Phi Beta Cons

When Standard Critiques Fail . . . and Zombies!

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.

But here’s the problem. The paper models the rate of infection in case of zombie attack.

Hold the phone. Zombie attack? Zombies are cool. That’s just a fact.

Even better, the study is inspired by one of the great classics of Western cinema, the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead.

Maybe it’s just because I’m currently battling the swine flu and feel like a zombie, or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age. But either way, I wholeheartedly endorse zombie studies, extend the hand of conservative friendship to Prof. Question Mark and his intrepid student co-authors, and pass along — for your immense edification — their magnificent handiwork.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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