June 8, 2013 2:27 pm

This Sunday: What can we actually learn from thinking about a Zombie Apocalypse?

CDC posters use Zombie Apocalypse for disaster preparedness

Can we actually learn anything from thinking about a Zombie Apocalypse? The CDC thinks so.

What can we actually learn from thinking about a Zombie Apocalypse?

It turns out, more than you might think.

Because at first glimpse, it seems ludicrous that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would create the posters shown above. And it seems even more ridiculous that the US Naval War College would invite Max Brooks to lecture there.

Here’s why it’s not.

The CDC is using the concept of a zombie outbreak to get kids to pay attention to disaster preparedness. Talking about storing bottled water and food and blankets and flashlights to a kid in case of a natural disaster can be like talking to a wall, but throw in a few zombies and they’re all ears.

And the Naval War College asked Max Brooks, author of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, to speak to them not about zombies, but about the fact that, sans zombies, his books represent credible, step-by-step scenarios of how society could unravel in a global crisis.

If instead of Max Brooks, the Naval War College invited Laurie Garret, Zombie Apocalypse Part 2’s other guest, they might not like what she has to say.

You see, Laurie Garrett is a science journalist who reports on outbreaks from the inside. She’s been on the ground during an outbreak of the Black Plague in India, inside China during the SARS outbreak, and in Zaire for an Ebola epidemic for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.

And according to Laurie, “Fear kills in an epidemic” and people, including governments, behave stupidly. In this episode, she tells host Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Eugene Mirman how the Chinese government’s cover up of the SARS outbreak cost people their lives around the world. (A story they apparently didn’t want her to tell: they tried arresting her when she was in China.)

She talks about how the CIA’s actions have inadvertently led to the murders of polio aid workers by Al Qaeda, Taliban and other Islamists around the world. And how Vladimir Putin and the Russians have not only never completely shut down their biological warfare apparatus, but also no outside inspectors have been allowed to see what they’re up to.

If you thought Dr. Ira Lipkin was scary in Zombie Apocalypse Part 1, then you’re in trouble with Laurie in Part 2. She tells us about XDR Tuberculosis, the extremely drug resistant strain of TB with a very low survival rate that’s spreading through the disenfranchised populations around the world. And how scientists are manipulating viruses that couldn’t previously spread between mammals to be able to jump species now. And what could possibly go wrong with that?

Scariest takeaway: that scientists (and others) can make microorganisms by sequencing their genes on a computer, email the code to a 3-D printer, and then print them out using nucleotide “ink.” (And if you’re not scared by that, then you must know something the CIA, FBI, NSC, CDC and WHO don’t… because they are.)

Listen to Zombie Apocalypse Part 2 tomorrow night at 7:00 pm ET with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugene Mirman, Max Brooks and Laurie Garrett.

And then be afraid. Be very afraid. Just not of zombies.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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