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February 21, 2005

Global patterns in terrorism; follow-up

Looks like my article with Maxwell Young is picking up some more steam. Phillip Ball, a science writer who often writes for the Nature Publishing Group, authored a very nice little piece which draws heavily on our results. You can read the piece itself here. It's listed under the "muse@nature" section, and I'm not quite sure what that means, but the article is nicely thought-provoking. Here's an excerpt from it:

And the power-law relationship implies that the biggest terrorist attacks are not 'outliers': one-off events somehow different from the all-too-familiar suicide bombings that kill or maim just a few people. Instead, it suggests that they are somehow driven by the same underlying mechanism.

Similar power-law relationships between size and frequency apply to other phenomena, such as earthquakes and fluctuations in economic markets. This indicates that even the biggest, most infrequent earthquakes are created by the same processes that produce hordes of tiny ones, and that occasional market crashes are generated by the same internal dynamics of the marketplace that produce daily wobbles in stock prices. Analogously, Clauset and Young's study implies some kind of 'global dynamics' of terrorism.

Moreover, a power-law suggests something about that mechanism. If every terrorist attack were instigated independently of every other, their size-frequency relationship should obey the 'gaussian' statistics seen in coin-tossing experiments. In gaussian statistics, very big fluctuations are extremely rare - you will hardly ever observe ten heads and ninety tails when you toss a coin 100 times. Processes governed by power-law statistics, in contrast, seem to be interdependent. This makes them far more prone to big events, which is why giant tsunamis and market crashes do happen within a typical lifetime. Does this mean that terrorist attacks are interdependent in the same way?

Here's a bunch of other places that have picked it up or are discussing it; the sites with original coverage about our research are listed first, while the rest are (mostly) just mirroring other sites:

(February 10) Physics Web (news site [original])

(February 18) Nature News (news site [original])

(March 2) World Science (news site [original])

(March 5) Watching America (news? (French) (Google cache) [original])

(March 5) Brookings Institute (think tank [original])

(March 19) Die Welt (one of the big three German daily newspapers (translation) [original] (in German))

3 Quarks Daily (blog, this is where friend Cosma Shalizi originally found the Nature pointer)

Science Forum (a lovely discussion)

The Anomalist (blog, Feb 18 news)

Science at ORF.at (news blog (in German))

Indymedia@UK (blog)

Wissenschaft-online (news (in German))

Economics Roundtable (blog)

Physics Forum (discussion)

Spektrum Direkt (news (in German))

Manila Times (Philippines news)

Rantburg (blog, good discussion in the comments)

Unknown (blog (in Korean))

Neutrino Unbound (reading list)

Discarded Lies (blog)

Global Guerrilas (nice blog by John Robb who references our work)

TheMIB (blog)

NewsTrove (news blog/archive)

The Green Man (blog, with some commentary)

Sapere (newspaper (in Italian)

Almanacco della Scienza (news? (in Italian))

Logical Meme (conservative blog)

Money Science (discussion forum (empty))

Always On (blog with discussion)

Citebase ePrint (citation information)
Crumb Trail (blog, thoughtful coverage)

LookSmart's Furl (news mirror?)

A Dog That Can Read Physics Papers (blog (in Japanese))

Tyranny Response Unit News (blog)

Chiasm Blog (blog)

Focosi Politics (blog?)

vsevcosmos LJ (blog)

larnin carves the blogck (blog (German?))

Brothers Judd (blog)

Gerbert (news? (French))

Dr. Frantisek Slanina (homepage, Czech)

Ryszard Benedykt (some sort of report/paper (Polish))

Mohammad Khorrami (translation of Physics Web story (Persian))

CyberTribe (blog)

Feedz.com (new blog)

The Daily Grail (blog)

Wills4223 (blog)

Mathematics Magazine

Physics Forum (message board)


Tempers Ball (message board)

A lot of these places reference each other. Seems like most of them are getting their information from either our arxiv posting, the PhysicsWeb story, or now the Nature story. I'll keep updating this list, as more places pick it up.

Update: It's a little depressing to me that the conservatives seem to be latching onto the doom-and-gloom elements of our paper as being justification for the ill-named War on Terrorism.

Update: A short while ago, we were contacted by a reporter for Die Welt, one of the three big German daily newspapers, who wanted to do a story on our research. If the story ever appears online, I'll post a link to it.

posted February 21, 2005 12:33 PM in Scientifically Speaking | permalink


Sorry that I did not link to the original at the Tyranny Response Unit. I changed templates and lost the hyperlink feature of the title. And no, we are not conservative doomsdayers.

You wrote a good article on a depressing topic. Be happy that a lot of people are reading it and value your reasearch.

You can't control your audience - would it be better if rosy-eyed liberals were blogging it? I guess people will want to politicize anything academic.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 8, 2005 07:03 PM