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.
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