Alex Washburne! - Intro

Hi everyone!

I’m Alex Washburne and I have a checkered past - I did undergraduate degrees in mathematics & biology and went on to study my PhD in theoretical ecology with Simon Levin focusing on stochastic community dynamics & portfolio theory. During my first postdoc with Diana Nemergut developing methods for phylogenetic analysis of community ecological data, I also worked part-time with a quantitative hedge fund forecasting international credit, equity & derivative markets - to this day, I’m still consulting the super geeky quant fund on everything from IPOs/SPACs to cryptocurrencies & some new time series data analysis tools (e.g. predicting characteristic timescales of asset price fluctuations, which ends up being instrumental to devising trading strategies that require knowing how long to hold positions). My second postdoc was with Raina Plowright studying pathogen spillover from bats to people (focusing on a DARPA PREEMPT grant on Henipaviruses, but I deployed a suite of tools from the microbiome world to study broader taxonomic & phylogenetic patterns of zoonotic potential in mammals & their viruses).

I did a lot of COVID work - initially with the quant fund and then pretty chaotically with a suite of medical, government, and NGO managers from US medical providers to a rotating cast of state, federal, tribal, and some low-income country ministries of health. My work on COVID (especially with the hedge fund) utilized a lot of alternative data streams from syndromic surveillance and wastewater to COG-UK phylogenetic time-series and other, creepier and unconventional datasets that circulate in the finance world. I applied some of the characteristic-timescale analyses to forecast US COVID outbreaks, love making gifs, did a punny “IPO” (Initial Phylogenetic Observation) analysis on the B.1.1.7 paper, and more! I’m now a co-founder & CEO of Selva where we’re developing a “scientific medium” or a social medium tailored to the social functions of science!! Selva is starting with the microbiome data analysis community and, if it works well & adds value to our users, opening our doors to broader natural sciences like Epi in hopefully short order!

Related to nowcasting, I really love reframing forecasting problems to better identify what can & can’t be forecasted well, evaluating the information content of new datasets (a circular relationship with deciding what we’re trying to predict), and, above all, I really love making new tools for phylogenetic and phylodynamic analysis (e.g. fitness differences manifest in preferential attachment of novel edges to the descendant clades, hence there’s some cool graph-theoretic/graph-assembly approaches to making rolling phylodynamic inferences with a growing tree)!

Can’t wait to read about all the cool stuff happening here! While I’m busy doing CEO things to get Selva off the ground (Chief Email Officer on most days, otherwise Chief Excitement Officer!!!), I’m always down to make time to chat science & think about fun problems!

Love, psyche & science!!!