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May 4, 2012 / caitiedunlap

Once Bitten, Twice As Shy…

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but, ‘That’s funny…” – Isaac Asimov (Improbable.com)

 

Image 

http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/ff178/ZombieSquisher/VampireZombies.jpg

Brains.. Brains.. BRAINS!! This phrase said in a droning voice is long associated with zombies, screaming humans and a lot of bloodshed and gore. No-one really thinks of what would happen if zombies suddenly went after, say vampires, or what would happen to vampires if humans weren’t around anymore. Personally I wouldn’t mind setting some of my un-dead brethren on those Twilight vampires, but that’s not the point. The point is if there was a zombie apocalypse and the entire human population was on the menu, what would happen to Dracula and the rest of his blood sucking buddies? Or has no one really cared to ask?

Southern Fried Scientist has examined this exact scenario in ‘Blood and Brains- Can vampires survive a zombie apocalypse?’ and uses principles of population dynamics to investigate the effects of a zombie outbreak on vampire numbers.

By examining a study, he identifies an estimated population size for the vampires, or carrying capacity:

– In short, a town of 36,000 can support about 18 vampires. Extrapolating out to the whole world (and this is a suspect figure at best) that gives us a standing vampire population of about 3.25 million

Along with variables for death rates and assumptions of zombie numbers, he uses population principles to explain the battle between two titans of the supernatural world and their fight for the survival of their respective species.

The reading is entertaining along with being surprisingly believable. He examines current information on vampire and zombie ecology, using actual methods for population estimates to ultimately determine the future for vampires, still whilst educating readers on actual, useful scientific principles.

Few people are happy to read a giant scientific text book filled with numbers and formulas explaining how if population A increases, population B will have limited resources and therefore population B’s size will decrease. By substituting zombies for population A and vampires for population B it makes the concepts a lot more reader friendly and ultimately more memorable.

He uses models of zombie populations to examine the effects on vampires and their common food source, humans. Ultimately he explains in gruesomely amusing terms, if a population (vampires) loses their food source (humans, due to a zombie apocalypse), they will die off. The only way of preventing the extinction of a species is to establish a source of food (farmed humans) or prevent their food from disappearing by removing the potential threat (banding together with the humans and eradicating the zombies. Methods to eradicate zombies can be found in The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks).

Southern Fried Scientist has succinctly described population theories in an entertaining way to enthral readers whilst cleverly educating them on tedious scientific principles.

However does this make principles memorable? Is making science an entertainment feature the best way to explain population dynamics, or will it just result in readers being concerned for their own fate if zombies started freely roaming the earth? Ultimately is it possible to learn actual scientific principles when they are portrayed as outrageous examples or will it merely be taken as a light hearted piece of writing?

 

And if you are just curious about the fate of the vampires, unfortunately it isn’t looking too good for them.

 

References:

Southern Fried Scientist. (2009). Blood and Brains – can vampires survive a zombie apocalypse? Retrieved from: http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=2528

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10 Comments

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  1. NicolaRuprecht / May 6 2012 1:55 pm

    Great blog post. Your writing flowed easily and this is such an interesting topic, making it an enjoyable read.

    I think this kind of portrayal of scientific principles can be extremely effective in targeting younger generations. There definitely is a current fixation on zombies and vampires, evident in movies such as ‘Zombieland’ and ‘Twilight’. Which makes the incorporation of science all the more interesting and relatable. Although I can see how the reader would easily take away the entertainment side of the piece, I still think they are better off having read it. Who knows, it may even help them grasp population concepts later in their education.
    I guess the main downside is that I can’t imagine many mature adults finding the dynamics between zombies and vampires all that entertaining so they probably wouldn’t get as much out of the story, if they read it at all. But considering the target audience of the piece is probably ‘young adult’ then I think it is a very effective piece of science writing.

    • caitiedunlap / May 8 2012 3:37 am

      Thanks for your feedback!

