Thursday, August 20, 2009
Mad science: Modeling our optimum zombie-outbreak response.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal:
The zombies are coming! Quick, call the mathematicians!
In particular, you may want to get Robert Smith? on the phone. (That question mark isn’t a typo. We’ll explain it later.) He’ll tell you that if you try to quarantine the zombies you won’t catch them all, so "it's basically humans fighting it out with slightly fewer zombies than there were before." That’s not what you want, given that you're dealing with flesh-eating, undead monsters that will either kill you or bite you and turn you into one of them.
If you go for a cure, "unless the cure was 100%, which it would never be in reality, you can’t turn all the zombies back." You wind up with "this equilibrium where people are always switching back and forth" between human and zombie. Entirely unsatisfactory.
The only solution — and if we haven't learned this from zombie movies, we haven't learned a damn thing — is to mount wave after wave of military attacks. That should get rid of the zombies in about a week and a half, according to Smith?'s equations. And who can argue with equations?
(We'll pause here to address that question mark. Smith? added it to the end of his name when he was 17, in an effort to distinguish himself from the countless Robert Smiths in the world.)
Smith? got into modeling a zombie outbreak as an offshoot of a class assignment to model the spread of more conventional diseases. If you want to read Smith?'s math heavy paper, "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection," a link is provided in the original article.
Notably, Smith?'s calculations run contrary to the live-and-let-unlive necroliberalism found in most of Romero's "Of the Dead" series, in which attempts to establish a peaceful coexistence through either non-aggressive avoidance or, as in the upcoming Survival of the Dead, peaceful coexistence through zombie training or cure development are almost always associated with "good" characters. Perhaps this hard data will allow us to put Romero's zombie appeasement policies behind us. Containment – the strategy Romero believes would be the choice of walled-city dictators – and utter destruction – traditional plan of Romero's military goons and redneck characters – are actually the best strategies, with an edge going to wiping them out. Or, as Smith?'s team discovered:
“While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies,” they concluded, “the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often."