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Insurgent Attacks Follow Mathematical Pattern 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the news-from-terminus dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Nature reports that data collected 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, suggest that insurgencies have a common underlying pattern that may allow the timing of attacks and the number of casualties to be predicted. 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. This 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). 'We found that the way in which humans do insurgent wars — that is, the number of casualties and the timing of events — is universal,' says team leader Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami in Florida. 'This changes the way we think insurgency works.' To explain what was driving this common pattern, the researchers created a mathematical model which assumes that insurgent groups form and fragment when they sense danger, and strike in well-timed bursts to maximize their media exposure. Johnson 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. 'We do observe a complicated pattern that has to do with the way humans do violence in some collective way,' adds Johnson."
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Insurgent Attacks Follow Mathematical Pattern

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  • Uhuh (Score:5, Funny)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @10:47AM (#30498430)
    I saw this on "Numb3rs!"
    • Re:Uhuh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 2.7182 (819680) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @10:57AM (#30498470)
      Warning - a lot of things look like they follow a power law. You need a lot of data to be sure.
      • Re:Uhuh (Score:4, Informative)

        by Chysn (898420) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:05AM (#30498506)

        a lot of things look like they follow a power law. You need a lot of data to be sure.

        Sadly,there's been an assload of data.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Indeed. You don't get insurgents without an occupying power*.

          * For the semantic pedants: While technically insurgents could resist a domestic government, it's been the case in the 20th century and since that insurgent warfare is a response to invading forces.

          • Re:Uhuh (Score:5, Insightful)

            by elnyka (803306) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @05:43PM (#30500686) Homepage

            Indeed. You don't get insurgents without an occupying power*.

            * For the semantic pedants: While technically insurgents could resist a domestic government, it's been the case in the 20th century and since that insurgent warfare is a response to invading forces.

            Uh, really, explain to me which were the invading forces that triggered a response from the following which are perhaps best known and most representatives of 20th insurgency: - UNITA insurgency during the Angolan Civil war) (Angola)

            - Tamil Tigers (Sri Lanka)

            - Lord's Resistance Army (Uganda)

            - AFDL (Congo)

            - FSLN/MILPAS/Contras (Nicaragua) - FMLF (El Salvador) - Shining Path (Peru) - Tupac Amaru (Peru) - EZLN (Mexico) - CPN-M (Nepal)

            - India's Naxalite insurgents

            - People's Mujahedin of Iran

      • Re:Uhuh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:11AM (#30498530) Journal
        Sure, but barring nukes and WMDs, it should be expected that it's harder for a group to kill 100 people in one incident, than it is for them to kill 10 people.

        So I'm not sure how useful this pattern is.

        My dinner spending patterns might follow a mathematical pattern too. I spend 10 bucks on dinner a lot more often than I spend 100 bucks. Whoopee.
        • Re:Uhuh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by BrokenHalo (565198) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @12:59PM (#30499176)
          I'm not even sure that a major premise of their pattern is correct. From the submission: the researchers created a mathematical model which assumes that insurgent groups form and fragment when they sense danger, and strike in well-timed bursts to maximize their media exposure.

          One could probably form a strong argument (perhaps even with a valid mathematical basis) that suggests that so-called "insurgent" actions have worn out their welcome, and news of them floats in a featureless sea of similar actions. It doesn't help the "insurgents'" cause that they have little record for being nice to their own people, so they can only garner support from the most polarised of those they choose to leave alive.
          • news of them floats in a featureless sea of similar actions

            Media channels have a fixed capacity. There's exactly this much first page in printed papers, only so many minutes of prime time news.

            News reports don't depend linearly on atrocities committed, they are a mix where whatever is considered newsworthy is given a portion of the available space.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 2stein (871221)

        Warning - a lot of things look like they follow a power law.

        Exactly. And in case it doesn't fit into a power law, you can probably make it fit into a Gaussian distribution.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by 600Burger (986100)
        Luckily our government is dedicated to collecting the valuable data, in vast quantities.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timeOday (582209)

        Warning - a lot of things look like they follow a power law.

        There is a whole cottage industry of trying to fit power laws to data and being amazed whenever it fits. I guess I don't understand this one though; it sounds like they're just saying small attacks are more numerous than large attacks, which would seem obvious. What am I missing?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 19, 2009 @04:04PM (#30500276)

          What they are saying is that regardless of culture, location, enviroment decade, reasons behind the conflict, etc., the relation between large and small attacks appears to be a constant.

          That wasn't obvious at all.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            What they are saying is that regardless of culture, location, enviroment decade, reasons behind the conflict, etc., the relation between large and small attacks appears to be a constant.

            I wonder if said constant relationship is the implicit criteria that we use to label the conflict an "insurgency" in the first place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by habig (12787)
        Warning - a lot of things look like they follow a power law. You need a lot of data to be sure.

        More interestingly, many things which are at their heart completely random follow power laws.

