Science, Social Science And Zombies

29 Jan

Academic research has a reputation for being dry, dull and humourless. However, scratch the surface and you will find this is not always true. In particular, there seem to be some fairly hard-core zombie fans in various universities and academic institutions and they are not averse to slipping zombies into their research whenever they can. As a way of wasting time today (instead of doing the writing I should have been doing), I spent a happy few hours exploring the diverse areas of academic research that zombies feature in from time to time. Here’s a few of the examples I found:

International Affairs: Here zombie outbreak scenarios are used to investigate how countries and regions might respond to sudden and unforeseen impacts. The father of this field is Daniel Drezner who published a ground breaking book called The Theory Of International Politics And Zombies in 2011 but there’s also a great example of one called Latin America and The Zombie Factor.

Data Analysis Methods: There’s a great paper called ‘How many zombies do you know?” Using indirect survey methods to measure alien attacks and outbreaks of the undead by Andrew Gelman that uses zombies as an example of how you can measure the prevalence of things in societies that you can’t easily measure. This is not as useless as it might first seem as this is the type of methods used in real life to measure things like the number of civilians killed in things like the Iraq war or in civil wars where no one is keeping any real records.

Epidemiology: Epidemiology is the study of (amongst other things) how diseases spread and create epidemics. It’s incredibly important in modern global health care, and of course zombie outbreaks make the perfect case study for developing and testing mathematical tools for predicting what will happen under a given set of circumstances. If you want to see an example of this, there’s one by Jean Marie Linhart called ‘Mathematical modelling of a zombie outbreak’. Others include the classic study by Philip Munz and colleagues called ‘When zombies attack…’ and ‘Is it safe to go out yet?…’ by Ben Calderhead and colleagues.

Biosurveillence: Biosurveillence is about detecting disease outbreaks as soon as possible so that health officials can stop them. As with Epidemiology, it’s unsurvprising that zombies appear as case studies here too. A recently published study by Jenny Younde called ‘Biosurveillance, human rights, and the zombie plague’ provides an interesting example of this.

Teaching: Keeping students interested during lectures can be difficult (I know I’ll seen it from both sides). However, those with a flair for such things are starting to see how the current upsurge in interest in all things zombie can be used to get otherwise potentially boring ideas across in the class room. Robert Blanton’s paper titled ‘Zombies and International Relations: A Simple Guide for Bringing the Undead into Your Classroom’ shows how this can be done for the field of International Relations.

I’m sure there are other studies in other fields as these are just the ones I happened to come across in my very quick and unscientific review of what was out there. It’s a limited sample yet they show how far zombies have spread into popular culture in the last decade or so. Whereas zombies used to be a relatively niche interest, they now infest not just mainstream bookshops and cinemas but also our classrooms and universities too.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

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