Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Zombie Apocalypse (Part 1)

Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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About This Episode

There’s no escaping the Zombie Apocalypse when Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews Max Brooks, the world’s leading “authority” on these nonexistent killers. The author of World War Z discusses fast and slow zombies and the latest in “zombie science” — mathematical models of how a zombie virus would spread and a Harvard doctor’s book about zombie brain patterns. You’ll find out why a cemetery is the safest place to be in a zombie apocalypse, and what’s inside Eugene Mirman’s “evil beef jerky.” But it’s not all fun and games: Dr. Ian Lipkin, Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia, is on hand to warn us about the really scary stuff: viruses like HIV, SARS, Ebola, Cholera, Influenza and a million others yet to be discovered. Are we all doomed? You’ll have to wait until Part 2 to find out.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Zombie Apocalypse (Part 1).

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  • Sam

    Just as a correction, cholera is caused by a bacterium, Vibrio cholerae.

  • JustinT

    An interview inside of an interview on a podcast… This just got too meta…

  • Ben Allott

    as a biomedical science student in the UK i am very interested in this subject. and as a nerd i am interested in zombies

    in my opinion the contagion that spreads the zombie infection would be a fungus, viruses are too simple to have the complex effect

    there is a fungus which in one point in its life cycle it infects ants and controls its brain causing it to climb the highest branch it can and then the fungus grows a stalk out the back of the ants head and spreads spores which go on to continue the life cycle

    now it would take some huge leaps in evolution of this fungus to then cause a zombie style infection, but it does seem plausible that it could change to infect humans, the spores could form in the salivary gland (hence the need to bite non-infected)

    although it would take huge leaps there is a way around this, with scientists now able to artificially produce living bacteria, in the next decade or so it could be possible to produce artificial fungi, then later one could fit the criteria

    also there is research going into curing cystic fibrosis by implanting the correct DNA into the common cold virus in an inhaler, they implant this DNA into the cells in the lungs allowing for the cells to produce a working CFTR channel

    now stepping back from the science

    zombies are scary because they are us, they are our families and friends

    there is also the anxiety involved, they do”nt stop, they may shamble slowly they continually are trying to find us

    • Jeff

      So, since you’re from the UK, Ben, important Zombie question: which did you like more, Sean of the Dead of 28 Days Later?

  • Gary

    Eugene has to stop trying to be funny, he really interrupts too much guests and they are off of the thought they have. Just let your guests answer a question before you interrups with a stupid comment, really annoying.

  • David Blomberg

    Oddly enough I just started a new game where you try to infect the world and destroy it with various vectors. Plague Inc. This subject is coming from so many angles lately.

  • T

    Max Roach was the jazz percussionist. Hal Roach was the Little Rascals creator.

    • Jeff

      Great catch, T. Thanks.

  • Joe H

    Setup shop in the trees like Ewoks and you’re set.

    • Jeff

      You don’t think that’s how they ended up living in the trees, do you, Joe? Zombie Ewoks. Cute and disgusting all at the same time.

  • Jason in Colorado

    I love how Neil takes the scientific approach to everything, especially fiction. But throughout his interview with Brooks, I can’t help but think he didn’t brush up on the subject much first. And while Brooks is at the top of the game right now, the zombie stuff has a lot more to it than just Brooks’ work.

    Neil keeps treating him like a fellow scientific/literary expert, when he just wrote another chapter in the mythology of the zombie. It would be like carrying on a similar interview on vampires with the woman who wrote Twilight.

    Still, another great episode.

    • Jeff

      Jason, I have to disagree with you. As a fan of both vampire and zombie stories, I respectfully suggest that Max is in a different league than “she who invented sparkly vampires who go out in the light.” Compare him to Anne Rice, perhaps.

  • Andrew A

    I am going to be super disappointed if I don’t hear about the fungus that attacks insects and turns them into zombies or the wasp larvae that turns spiders in to zombies or the other types of Insects that get turned in to zombies for different reasons.