        For example, the arrival time distributions of cosmic rays, or the energy distribution of those particles one might observe. (ok, so I'm a cosmic ray physicist, so that's the topic I think a lot about). Thus, you can't use this information to predict anything about any one cosmic ray (or insurgent attack). What yo

    • by jo42 (227475)

      The math in 'Numb3rs' is the IT version of "A GUI interface in VB to track an IP address" in CSI:NY...

  • by sp332 (781207) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @10:49AM (#30498438)
    Sean Gourley shows that if the exponent is larger or smaller than 2.5, the war becomes unsustainable and ends fairly quickly. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sean_gourley_on_the_mathematics_of_war.html [ted.com]
    • by Kagura (843695) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:03AM (#30498490)
      The vast majority of casualties are from insurgents targeting other civilians, not from insurgents targeting multi-national forces. It hasn't been a war since June of 2003... just an extended police action versus a religious or nationalist insurgencies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sp332 (781207)
        As usual, there is a difference between the law and reality. It may not officially be a war, but it is definitely a war. :)
        • No, a war is a reciprocated armed conflict between two or more factions; these are just massacres.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            So World War Two didn't start when Germany took over Poland with almost no resistance? Good to know.

            • by psycho12345 (1134609) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @04:11PM (#30500314)
              Actually no it didn't, world war 2 started with the declarations of war by the British, the British Commonwealth, and France in response to the invasion of Poland by Germany. Remember that Germany had effectively already taken over Czechoslovakia and Austria with no resistance and it wasn't consider war at that point.
              • by Daimanta (1140543)

                Well, there is no fixed start date of World War II only fixed dates of the smaller wars inside the total conflict. It's true that France and the UK declared war on Germany when they invaded Poland but by the media of the time it was referred to as a ghost war or a phony war(the french called it a joke of a war). Ofcourse that all changed when Germany initiated "Fall Gelb" and attacked the Benelux in order to properly invade France.

                The war activity went full force from that moment on. When the US bombed pear

            • Mind boggles reading garbage like this offered as at the end of the sentence as if it was a fact.

              Do you consider over 80,000 killed within a span of a few weeks (15,000 Germans, over 65,000 Poles) as "almost no resistance"? How about the fact Germany lost nearly 700 tanks and over 500 aircraft in the same short amount of time? That is "almost no resistance"? Where did you learn history?

          • It is not a WAR. War can only be declared by congress so it must be avoided officially because it is not legal. Politically, it is a war and not a war whenever the need arises to be either - and the public falls for it.

            Which leads to the next point: insurgents have good reason to be unhappy with the people who stand bye and do nothing which empowers their enemy. The military/police can also be unkind to those who help insurgents or do nothing - not that one can equate them, after all the people pay to suppo

    • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:58AM (#30498786)

      Excellent point. But it make me question his definition of an insurgency.

      Apparently, an insurgency that's crushed quickly doesn't count as an insurgency. And an insurgency that grows into a civil war doesn't count as an insurgency.

      Only if the counter-insurgency is somewhat effective in reducing but not eliminating the number of attacks does he include it in his data set. In conclusion (and most remarkably) the data in his data set show a strong correlation across "insurgencies".

      • by foobsr (693224) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @01:35PM (#30499458) Homepage Journal
        In conclusion (and most remarkably) the data in his data set show a strong correlation across "insurgencies".

        Which may lead to the conclusion that the 'law' that he found describes his inclusion concept (friendly version).
        or
        He fine-tuned his inclusion algorithm to the point that he could publish a valid 'law' and thus be eligible for DHS funding (reality insurges).

        CC.
    • Thanks for that; I *KNEW* this sounded familiar and had seen it, or something like it, once before.

    • by mangu (126918)

      Sean Gourley shows that if the exponent is larger or smaller than 2.5, the war becomes unsustainable and ends fairly quickly.

      Nothing new under the sun. What he's saying it's that you shouldn't waste your efforts either in doing too many attacks that kill a few people each, or in doing a few attacks to kill a huge bunch of people each.

      • by St.Creed (853824)

        Or you can nuke everyone and that will end fairly quickly as well...

        Just pointing out an alternative option :)

  • by belthize (990217) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:04AM (#30498498)

        I don't see what it is they think they've discovered. If you take a loose collection of 5000 people with a weak desire to cooperate you're going to get way more groupings of 10 than 100 than 1000. The desire for safety in numbers is offset by the risk of exposure by size. In fact I'd have drawn almost exactly their curve if somebody had asked what the distribution would look like.

        If the likelihood of an event is a coupled with critical mass of groupings then the event distribution will follow pretty much the same curve.

        If somebody understands what it is these folks found could you explain it.

    • by forand (530402) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:44AM (#30498710) Homepage
      I believe the post right above yours [slashdot.org] brings the point home: the specific exponential power law followed appears to be unstable. That is if the frequency of attacks differs in a specific conflict the conflict ends shortly. The poster above nicely provided a link to a TED talk [ted.com]
      Also being able to draw a straight line on a log log plot is all well and good but if you get the slope off by even a small amount you will soon be orders of magnitude off in your predictions. Thus while you might expect a power-law distribution from simple arguments getting the specific value is much more difficult.
      • by belthize (990217) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @12:28PM (#30498954)

        Hmm, well shame on me, I saw the talk existed but expected just a verbal representation of the article.

