I’ve been thinking lately….it is rare that a paper comes along that truly captures my interest and has the potential for direct impact on my life. Oh sure there’s the occasional creation of synthetic life blurb or a cute little note about an embryo with genetic material from two mothers and one father but really, how does that affect me?? When it comes right down to it, there are just two papers in the last couple years that hold any relevance whatsoever to my everyday life, both based on mathematical models (perhaps I’m in the wrong field!).
The first is an oldie but a goodie, passed around among nerds everywhere last year and first brought to my attention by my brother. In the paper out of the University of Ottawa (woot Canada!) “When zombies attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection”, Philip Munz describes the mathematical probability that any of us would come out of a zombie apocalypse alive. The model is simplified by assuming that zombies don’t attack each other and that they are only interested in human flesh, so no other animals need be considered. In the model “susceptibles” (S) can be converted to zombies (Z) or can enter the “removed” ie. dead group (R). The (R) group can either stay dead, or be converted to the undead and join the (Z) group. The author states that the two means by which the infected (Z) group can grow, conversion or reanimation, make a zombie apocalypse a more complicated scenario than your typical infection. In this scenario, even in a short outbreak zombies will likely infect the entire population and a doomsday becomes inevitable. If a latency period is considered in which the virus does not convert someone for 24 hours after infection our odds improve but once again, the entire population is eventually likely to succumb to the growing zombie throngs. People are no dumbies though. We’ve seen zombie movies. We know what to do! So Munz also calculated the spread of infection if a quarantine were to be executed, but once again we’re eradicated. Hope first appears when Munz introduces the idea of a treatment for “zombie” which then allows a very few of us to survive. His advice? Based on his models, the only way to avoid complete eradication of humans (and thus the eventual starvation of the poor strictly “humanivore” zombies) is to strike first and strike hard! Words to keep in mind the next time the undead walk among us…
The second paper is of a slightly less serious nature. It was highlighted in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago and brought to my attention by my friend, Xena Warrior Princess (she chose the alias, not me). In “Why I don’t have a girlfriend: an application of the Drake equation to love in the UK” Peter Backus of the University of Warwick uses an equation popularly used to describe the probability of encountering intelligent life in our galaxy to determine the likelihood that he will find love in London. By factoring in the population growth in the UK, the fraction of women who live in London, who are of a datable age, who are university educated, who he would find attractive (he figures about 1/20), who would find him attractive, who are single and finally the number of years he’s been alive (thus making an encounter with a potential girlfriend possible), Backus finds that there are a whopping 26 women in London that he could date. He then goes on to calculate that on a given night out there is a 0.0000034% chance that he could find the woman of this dreams. The bright side? That’s about 100 times better odds than finding an intelligent alien civilization. Not bad!
Of course, this got me thinking about my own odds in the Bay area. There are 856,095 people in San Francisco, 51.83% of whom are male. However, 15.9% of those are gay and only 23.23% are in my (overly generous) datable age range of 25-34. Not to mention the 44.04% that are already in “family households” (again being generous by discounting the fact that many of those included in the “single” category are in relationships), the 72% that are not university educated (what can I say? I’m a smarts snob) and the 50% that are under 5’10” tall. I’ll go ahead and borrow Backus’ numbers and assume that I am interested in about 1/20 men and about 1/20 men are interested in me. Plug all those numbers in and we arrive at 17. There are 17 men in San Francisco that might be the man of my dreams. While that might sound depressingly low, I’m doing better than Backus because that translates to a 0.000019% chance of meeting Mr. Right on a given night out which is a 1000 times better chance than finding intelligent life on another planet. Woohoo!
Links to both these articles are listed below if you’d like to check them out for yourself. I’d be interested in hearing the odds of other people finding that special someone!