Tuesday, 18 August 2009

In case of zombies... panic!

Science has taught us many things. The origins of the solar system, the secrets of dna, how to make things explode. But today science is pushed to its very limits in a way I never thought imaginable. We, as a race, have now mathematically described the mechanics of zombie attack! I kid you not! The link below is a peer reviewed, published, scientific article which models the consequences of an outbreak of zombies.

One can only speculate at the mental processes that occur in the mind of a man who would be capable of such monumental research (the kind of man who puts a question mark after his name so he'll get more hits in google searches). Below is the link to the paper in question and for your convenience, a brief review of what it contains.

The paper.

http://www.mathstat.uottawa.ca/~rsmith/Zombies.pdf

The review.

The article begins with a brief but fairly complete history of the zombie and the evolution of the concept through popular culture. From voodoo to Romero to Shaun of the Dead, this paper references them all. I bet Simon Pegg never even dreamed that his satirical undead feature would ever appear in a peer reviewed paper outside of media studies (or inside probably) and yet there it is, reference 8!

After characterising the different types of zombie that might exist, the paper then goes on to describe the version of the monster it shall be focussing on. In this case the slow, mindless, flesh crazed beasts of most modern day horror flicks (however, given their results, the conclusions they draw most likely apply to the scarier, faster zombies of movies such as 28 days/weeks later).

Next they outline their basic model. It's simple enough, probably over simple but this is addressed later in the paper. There are the dead that might rise, the living that might die and there are the zombies. Various coefficients are used to describe motion between these populations and after a bit of maths and a splash of programming a conclusion is drawn. What is this conclusion? Why it's simple, the zombies eat everyone, unavoidably. Thus, probably my favourite part of the whole thing is the statement:

"Since all eigenvalues of the doomsday equilibrium are negative, it is asymptotically stable.
It follows that, in a short outbreak, zombies will likely infect everyone."

I don't think armageddon has ever been described so succinctly in mathematical terms before.

But wait, this can't be the end of the story, it's never that simple. Indeed. They now go on to include factors of a latent infected period of bitten people and the case of implementing quarantine protocols. In both cases we only delay the inevitable and once again the zombies eat everyone. Even if we fight back it is shown that we need to eradicate 100% of the zombies if we're ever going to survive, even then there is always the possibility that more might emerge once people start dying of natural causes again.

In fact, the only way humans can survive is in the event a cure is developed. Even then, only a small proportion of humans survive in a world over run by zombies. This particular solution does however create a unique and interesting situation which I think deserves further discussion. Thus:

"Our treatment would be able to allow the zombie individual to return to their human form again. Once human, however, the new human would again be susceptible to becoming a zombie... ...The cure will allow zombies to return to their original human form regardless of how they became zombies in the first place."

The converse is also surely true, that once a zombie again a person can once more be cured. The natural to conclusion to this is immortality. A person on the brink of death can become infected, become a zombie, be cured and live again. Thus, might there not be some merit in researching this cure, whether there is a zombie threat or not. Also, once this cure is developed, is there not further merit in creating a zombie problem in order to make possible immortality? I think we have the makings of a first rate B movie here!

All of this sounds pretty bad (except immortality of course) and it only gets worse when you include natural birth and death rates, giving the zombies an unlimited supply of food and potential zombies!

The article is summed up very nicely in one of its closing statements:

"An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous..."

Couldn't have said it better myself!

1 comment:

  1. Great, he's at Ottawa U, I'm gonna go meet him...

    ReplyDelete