Tag Archives: Zombies and Science

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.

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.

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.