Method predicts reliable patterns in violent events occurring within wars and terrorism

October 18, 2018, Royal Holloway, University of London
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new paper written by academics at Royal Holloway and George Washington University, predicts reliable patterns in violent events occurring within wars and terrorism, regardless of geography, ethnicity and religion.

The paper, "Fundamental patterns and predictions of event-size distributions in modern wars and terrorist campaigns," published by PLOS ONE, is by Royal Holloway's Professor Michael Spagat, independent researcher, Stijn van Weezel and Neil F. Johnson from George Washington University.

The paper examines 273 armed conflicts and 60 terrorist campaigns with the goal of gaining greater understanding of the ways humans fight with each other.

The team can predict with reasonably accuracy the mixtures of events of different sizes, for example, the number of events killing 10 or more people compared to the number of events killing 20 or more people.

The mix of violent events of different sizes looks similar across the full range of modern wars and terrorist campaigns. In fact, it is possible to make good predictions on the distributions of event sizes for wars on one continent based only on event size data taken from another continent.

The ISIS of recent years fits right in the middle of the team's prediction range.

This research programme began in 2009 with a publication in Nature by Johnson, Spagat and other co-authors.

That paper focused on event-size data from nine modern conflicts where the size of an event, such as a suicide bombing or an air strike, is defined by the number of people killed.

The team for that article found that the size distribution of the within the conflicts they studied all looked alike, at least in terms of their event-size distributions.

Professor Mike Spagat, Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "The success in predicting such fundamental patterns within modern wars and terrorist campaigns suggests there is something about how humans fight with each other that remains stable across all sorts of diverse particulars such as time, geography, ethnicity and religion.

"It would be going too far to say that all modern wars are the same. But the predictability of event-size distributions suggests there are some very strong underlying similarities, and that is remarkable, given the apparently untamed nature of modern ."

Explore further: Predicting insurgent attacks with a mathematical model

More information: Michael Spagat et al. Fundamental patterns and predictions of event size distributions in modern wars and terrorist campaigns, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204639

Juan Camilo Bohorquez et al. Common ecology quantifies human insurgency, Nature (2009). DOI: 10.1038/nature08631

Related Stories

Predicting insurgent attacks with a mathematical model

December 17, 2009

When bombs and bullets left 37 dead during Friday prayers at a mosque in Pakistan, earlier this month, the insurgency was using the element of surprise. Unpredictability is the hallmark of modern insurgent attacks such as ...

The Mathematical Structure of Terrorism

May 22, 2006

The complex patterns of the natural world often turn out to be governed by relatively simple mathematical relationships. A seashell grows at a rate proportional to its size, resulting in a delicate spiral. The gossamer network ...

Sudden rise in the number of wars

January 9, 2015

The number of on-going wars exceeded ten during 2014, which is high compared to previous years since the new millennium. The increase from seven wars in 2013 is also the most significant increase in fifteen years, state researchers ...

Recommended for you

Machine learning identifies links between world's oceans

March 21, 2019

Oceanographers studying the physics of the global ocean have long found themselves facing a conundrum: Fluid dynamical balances can vary greatly from point to point, rendering it difficult to make global generalizations.

How fluid viscosity affects earthquake intensity

March 21, 2019

Fault zones play a key role in shaping the deformation of the Earth's crust. All of these zones contain fluids, which heavily influence how earthquakes propagate. In an article published today in Nature Communications, Chiara ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2018
A familiar scam, the power law.
They talk about "predicting", but never actually try to estimate when an event occurs, only how big it'll be.
In "determining" if a power law is present, an individual takes the logarithm of values of independent and dependent variables, then graph them against each other. If a straight line comes out, it is "concluded" that there is a power law working.
But logarithms squash values down so the most elaborate curve can look like a straight line. Even random values can.
Graph the logarithms of the mass and lifetime of a neutron, a pair of shoes, a sofa, a cloud, a snowflake, a battleship, an O-type star. Within the bounds of error, or "error", the points will resemble a straight line, "therefore" the relationship between life time and mass follows a power law.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Oct 19, 2018
My disagreement with this research would be. Once a potential enemy realizes you are "polling" them for analysis and projections? They will respond with feeding you false data. It is dubious to convince yourself that an opponent is incompetent before you meet them in battle.

This attitude of innate superiority is a festering, self-inflicted wound in American society. Celebrating with victory parades before the first battle.

Ah, jp, it is understandable why you hate modern society. Why you hate the scientists and engineers, the inventors and technical occupations. Those people leave you with the gnawing insecurity of uselessness and the innate feeling of inferiority that you are as obsolete as an alchemist or hedge-witch.

But it is ridiculous, it makes you look ridiculous! To the point of ludicrous, for you to hate on the methodology and tools of empirical experimentation and exploration. The tools are inanimate objects uncaring of your sensitive nature.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.