Zombie Mathematics

While a zombie attack is one of the least likely ways the world could end, four Canadian mathematicians/graduate students did a mathematical analysis of a hypothetical zombie outbreak to determine the likelihood of human eradication, should such an attack ever occur. According to their model, “a zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly. While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies, the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often.” (HT: Marginal Revolution) [%comments]

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  1. Leafcat says:

    Sadly the study uses a flawed model. It doesn’t distinguish between dead humans and dead zombies, so previously decapitated zombies count as being able to (re-)reanimate.

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  2. Michael F. Martin says:

    So do the authors have plans for future work on zombie banks?

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  3. Joe says:

    In addition to the shortcoming pointed out by Leafcat, the model presents only two outcomes for a human-zombie interaction: zombie destruction and human infection. They should have included 4:zombie destruction, mutual survival, infection, and consumption. This would significantly limit the growth in zombie numbers, as they are sure to eat a fair number of humans instead of producing more zombies.

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  4. Alex says:

    as much as i recall those b-movies, zombies cannot drive cars, they can’t and they just have ability to do the most basic tasks, neither can they plan or cooperate in any way. in such a situation, it’d be much easier to deal with them than commonly portrayed on movies. Once you were aware, they wouldn’t stand a chance, they’d fall to the most banal traps, their only advantage being the “surprise factor”. Supposing they began from one focal point, the news would spread much faster than the disease itself (at least in movies, it usually took some time (like some few days) for someone infected actually becoming a zombie).

    in the worst scenario, just for the sake of argument, still humankind would survive in islands and places not reachable by feet alone….

    well, afterall i’ve written more than i’d like about this fruitless discussion… no offense intended.

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  5. Jesse says:

    Also curious to me is the assumption that an uninfected corpse can reanimate.

    On the upside, this may be good news against the werewolf invasion, where one needs to be alive when bitten.

    Suggested alternative models:
    – Zombie starvation, where renewed feeding is needed to live
    – Zombies may also attack/defeat other zombies

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  6. Bruce says:

    There also does not seem to be a parameter for “rate at which naturally dying humans are removed”: once it becomes clear that the dead are rising, a precautionary bullet in grandpa’s head once he’s no longer clearly breathing will soon become standard procedure. (Sure, Mistakes Will Be Made…)

    (We really also have to make the assumption that zombies lack the traditional love of brains: if a zombie is killed when its brain is badly damaged, and zombies eat the brains of those they catch, only _survivors_ of zombie attacks can become zombi.)

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  7. Steve Jones says:

    Maybe the researchers can use this study to help eradicate AIDS. Its an infectious disease that really cannot be cured, The infected are basically living dead, infect others, etc. etc.

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  8. MAL says:

    Joe raises an interesting point, but it does not affect the model. It simply changes the value of some parameters.

    If a zombie eats an arm or a leg, the corpse can be zombified with limited effectiveness. It is hard to hold your prey without arms.

    If zombies eat brains, then fewer humans can be re-animated. This only reduces the parameter value for Removed to Zombification, but it cannot go to zero. This may slow the rate of infection but not eliminate the infection. Eventually the Zombies will win.

    As for Removed humans becoming zombified, read ‘Night on Mispec Moor’ by Larry Niven. It offers a way for normally dead humans to be zombified as well as examine a possible ‘cure’.

    I must disagree with the authors about the result of the ‘cure’ returning a human to normal life. If this were so, a dead human could be resurrected as a zombie, then returned to life – practical immortality. Also, the body must deal with the effects of accident or decay while dead. It’s hard to live if an MI stopped your heart permanently once before.

    I would be interested in extending the model to examine the possibility that a cure results in permanent removal of the zombie. Logically this should speed the eradication of zombies and preserve civilization.

    The authors should also consider a change in cultural habits. Humans would simply behad the dead before burial, or use cremation. Again, this slows the rate of infection and speeds eradication.

    After due consideration, the authors have reached a sound conclusion. It’s either us or them!

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