  • Rick Schreiber

    Fun Fun Show! Dr. Ian Lipkin sounds a lot like Gene Simmons from KISS! Can we get a little “Christen Sixteen” please!

  • Thylium

    Haha Its gonna be fun listen to this… tomorrow -.- to late now!! Good show!

  • Collin

    If you plan to discuss viruses and zombies in part 2 can you discuss, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis? It is the parasitic fungus that alters the behavior of ants, essentially causing the ant to kill itself. Could a fungus, similar to that, exists that’s able to infect higher organism? Very Hypothetical, could a fungus like that infect the human brain, one of the most complex organs in the animal world?

  • i do not like this “Zombie expert”

    • Jeff

      Frank, do you mean Max, or Ian?

  • Rae

    With technology and frequencies that may affect the human mind (e.g., viual and audible), do you think this process may have causation on the brain’s function and memory?

  • Justin

    I love the series, however I feel that the co-host for this episode interrupts the flow of conversation more than contribute anything particularly useful. It’s like watching a movie with an annoying drunk guy screaming at the screen.

  • Gavin M

    I just discovered this awesome site. I just wish I could somehow listen to these in my car on my long commutes.

    • Jeff

      Gavin, you can download our podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, Zune (Xbox Music), or as MP3 files. Click on the icons for the option you want at the top of our pages.

  • Constanze

    I do love Zombie Flicks very much, but as a MD there’s one thing bugging me: up to this point we know viruses which transmit via blood (e.g. HIV) and another kind which transmits via saliva (e.g. mononucleosis). But in order for a virus to be transmitted via bite from a zombie into your bloodstream, the virus would have to be saliva-born. Because which way should it be transmitted otherwise? People don’t bleed while eating (at least the ones I know oO’) And it’s common medical understanding that humans contracted HIV through EATING monkeys, not being bitten by them.

  • Elizabeth

    I love the Zombie Love Song. Such a good song to use here! You guys always do such a great job with the music.

  • Cristy

    To many questions unanswered. mostly cause of all the interruptions.

  • Gerco

    What about Toxoplasma gondii? You get it from cats and it can change the behavior (can make you more reckless I think). About a third of the human population has it apparently.
    I don’t think Cordyceps fungi have ever been recorded in vertebrates, so it would be quite a leap.

    Is it deliberate that nobody is bursting the zombie bubble with a mention of homeostasis or something?

    And that comedian guy was irritating in the interview, kept cutting off the professor whenever he was about to say something interesting. If you’re gonna have him on, let the man speak!

  • James

    Would be good if the co-presenter wasn’t around. About to hear an interesting comment about the beginning of the AIDS virus in large communities and BAM, tedious, loud comment about giant pamphlets. Then it takes another ten minutes to get back around to the point. Just disappointing really.

  • Dave

    I wish that Dr. Lipkin hadnt been interrupted so much, I dont exactly listen to sciency shows to have the scence bits cut off and silenced by stupid jokes. Science can be entertaining by itself.

  • Anton

    I really think the co-host idea isn’t working. All that co-host guy does is interrupt such an interesting speaker with a jokes that aren’t even funny most of the time. Plus Dr. Tyson is funny and entertaining as hell himself so i really don’t get the purpose of Eugene in this podcast.

  • LC-san


    I commented about this on a youtube video that had Neil and Eugene, and I feel the same way. It seems that everytime he opens his mouth it’s just trash that falls out and halts the conversation and derails it. I just don’t get why Neil has him on … ever. I honestly feel at times that Neil just laughs at his ‘funnies’ to just be respectful to him. I do understand that these discussions can get somewhat boring to the viewers that aren’t 100% interested in the subject, but I mean Chuck is perfectly capable of being funny while leading the discussion. I don’t get it. Neil, please either have a talk with Eugene or get him off. /end rant.

