KentuckyFC writes: Epidemiologists know that modern diseases can spread almost simultaneously in different parts of the planet because an individual who becomes infected in Hong Kong, for example, can infect friends in New York the following day. This is known as the small world effect. It is the same property that allows any individual to link to another individual anywhere in the world in just a few steps. But in the 14th century, the Black Death spread in a very different way, moving slowly across Europe at a rate of about 2 kilometres a day. Now network theorists have simulated this spread and say it is only possible if the number of long distances travellers in those days was vanishingly small. In other words, people in medieval society were linked almost exclusively to others nearby and so did not form a small world network. That raises an interesting question. If society in 14th century Europe was not a small world but today's society is, when did the change occur? The researchers say the finger of blame points to the invention of railways and steamships which allowed large numbers of people, and the diseases they carried, to travel long distances for the first time.