# The Naked Scientists Forum

### Author Topic: Can we predict when insurgents will strike?  (Read 3232 times)

#### thedoc

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##### Can we predict when insurgents will strike?
« on: 27/05/2010 11:35:22 »
Michael Spagat discusses how insurgent events can be modelled to deal with future attacks...
Read a transcript of the interview by clicking here
« Last Edit: 27/05/2010 11:35:22 by _system »

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##### Can we predict when insurgents will strike?
« Reply #1 on: 27/04/2011 04:17:48 »
Physicist Neil Johnson, University of Miami, has an interesting mathematical analysis of insurgent and terrorist activity reported in Discover magazine by Andrew Curry ( newbielink:http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/07-the-mathematics-of-terrorism [nonactive]).  Data from Columbia, Iraq, and Peru, plotting the number of casualties and frequency of attacks, are distributed as a power curve rather than a bell curve: many attacks with few casualties progressing to very few attacks with large numbers of victims.  A power curve is also characteristic of stock market behavior and subatomic particles -- in other words, the activity fits a pattern that does not require behavioral information about the particular individuals or groups involved.  His analysis posits that one crucial element is the presence of media: attention is more the point than body count.  So if the character of the insurgents themselves is influential at all, it is the desire to be the only one making an attack on any particular day.  But since there are a lot of decentralized groups who are not reporting to a single command (as would happen in a regular army) there is a clustering phenomenon.  This analysis leads more to expectation than precise prediction:  one small attack is worth going on alert for more of the same, while really large-scale attacks like 9/11, unlikely to occur in rapid sequence, just become more likely as time passes.  The particularly unsettling aspect to the last observation is that, if the model really does describe the overall pattern of attacks as more mechanical than behavioral, predicting large-scale attacks becomes like predicting earthquakes: there is an inevitability about them that is independent of efforts to prevent them.  We don't expect to prevent a massive earthquake in California; we focus on trying to survive it as well as possible.

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##### Can we predict when insurgents will strike?
« Reply #1 on: 27/04/2011 04:17:48 »