  • JustinT

    I really think that more time should be spent on Rabies… We know that you can be infected by being bitten, it can be transmitted across species, it can be hard to diagnose, it normally has a incubation period of about 4 days, and can kill in a week. Symptoms often include things like aggression, confusion, terror, and hallucinations, It is exponentially more common, and also has a higher mortality rate than Ebola Zaire. 55,000 mortalities each year, and less than 10 known survivors once symptoms set in… The only thing it does not have in common with the zombie virus of lore is the ‘Undead’ after-effects.

  • JustinT

    I guess i should have reread the newest posts after i finished watching, before I posted. Excited to see part two, as always.

  • Skydogg

    just to offset the negative comments, I think Eugene rocks…and for the music, How did you miss Rob Zombie? Living Dead Girl would have been perfect….great show as usual

  • K Lee

    Dr. Lipkin was excellent.
    A straight forward forty minute interview between Dr. Tyson and him, covering diseases in general would be very informative.
    As Dr. Lipkin’s dry humour was very infectious (I thank you!), you wouldn’t actually need a co-host, just free range all over the topic.

  • Brad

    I can’t believe you have an amazing guest speaker, like Dr. Lipkin, on the show and then you two do nothing except interrupt him and ask inane questions, in a completely illogical order I might add.

    This is the first and last time I’ll ever listen to your show.

  • Eleanor

    What’s the point of having such an honorable guest on your show if you hardly let him speak?

  • jOLENE

    I have to say that I love the co-host(s) Dr. Tysen has on his show. I have been a consistent listener and I appreciate the delivery of science topics that include humor simply as it’s easier to convince my teenage underlings to listen to the podcasts when comedians are involved. Dr. Tysen’s passion is to teach science to all people and not neccesarily pander to die-hard hardcore uber scientist; if he wanted to pander he would do 12 part detailed series on specific subjects. His “cosmic brain droppings” are meant to inspire and build curiosity. His passion and joy is contagious, plus he has a fantastic sense of humor! Keep up the great work please! Science is fun and I love that I have found something that reflects that as well as being educational. The Live shows are the best. Also last note for those saying Eugine interrupts alot, Dr. Tysen also has his fair share of interrrupting guests in plenty of podcasts, I associate it with excitement level. Calm down.

  • kamry smiley

    Eugene mirman is annoying not.funny.

  • nick

    Love Star Talk, Eugene just interrupts to much to keep a good flow of conversation. I Think we can agree it may have been a more interesting interview with out him. With all due respect to Eugene, he really hurt the podcast in my opinion.

  • Dan

    Just another voice here adding to the chorus of those who wish the annoyingly unfunny Eugene would shut the hell up and stop doing his best to ruin an otherwise fascinating podcast with his constant interruptions that add nothing of value whatsoever, either intellectually or comically. As much as I admire and respect Dr. Tyson, his willingness to tolerate it is starting to reflect poorly on him. That awkward moment when the horror and chaos of a zombie apocalypse would be preferable to the uncomfortable silence following jokes about “biting ding-dongs”…

  • Craig Savitsky

    I can’t believe none of you find Eugene funny, this is insane. You really should be complaining about the amount of COMMERCIALS in this podcast, that’s what’s driving me insane. There’s almost as much commercial as talking, and in a 43 minute long podcast (already somewhat short) that is ridiculous.

  • Andrew Butterfield

    Why do you let Eugene speak? I get trying reach the masses but the show would have been so much better without him. Mr. Tyson is funny, why do you need a comedian? It takes away from the show!

  • Azure

    As happens a lot with the co-hosts, once again an interesting answer by an expert finally given an opportunity to discuss interesting things is interrupted by a lame attempt to make a joke. A few times Dr Lipkin didn’t get to answer a question due to this. I appreciate the intention, but it gets really frustrating episode after episode to have this occur. I feel bad for the guests who just sit back and stay quiet after being interrupted and not given a chance to complete their answer which we all looked forward to hearing.

  • ProgHead777

    Eugene, I’m proudly a defender of yours among Star Talk and NdGT fans… but seriously, bro, as funny as you are, you really need to choose when and where to place your humorous interjections. Let them talk at least a LITTLE bit.

