Finally, A Scientific Study Worth The Money

It’s zombies v. humans and guess who wins…

Pallab Ghosh at the BBC:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures.

[...]

In their study, the researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (also in Ottawa) 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.”

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose “classic” slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films.

“While we are trying to be as broad as possible in modelling zombies – especially as there are many variables – we have decided not to consider these individuals,” the researchers said.

Alex Massie:

In other words they are cheating. It’s like something out of Dad’s Army: You can’t fight like that, it’s not in the rules… Then again, if we can be destroyed by Zombie 1.0, just think how powerless we’d be when confronted by Next Generation Zombies…

Alex Tabarrok

Frank Swain at The Science Punk at Scienceblogs

funny-pictures-zombie-survival-kit-1cs

NotoriousLTP at Neurotopia at Scienceblogs:

They use the mathematical models applied to outbreaks of infectious diseases to show that — absent a cure or concerted eradication of large proportions of zombies simultaneously — we are well and truly screwed. This realization should in no way detract from the observation that MATH IS COOL. It will be a damn shame when the zombies eat it out of our brains.

David Prentice at The Family Research Council blog:

Given the results of the analysis, it might be a good idea to get a copy of “The Zombie Survival Guide“.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger:

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.

But Daniel Drezner wins the internet and looks at this from a different angle (almost entire post here, because editing it seems wrong):

caution-zombies-ahead

what would different systemic international relations theories* predict regarding the effects of a zombie outbreak? Would the result be inconsequential — or World War Z?

A structural realist would argue that, because of the uneven diustribution of capabilities, some governments will be better placed to repulse the zombies than others. Furthermore, anyone who has seen Land of the Dead knows that zombies are not deterred by the stopping power of water. So that’s the bad news.

The good news is that these same realists would argue that there is no inherent difference between human states and zombie states — they are all subject to the same powerful constraint of anarchy. Therefore, the fundamental character of world politics would not be changed. Indeed, it might even be tactically wise to fashion temporary alliances with certain zonbie states as a way to balance against human states that try to exploit the situation with some kind of idealistic power grab made under the guise of “anti-zombieism.” So, according to realism, the introductions of zombies would not fundamentally alter the character of world politics.

A liberal institutionalist would argue that zombies represent a classic externality problem of… dying and then existing in an undead state. Clearly, the zombie issue would cross borders and affect all states — so the benefits from policy coordination would be pretty massive. This would give states a great opportunity to cooperate on the issue by quickly fashioning a World Zombie Organization (WZO) that would codify and promnulgate rules on how to deal with zombies. Alas, the effectiveness of the WZO would be uncertain. If the zombies had standing and appealed any WZO decision to wipe them out, we could be talking about an 18-month window when zombies could run amok without any effective regulation whatsoever.

Fortunately, the United States would likely respond by creating the North American F*** Zombies Agreement — or NAFZA — to handle the problem regionally. Similarly, one would expect the European Union to issue one mother of a directive to cope with the issue. Indeed, given that zonbies would likely to be covered under genetically modified organisms, the EU would likely trumpet the Catragena Protocol on Biosafety in an “I told you so” kind of way. Inevitably, Andrew Moravcsik would author an essay about the inherent superiority of the EU approach to zombie regulation, and why so many countries in Africa prefer the EU approach over the American approach of “die, motherf***ers, die!!”  Oh, and British beef would once again be banned as a matter of principle.

Now, avid followers of social constructivism might think that Wendt and Duvall (2008) have developed a model that would be useful for this kind of event… but you would be wrong. Back when this paper was in draft stage, I specifically queried them about wther their argument about UFOs could be generalized to zombies, vampires, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, Elivis, etc.  Their answer was an emphatic “no”:  aliens would be possessors of superior technology, while our classic sci-fi canon tells us that the zombies, while resistant to dying, are not superior to humans. So that’s a dead end.

Instead, constructivists would posit that the zombie problem is what we make of it.  That is to say, there are a number of possible emergent norms in response to zombies. Sure, there’s the Hobbesian “kill or be killed” end game that does seem to be quite popular in the movies.  But there could be a Kantian “pluralistic anti-Zombie” community that bands together and breaks down nationalist divides in an effort to establish a world state. Another way of thinking about this is that the introduction of zombies creates a stronger feeling of ontological security among remaining humans — i.e., they are not flesh-eaters (alas, those bitten by zombies are now both physically and ontologically screwed).

Unfortunately, I fear that constructivists would predict a norm cascade from the rise of zombies. As more and more people embrace the zombie way of undead life, as it were, the remaining humans would feel social pressure to conform and eventually internalize the norms and practices of zombies — kind of like the middle section of Shaun of the Dead. In the end, even humans would adopt zombie-constructed perceptions of right and wrong, and when it’s apprpriate to grunt in a menacing manner.

Now, some would dispute whether neoconservatism is a systemic argument, but let’s posit that it’s a coherent IR theory.  To its credit, the neoconservatives would recognize the zombie threat as an existential threat to the human way of life.  Humans are from Earth, whereas zombies are from Hades — clearly, neoconservatives would argue, zombies hate us for our freedom not to eat other humans’ brains.

While the threat might be existential, accomodation or recognition are not options.  Instead, neocons would quickly gear up an aggressive response to ensure human hegemony.  However, the response would likely be to invade and occupy the central state in the zombie-affected area.  After creating a human outpost in that place, humans in neighboring zombie-affected countries would be inspired to rise up and overthrow their own zombie overlords.  Alas, while this could happen, a more likely outcone would be that, after the initial “Mission Accomplished” banner had been raised, a fresh wave of zombies would rise up, enmeshing the initial landing force — which went in too light and was drawn down too quickly — in a protracted, bloody stalemate.

Readers are hereby encouraged in the comments to posit other IR theoretical prediction of the response to a zombie uprising. For example, would the zombie uprising confirm Marxist predictions about the revolt of the proletariat?

Zombies of the world unite! You have nothing to lose, as you already decomposing!

UPDATE: Tim Cavanaugh in Reason

Tom Maguire

UPDATE #2: JL Wall

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Go Meta, Public Health, Science

One response to “Finally, A Scientific Study Worth The Money

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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