Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Universal Pattern for Insurgents?

From this week's Nature:
The researchers collected data on the timing of attacks and number of casualties from more than 54,000 events across nine insurgent wars, including those fought in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 and in Sierra Leone between 1994 and 2003. By plotting the distribution of the frequency and size of events, the team found that insurgent wars follow an approximate power law, in which the frequency of attacks decreases with increasing attack size to the power of 2.5. That means that for any insurgent war, an attack with 10 casualties is 316 times more likely to occur than one with 100 casualties (316 is 10 to the power of 2.5).


To explain what was driving this common pattern, the researchers created a mathematical model that assumes that insurgent groups form and fragment when they sense danger, and strike in well-timed bursts to maximize their media exposure. The model gave results that resembled the power-law distribution of actual attacks.
This all seems a bit too easy, although I must admit I have not delved into the details of the actual model. I'm also a bit wary of the predictive power of the model, as with "He is now working to predict how the insurgency in Afghanistan might respond to the influx of foreign troops recently announced by US President Barack Obama". But at least this is yet one more case of a purported mathematical explanation in science.

1 comment:

徐若瑄Vivian said...
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