28.8.09

EULER, EIGENVALUES, COMPLEX ROOTS, AND ZOMBIES. Voluntary Xchange came up with an instructive piece of applied mathematics.
Suppose we are able to quickly produce a cure for ‘zombie-ism’. Our treatment would be able to allow the zombie individual to return to their human form again. Once human, however, the new human would again be susceptible to becoming a zombie; thus, our cure does not provide immunity. Those zombies who resurrected from the dead and who were given the cure were also able to return to life and live again as they did before entering the R class.
The story sounds frivolous, but there's a real world application.

The key difference between the models presented here and other models of infectious disease is that the dead can come back to life. Clearly, this is an unlikely scenario if taken literally, but possible real-life applications may include allegiance to political parties, or diseases with a dormant infection.

This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first mathematical analysis of an outbreak of zombie infection. While the scenarios considered are obviously not realistic, it is nevertheless instructive to develop mathematical models for an unusual outbreak. This demonstrates the flexibility of mathematical modelling and shows how modelling can respond to a wide variety of challenges in ‘biology’.

There may be uses for the results in economics. Consider the logistic model of technology diffusion, which is a direct borrowing from epidemiology.

Professor Tufte:
I like this paper very much. I think it could actually be a good tool for teaching dynamic modeling in the classroom, and it comes with Matlab code.
I'm not sure that will impress David French (of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, at Phi Beta Cons.)

Aside from truly horrifying PC excesses, few academic absurdities capture the public imagination more (and draw greater conservative fire) than pretentious and frivolous academic research and "papers" on topics that have zero applicability to the world and do nothing more than further wall off academia from reality. Dead-serious panel discussions on things like the sex lives of feudal court jesters or the perceived latent racism in terms like "black ice" rightly draw hoots of derisive laughter and serious calls for reform. After all, what are you doing with all those hundreds of millions of tax dollars if you can afford to spend even one cent on such nonsense?

So it was with much vicious glee that I began reading a story that seemed to have all elements. Eccentric professor? Yes. This particular person changed his name so that it ends with a question mark (he is literally called "Professor Smith?"). Frivolous topic? Absolutely. Guided by Prof. Question Mark, his giddy grad students proposed to study the infection rate of a disease that exists only in the world of science fiction. Warm reception from the "mainstream" academic community? Definitely. The paper is to be published in Infectious Diseases and Modeling Progress, where it will appear between a paper on HIV and TB co-infection and a paper about the epidemiology of malaria. And finally, were these jokers European? Well, almost. They were Canadian — from the University of Ottawa to be precise.

That question mark is probably a glitch going from a technical word processing program into Adobe. The reaction people have to the paper might say more about their familiarity with mathematical modeling than it does about their position in the Canon Wars. Somebody help me out: doesn't one version of the pneumonic plague have a way of going dormant, or am I thinking about Ebola?

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