketing campaign in rural India, and in an insurance experiment in China.

wp2061.pdf (1.57 MB)
Arun G. Chandrasekhar
Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham
Tyler McCormick
Samuel A. Thau
Jerry Wei
Publication Date
March 1, 2024