Photo credit: Lucius Kwok via Flickr/CC BY
According to the BBC, scientists and mathematicians have determined that an attack from zombies would "lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively." Seriously. That's the conclusion of an actual scientific paper that examines the threat of a zombie invasion--that, and that "only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the ... creatures." Good to know, I guess. But why are scientists worried about the undead all of a sudden? Of course, the scientists are aware that zombies are entirely fictitious, and most likely to remain that way. But modeling a so-called "zombie plague" scenario has distinct real world benefits. Such a plague in many ways mimics a powerful infectious disease--the kind of which is spreading faster due to climate change. It also appears to be an entertaining, head-turning way to draw some attention to the study of infectious diseases--a study that's proved especially pertinent in the days of the Swine Flu.
So how does one study a zombie attack? Like this: (From the BBC)
In their study, the researchers posed a question: If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win? Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: "We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions."In order to give humans a better shot, the study, which was completed by researchers at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, focused on the classic depiction of zombies: ie, slow moving and stupid, as opposed to modern variants that are fast, cunning, and more dangerous. Unfortunately, the scenario still didn't bode so well for us un-undead folks.
Their analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable ... the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often. It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."Which may sound humorous when you're picturing a squad of ragtag human survivors crouched in an abandoned warehouse readying themselves to battle lumbering zombies, but there are actually real-life insights on infectious diseases to be taken away from the findings. But most of the study's real life applications have more to do with non-life-threatening viral and fungal infections.
Photo credit: Sookie via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY
Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the UK government's chief advisors on swine flu, notes the study's parallels with infectious diseases: "None of them actually cause large-scale death or disease, but certainly there are some fungal infections which are difficult to eradicate." He says there are "some viral infections - simple diseases like chicken pox has survived in very small communities. When you get it when you are very young, the virus stays with you and can re-occur as shingles, triggering a new chicken pox epidemic."
Which is why this seemingly outlandish zombie attack scenario is still worth taking a look at scientifically--it may not be done on a serious subject, but the principles are nonetheless sound.
Professor Smith? told BBC News: "When you try to model an unfamiliar disease, you try to find out what's happening, try to approximate it. You then refine it, go back and try again. We refined the model again and again to say... here's how you would tackle an unfamiliar disease."
So with SARS, so with swine flu--so with an incoming zombie attack.