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How inbred are superheroes?

At one point in my life I harbored dreams of being a comic book artist. I even had a comic book I wrote and illustrated published -- albeit through  a community college art class in ninth grade. Like all childhood dreams, eventually reality set in and the demons of self-doubt convinced me that comic books just weren't worth my time.

Like any aspiring comic book artist I read every comic book I could get my hands on. One of my favorites was The Uncanny X-Men. The thing that sets the X-Men apart from other comics is the sheer number of er, relations among the characters -- this character is that character's mother, this guy is that guy's brother from the future, etc. It was all very confusing and I though I never had the time or drive to investigate it, I was pretty sure that the X-Men family tree had some pretty tangled branches, if you get my drift.

My intuition was wrong. Samuel Arbesman has used a tool from the social sciences called Social Network Analysis -- most famously used to examine the influence of friendships on obesity in the Framingham heart study (click through for a cool graphic) -- to understand the family tree of the X-Men. They aren't as inbred as I thought they were. In fact, they have next to no inbreeding at all, which is a sharp contrast to real world examples like the lineages of pharaohs in ancient Egypt.

So glad to see that someone is lending their quantitative skills to these important questions.

This post originally appeared on Stuff Smart People Like. Subscribe to the Podcast.

1 comment:

  1. I'll see your handy X-men infographic and raise you the Wold Newton Family, "The Wold Newton Family is a group of heroic and villainous literary figures that science fiction author Philip José Farmer postulated belonged to the same genetic family."

    In essence, its a massive 'family tree' that connects such various literary characters as Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Doc Savage and many others.

    read more about it here (if you know how):

    Its purely apocryphal, but still entertaining.