I suppose I don’t have to mention why you’re hearing the phrase “exponential growth” a lot these days, as we’re all doing our best to care for ourselves and our families, as well as keeping our businesses, libraries, and research programs afloat amidst a pandemic. As always, being informed is important, and you can find below an excellent explainer video, essentially a math lesson on what the experts mean when they describe the spread of the disease in this way. Stay safe.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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6 Thoughts on "What Does “Exponential Growth” Mean?"

The closing statement is profound. “If people are sufficiently worried, then there’s a lot less to worry about. But if noone is worried, that’s when you should worry.”

When someone mentions how “fill in the blank” is increasing exponentially, I always ask them what the exponent is. I’ve never received an answer – they usually just stop and go into what looks like a trance.

Just a technical math answer–exponential growth is about the base of the exponent not the exponent itself. For example, a real-life money application in compound interest, if you had a base of 1.1 you are getting a 10% compound interest compared to a base of 1.005 you are getting 0.5% interest rate. Your exponent is simply how often the interest is calculated, but the base is *much* *more* *important*.

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