  • BR

    Please can Eugene just shut up a little? The guest barely talks and this conversation would have been way more interesting if Eugene hadn’t interrupted so much, I am extremely disappointed. Please either tell him to not talk as much or just take him off because he adds absolutely nothing to the conversation.

  • Maureen

    I came on here to see if anyone else found Eugene’s interruptions as annoying and unnecessary as I did. Listened to this last night and nearly turned it off. I don’t really think he’s funny, at least in this episode, and even if he was I was too frustrated with the CONSTANT interruptions to notice. Dr. Lipkin was extremely informative and entertaining. I felt sorry for him as I was listening because I imagine it must have been irritating not to be able to finish a sentence. Could have been really interesting. Instead it was an opportunity squandered.

  • Andrew

    A friend encouraged me to check out this podcast and this is the episode I started with. After listening I felt compelled to come online and post about how annoying Eugene was. I didn’t think his jokes were funny but even if I did it would have been ridiculous to keep interrupting Dr. Lipkin. In fact, there was a time were Dr. Lipkin was interrupted twice and decided to just not answer the question at that point.

    I’m concerned because the beginning of this episode made it seem like Eugene is frequently on the show. I’ll give the podcast another chance but if Eugene continues to be the guest host then I will be moving on to better things.

    • Jeff

      Andrew, others have shared your comments about this particular episode. All I (Jeff) can say is that Eugene is one of our most frequent comic co-hosts, we love him on the show, and many of our fans consider him their favorite co-host. Last year, our fans even voted him their favorite co-host. So if you do decide to become a fan and listen to more episodes, I can guarantee there will be more Eugene Mirman on the horizon.

  • Andrew – first listen

    I don’t often search google to find a way to comment on a show, but when I do it’s because someone really pissed me off.

    This was my first listen to startalkradio and it was awful. The content was great but Eugene stepping on everyone’s comments made it almost unlistenable. I don’t want to hear Eugene, I want to hear the guest and Dr Tyson.

  • Anthony

    Eugene is totally ruining startalk. He needs to stop interrupting the guests and stop trying to make a snarky comment every 20 seconds.

  • D.J.

    Hello , I’d like to start by saying that I am very disappointed. I was really excited about hearing DR. Lipkin speak. Unfortunately, hearing him speak was impossible. Personaly, I was ashamed for him. I wanted to apologize for how much He was interrupted by the two host. So so much it was insane . This was supposed to have been an educational podcast, but it was more of a contest on who could be the rudest to Dr. Lipkin. They wouldn’t let the doctor get anything out. (None of The facts ) The hosts would ask a question then inturupt and answer their own question. So much that Dr. Lipkin stopped answering questions , almost like he was ready for it. I would have like to have received a more informative conversation that was benafical for knowledge . please Less jokes , more science and facts from the professionals. If I want to hear jokes I would listen too Comedy Central.

  • D.J.

    Other than that great content .

  • mikeobrien313

    You’re listening to a show about zombies and you are worried about facts? Eugene mrman is awesome and Neil’s favorite comedian, well one of them.

  • Alexander Rommel

    i think eugene mirman is hilarious we need more comedy in science if we are trying to make it more open to the average person
    i also have a question for neils cosmic queries but im new to this website not sure how to approach

  • Alexander Rommel

    isnt it a bit closed minded to stop listining to a show you like because one guy likes to be humorous its not even like he says much on the show calm down buddy guy

  • DeadInHell

    I’ve said it before and will again, Eugene is a huge part of what makes me love this show. It’s clear that he and Neil have great chemistry and work well together. I grow increasingly tired of the small but vocal minority of listeners that finds it necessary to complain about his presence on the show just because they lack a sense of humor.

  • DeadInHell

    Chuck is perfectly capable of being funny never. He may be less obtrusive, but he also doesn’t provide any comedy. Which sort of defeats the purpose of having a comedy co-host.

