The work, by researchers who use formulas to predict the spread of diseases, suggests Bieber fever may be the most contagious disease of our time, able to infect and re-infect a generation of children. And mathematical models predict it may not abate any time soon.
In fact, only a strong dose of the Lindsay Lohan effect — sustained negative publicity — is likely to extinguish the widespread obsession with musical mega-star Justin Bieber, according to the authors, who hail from the University of Ottawa.
"Tabloid journalism may be our last best hope against total apocalyptic infection," warn master's student Valerie Tweedle and her professor, Robert J. Smith? — that's not a typo, the question mark is part of his name — in a chapter in an upcoming book, "Understanding the Dynamics of Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases Using Mathematical Models."
Symptoms of Bieber fever include uncontrollable crying and/or screaming, excessive purchasing of memorabilia, distraction from everyday life and poor life choices, such as copying Bieber's signature hairdo, their study suggests.
"Through constant exposure, Bieber fever has incubated and spread. Millions are already infected, with more at risk every day. Action is urgently needed," the authors say.
Urgent action is needed? Seriously? Well, perhaps not.
The study is a real modelling exercise, with the phenomenal growth in Bieber's popularity — as evidenced by Twitter mentions and Google searches — used as a stand-in for the way an infectious disease spreads. Tweedle's original work, on which the chapter is based, helped earned her an A-plus in Smith?'s class.
But the two aren't suggesting the world's youth — or their parents — need to be protected from the Ontario-born Bieber. Nor are they advocating bringing down the baby-faced "Baby" singer with a plague of nasty headlines.
In fact, elsewhere in the study they warn that what has kept Biebermania at a fever pitch is a pulsing pattern of publicity: an attention-generating event like a CD release or a new haircut, followed by a lull, followed by another development to bring the 18-year-old back to the media forefront.
The work suggests all Bieber, all the time would probably lead to Bieber burnout.
"If he's on every magazine cover every month and so on, what eventually happens is of course people say 'Ah, I'm bored of Bieber. He's just everywhere,'" Smith? explains.
"Whereas if they stagger it and so you have a burst of publicity and then you let it breathe for awhile and then you have another burst, in that way you can sustain something that would otherwise die out —almost indefinitely."
Smith? changed his name, legally, to stand out from the hoards of Robert Smiths out there, including in the research world.
If standing out is the goal, his work helps. A couple of years ago Smith? garnered international headlines with an earlier modelling study exploring how the world could survive an attack of zombies.
But back to Bieber.
"Obviously it's not formally a disease, but it has the hallmarks of a disease," Smith? says about The Fever. "And so it behaves the way a disease would."
Case in point: Smith? recently visited a friend's elementary school classroom, where every single nine-year-old knew of Bieber and all but one liked the singer.
He also spent some time in Senegal in April, teaching master's level mathematics to students from across Africa. All his students there knew Bieber as well.
"We do all have this common language now," Smith? says. "We all speak Bieber."
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