Views & Reviews Review of the Week

An outbreak of scientific accuracy

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 19 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6733
  1. Gavin Yamey, Global Health Group, University of California, San Francisco,
  2. Jimee Hwang, medical epidemiologist, CDC
  1. YameyG{at}

A new film about an outbreak of a new infectious disease pleasantly surprises Gavin Yamey and Jimee Hwang, because it’s one that finally gets the science right

Four things are certain in life: death, taxes, plagues, and movies about plagues. Almost every year, Hollywood releases yet another blockbuster outbreak film with an entirely formulaic plotline.

A highly lethal, usually flesh eating, microbe is unleashed upon the planet. Its victims turn into zombies, and the human race turns against itself. In I Am Legend, for example, the victims become “Darkseekers,” hiding during daylight but preying on living humans at night, and in 28 Days Later they are “The Infected,” an antisocial posse of rabid mutants (BMJ 2002;325:1119, doi:10.1136/bmj.325.7372.1119).

A sexy scientist labours tirelessly to fend off the plague. The male scientist works shirtless, so he can display his washboard abs (see Will Smith in I Am Legend); the female scientist works in high heels, designer suits, and lipstick that never fades (see Rene Russo in Outbreak).

Against all odds, and at astonishing speed, the scientist finds a cure, which often involves human blood (the cure was hiding inside us all along!). The planet is saved.

Such movies are gripping and wildly popular—I …

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