  • Gene877

    A show all about Zombies, with themed music and nothing by ‘The Cranberries’..?

  • Hannah S.

    I have to say i was disappointed in Max Brooks. World War Z was pretty brilliant and he sounded like a complete moron. Where in heavens name was he getting his facts? Ebola Reston, for example, only killed monkeys. Humans don’t carry it. One of the scientists working the quarantine facility where the disease broke out in Reston, VA did an autopsy on a monkey. She dissected the gallbladder, a hotbed of virus, and then accidentally cut her hand with the tainted scalpel. She STILL didn’t get infected. Max Brooks needs to check himself before he wrecks himself.
    Thank god Dr. Lipkin negated some of the more fantastical statements. A pamphlet would not have stopped the spread of AIDS. Recognize.

  • CyART – CiprianFlorea

    This was the worst interview I listened in the whole show, besides bad jokes, nothing scientific, every time the poor Dr Lipkin try to respond to a question is interrupted by everyone, I do not know why you invited him, to making fun of him ??? Hi did not get to say anything. BAD SHOW, VERY BAD SHOW,

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  • Snake

    After listening to this one, sadly, I’ve to agree with the most of the comments here. Eugene is not my cup of tea usually, but he is here simply annoying. “What if you bite his ding-dong ? Hohoho !”. C’mon man. And please, don’t tell me “You don’t like Eugene because you don’t have a sense of humor”. I love humor (Maybe better than you, actually. Who knows ?), and I love the fact that there is comedians in Start Talk. Here’s my little analysis on why you see in the comment a clear separation between “Eugene fans” and “Chuck Nice fans” especially :

    – Eugene’s style of humor is the sarcastic adolescent. He likes dirty jokes, and he does a LOT of sarcastic comments, wich would be very, very rude if it wasnt humorous. It is humorous, and I don’t think Eugene is a mean guy. It’s just his style. Bashing and trashing both Neil and the guest, he also have this speciality of interrumpting and “imposing” his jokes, wich is especially visible and anoying in this podcast wich could have been very interesting. Lots of comments are going this way here. Eugene’s a “one-liner” type of guy, but his jokes I think are pretty…bad anyway. But it’s just my opinion. He also seems pretty un-interested of the science he comes onto. You never hear hime says “WOW ! That was AWESOME !”, just “yeah, I learn a lot with you.” at the beguinning when talking about their twitter acounts, like a tradition or a disclaimer.

    – Chuck Nice’s style is more one of a child, and is more centered on his acting than his words. He likes to take little voices, to make you feel how mind-blown he is about what Neil or Bill said. And I think it’s better : he actually REACTS to what Neil/Bill says, were Eugene seems to be there to place a list of one-liner he have with him. Coming back on Chuck, he is utterly lovable : He never trashes anybody, but instead praise with the passion of someone who is really blown by the science and knowledge he comes onto. More, he also places a lot of his jokes with speed, but always when everybody finished talking, or with a low voice, not interrupting the dialog, like he’s excusing himself of joking during those brain teasing. When the joke works, everyone laught and celebrate; when it doesn’t (Rarely), everyone keeps going, and no time is wasted.

    I’m sorry, Eugene. I really can’t bear your style, as your personnality always clashes with others, and as you try to take the spotlight on you. It seems like you’re on Star Talk to tell jokes at any cost, and I don’t think you should. I think you should be here to make those discussion more interesting, accessible and passionate, as Chuck does, and let science be the priority here !

    For Eugene fans : There will always be a place for Eugene on Star Talk whatever happens anyway, I know it. It’s just my opinion, but I wanted to state this as I really don’t like some comments that says “You don’t like Eugene because you don’t have any humor”. No : I don’t like HIS humor. He’s never lovable or interesting to me as he presents himself this way, and this podcast without him would have been way better for me. But it’s not the end of the world, and do love him if you like him ! Just please stay objective and constructive in your debate, instead of insulting the sense of humor whoever has a different opinion.

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