      I definitely agree with you that it is more based on a younger audience. I was explaining it to my mom and I could tell she was not too excited by the idea, but my boyfriend and I proceeded to have a 30 minute conversation about the topic and who would win in a war between zombies, vampires and werewolves. It could be something those people who do read it remember and when learning population dynamics, it tweaks their mind and they remember what the concepts were regarding and therefore find it easier to understand. I do agree that it is mainly effective for young adults though and less middle aged people.

  2. fullclever / May 6 2012 2:47 pm

    What a funny article! You post is also awesome!
    I would say that S. F. Scientist is only one step to become a philosopher. He artistically mastered the scientific abstract tools to build an interesting piece of writing. It is a undeniable proof that appropriated language and numbers can lead us to believe even in the most unbelievable information. We must be aware of it.
    Look at the structure! He really thought of all the details: introduction, body, conclusion and even bibliography (besides some inconsistencies and errors – he mixed APA and Harvard, did not respect the punctuation and order). Anyway, I think that he did a good literary job. The only real tracks he left to question the article’s reliability and validity was the usage of vampires and zombies as examples.
    It can be used a model to stimulate the abstract thinking and show how an article shall be organized. Furthermore, the way he presented the evidences and in text references makes his arguments convincing. The interview is the other powerful tool.
    For a scientist, it is easy to see how less serious it is but is really great anyway.
    Cheers

    • caitiedunlap / May 8 2012 3:40 am

      Thank you! I knew as soon as I saw the title I had to write about this one. I never thought I’d see the day when I got to write about zombies and supernatural stuff for a part of my degree.

      I do agree that he has done a wonderful job at writing and it is thoroughly entertaining even just to read and not look deeper into the true scientific background which it clearly has.

      It’s amazing how convincing the article is and as well as Max Brooks’ novels, when you realise that they are referring to completely fictional topics. I think that’s the mark of a truly fantastic writer.

  3. lodoubt / May 8 2012 1:26 pm

    While I was impressed with his use of analogy to describe population dynamics, I struggled at a few points to understand his descriptions of the scenarios. IE in the zombies vs. vampires context, I had a bit of trouble. Whilst it made for an entertaining read, a lack of clarity in the analogy stage means a LOT of lost information in the emergent meaning.

    • caitiedunlap / May 9 2012 1:46 am

      I guess for this to be an effective piece of writing it needs to be clear enough for everyone to grasp what he is saying. For me it was relatively clear and therefore I got the message but I understand that if you struggled with understanding the analogies, it would mean the meaning behind the post would have been totally lost.

  4. suyinnn / May 9 2012 2:50 am

    Great post! I like the picture, and how you started the article with ‘Brains.. Brains.. BRAINS!!’ It made me carry on reading your article, and it was an interesting and enjoyable read!

    I liked how Southern Fried Scientis could incorporate both the zombie and vampire topic, certainly making it out of this world! I agree that the zombies and vampires topic is highly talked about currently, with so many movies and video games associated to it. Guess that may only appeal to the younger generation too. However, apart from all that entertainment aside, I think that the use of these analogies do help the reader to understand more about scientific terms of population dynamics, and etc. It breaks down difficult concepts that are more relatable and understandable. It also got me thinking about who would be the better species for survival..

  5. muza2009 / May 9 2012 3:46 am

    Are we flipping the script by suggesting that the Southern Fried Scientist is trying to communicate population dynamics using a zombies and vampires and not the other way round? Depending on what frame is used, it makes for a different blog. Let me go out on a limb here and try use a different example, James Bond gadgets and the science behind them, do you frame an article around the gadgets then relate them to the science or the science then relate them to the gadgets? Would articles with different frames achieve the same purpose?

    • lodoubt / May 9 2012 7:33 am

      I think that the reason people have arrived at the flipped script conclusion is that a general rule for science writing seems to be that the introduction should be the most entertaining component. As such, you frame the fiction first, then relate it to the facts.

      • muza2009 / May 9 2012 8:29 am

        I agree with you but most scientists may not.

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