Thursday, 23 August 2012

Blood Ties, Comics and Morals

Our previous post proved, that popculture is a fertile ground for network analysis. We also found out that Peter Parker is not the only superhero with a net. Now it is time to take a look at previously undiscovered regions of network analysis.

The dedication of Marvel fans speaks for itself: the universe not only has its own Wikipedia, but an extensive character database too. A project called Marvel Chronology lists every appearance of every character that ever left ink on a panel – at least that is the idea. (Let the basic graphic outlay of the page not discourage you, the site itself claims that its sole purpose is to educate, not to please the eye.) This database got some scientists thinking: how different is this fictional world from ours? They compared the social structure of comics with real life patterns, and despite general statistical parallels, they discovered some odd things too. One of them was the fact that popular people in real life seek the company of other popular people, but not in comics. Spider-man and Captain America, two of the most popular Marvel vigilantes for example barely meet.

An American mathematician by the name Samuel Abersman took the idea to another level by examining a special kind of social bond, namely family ties. With a method usually used in population genetics, he calculated the inbreed coefficient (the higher the number, the higher the inbreeding) of characters. The real question was: how different are the two worlds? The subjects: the X-Men! The picture shows a visual aid and character network of mutants. At first glance the X-Men do not seem to be the inbreeding type, but a closer look reveals some black sheep. The deviants are Magneto’s twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who commit twincest on the pages of The Ultimates. Apart from that, the mutant inbreeding coefficients are rather low, outrunning some royal dynasties and a bunch of pharaohs in the race for moral heights.