Tag Archives: Matthieu Guitton

Of Zombies And Science

16 Mar

I’ve written before about the use of zombies in education, but in this post I want to consider how zombies are used in Science. You might not think it, but zombies are regularly used by scientists as part of their research. This is primarily in two main fields.

The first is in epidemiology, or the study of how diseases spread. A zombie disease is a nice, simple disease. Unlike real diseases, no one is immune to it, infection is by a very easily trackable route (by biting), no one gets better, the symptoms are nice and clear and it spreads directly from human to human. This makes it much easier to model how it will spread. But, you might ask, how does this help with anything in the real world? Well, when trying to solve things, scientists like to start simple, and once they get that working, build up to the more complex. This means that once you get a model working to map the spread of a zombie disease, you can then go back to it and add in the additional complexity needed for you to do the same thing with a real disease.

The second area is, in some ways, more interesting. This was highlighted in this recent interview in New Scientist magazine with Dr Matthieu Guitton, an associate professor from Laval University in Canada, and it’s studying how humans behave in real-life disasters. This is something that’s difficult to study because to would be completely unethical to study real people as their world falls apart around them. So how to you get round this? By studying what people do in virtual disasters. In the case of Dr Guitton, the virtual disaster he uses is the zombie apocalypse MMORPG (Massively Multiple Online Role-playing Game) DayZ. Here, Dr Guitton can watch exactly how people react in specific situations, and then interview them afterwards to find out why they did what they did, like shooting their friend in the leg so that the zombies eat them while they get away. What’s the conclusion of this research? Well, it’s quite simple. The better prepared and the better rehearsed you are, the better you will be able to cope with a disaster if you ever find yourself in one. I’m not too sure if that means you can count your time playing Day Z as important life skills development, but it’s certainly a good excuse!

So, zombies might not be real (not yet, at any rate), but, as these studies show, that doesn’t mean they can’t still play an important role in scientific research, and I’m sure there’s many other areas of science where zombies could be just as useful. All it takes is a little imagination on the part of the scientists involved.

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 print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.