Worried about a zombie plague? Mathematics might help prepare you
A girl dressed as a zombie checks her cell phone as she takes part in a 'Zombie Walk' in central Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP / Marko Drobnjakovic)
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, October 31, 2014 9:02PM EDT
Have you ever wondered if the human race could survive a zombie invasion?
University of Ottawa mathematics professor Robert Smith? (the punctuation mark is part of his last name) thinks about it all the time, and encourages his students to do so, too.
Smith?, along with other academics, set out to use science to draw similarities between the study of how infectious diseases spread and an attack of the undead. The result is “Mathematical Modelling of Zombies,” which is set for release on Nov. 11.
The book aims to show how math techniques can be used to solve questions of the unknown.
“They help us prepare for things that we aren’t expecting,” Smith? said. “So if Ebola mutates and does something unexpected, well, we know how to work with that because we’ve actually modelled things that aren’t real.”
This isn’t Smith?’s first stab at zombie phenomena. In 2011, he published “BRAAAIIINNNSSS!: From Academics to Zombies,” which examined how zombies threatened all aspects of life as we know it.
“The great thing about zombies is of course, they don’t exist,” Smith? said. “So if you want to understand how to (mathematically) model something that isn’t out, like a disease, then you can use all those techniques on something fun, like zombies.”
Mathematical modelling is used by public health agencies and disease control centres worldwide to approach a newly emerging pandemic, for instance, of which not much is known.
“You still have to understand what you’re going to do,” Smith? said. “Are you going to close schools, are you going to do quarantines, are you going to lose the whole of society to this outbreak?”
Comparing it to a zombie attack helps make math more digestible for students. Smith? said whenever he talks about zombie scenarios in class, ears perk up.
York University chemistry professor Derek Wilson co-authored one of the chapters in Smith?’s book with mathematics professor Jane Heffernan, whose lab studies processes of diseases such as HIV and influenza.
According to their research, there is indeed reason to fear a zombie apocalypse.
Wilson said that their model shows that “the entirety of humanity” would be wiped out within six weeks of a zombie attack.
The chapter compares a zombie apocalypse to the bubonic plague, which historically has wiped out large swaths of populations.
“One of the things that the model tells us is that the reason that the bubonic plague died out was because it’s actually too efficient at killing people, so they don’t stay infected for long enough,” Wilson told CTV’s News Channel on Friday.
“Whereas with a zombie of course, you die but you’re still alive and then you can still infect people forever,” Wilson said.
So, is there any hope of human survival should we see a horde of drooling, moaning, undead corpses rise from the grave?
“None whatsoever,” Wilson said, adding their research looked to films such as “28 Days Later” and “Shawn of the Dead” for “important” information on survival in the event of a zombie attack.
“For instance, it suggests that a cricket bat is an excellent weapon against zombies,” Wilson said.
All joking aside, Smith? and Wilson say the idea is to get students to be “less afraid” of math in dealing with real-world problems.
“It makes you flexible as a researcher, because you can adapt to strange new situations that come out,” Smith? said.