        I had missed the point about stability around alpha. I have to admit the graphs of alpha vs events like the surge or elections are pretty interesting.

        Equally interesting though is the rapid return to alpha=2.5. I guess the real question at this point would be: Can repeated examinations of alpha be used to measure the positive effect of a strategy or is it merely a measure of the temporary perturbation and inevitable return to 2.5 because humans are after all humans and 2.5 merely represents the steady state of humans desire for coalescence vs fragmentation.

            In short it's a question of cause and effect. Would a different species have a different alpha that's just as stable because it's a reflection of their physiology and psychology.

            The research is certainly more interesting than I originally credited, thanks.

        • Correlation (Score:3, Insightful)

          Solid post. This comment

          Can repeated examinations of alpha be used to measure the positive effect of a strategy or is it merely a measure of the temporary perturbation and inevitable return to 2.5 because humans are after all humans and 2.5 merely represents the steady state of humans desire for coalescence vs fragmentation.

          is about the best "correlation vs. causation" post I've seen lately.
          Correlation vs. Causation has turned into an overused meme IMO-- not around here, just digg and reddit.

    • by Livius (318358)

      I'm sure there's something important in the details, but power laws always turn up in statistically independent events.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:10AM (#30498524)

    Insurgent: "Hey, chief, there's a big column of Americans coming! Let's skank 'em!"

    Chief: "Hold on, let me get out my calculator . . . damn it! I should have paid more attention to the Linear Programming and Game Theory courses at the Madrasah! Go ahead and attack . . . then turn on CNN to see if we got any media exposure. And please bring me some more pencils and paper . . . this mathematically based insurgency strategy *really* sucks!"

  • dont work when they know the predictions too. Even if is just to prove that they have free will.
    • Creating a recursive function doesn't mean the problem isn't computable.
      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Put it this way. I have a big fat complex math formula that say that you will reply this message. I announce here that you will, and you are aware that i said so. You will answer it? you are forced to do that or can choose knowing that "prediction" to not do it?
        • If your big complex math formula was complete, it would be able to take into account the reaction to the output. The only way you could announce that "you will reply" is if the formula converged to that answer.
          Unless you compelety mapped my brain and had complete understanding of how information is procssed and the relationship between inputs and outpus, the model you create would be incomplete.
          To get around the lack of understanding of very complex systems, we use statistics to determine the probability o
  • I don't believe that they have enough data to accurately model the size and time of a future attack - but let's just say for a minute that they did. That information is still useless without a location.
  • This is a really interesting article. Although the point out the weaknesses of the theories behind the attacks, it is interesting that there is a pattern at all. Perhaps one way to look at this might be the same way we determined the validity of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Basically, the researchers looked for patterns within certain target groups (e.g., depressed, schizophrenic, bipolar) and detected answer patterns. In the same way, detecting the patterns of attack without at

  • by Dunbal (464142)

    It will be interesting to see if there is any real "predictive" value behind this hypothesis. There's only one way to find out, and that's waiting to see if FUTURE (not past) data correlates with the model. Then there's the whole argument about the model itself changing the way insurgents are dealt with (since I assume the security forces aren't going to sit around and wait for people to die if the model predicts a "high" probability) and thus changing the expected results. And what about people being ident

    • by phiwum (319633)

      It will be interesting to see if there is any real "predictive" value behind this hypothesis. There's only one way to find out, and that's waiting to see if FUTURE (not past) data correlates with the model.

      Yes, that will be interesting.

      And what about people being identified as "terrorists" on circumstantial evidence strictly because of the "higher probability" of an imminent attack?

      The researchers didn't suggest that their model can or should be used to identify terrorists. You seem to be sliding down a slippery slope.

  • by Sanat (702)

    I know that if I continuously flip a coin that it will come up "heads" about one half of the time.

    But, that does not mean I know whether the next flip will be "heads" or "tails".

    • by lorenlal (164133)

      Your case assumes true randomness. We're dealing with a large group of humans, and humans have tendencies. This is more like predicting what the caller will say based on data like previous flips...

      Of course, my example is still overly simplified, but closer to the intent and idea of the article... I think.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sanat (702)

        Of course, you are correct. Thanks for the additional input.

        My position was though was that the randomness instead of being 50-50 like the coin flip might instead be 60-40 or even 70-30 but still a large unknown exists to predict with any sense of integrity of accuracy.

        Perhaps if it collapsed nearer to 100% such as 95-5 or 98-2 then I could see a usefulness for predicating a potential.

        It does remind me of the old adage "Figures lie and liers figure"

  • Just Biology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pz (113803) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:26AM (#30498620) Journal

    The result is cool, and important in the details, but is not that interesting in terms of breaking new ground. As a biologist, having measured countless number of behavioral parameters that all follow power laws, it is not surprising that yet another biological behavior, waging a particlar kind of war in this case, follows a power law. That part is ho-hum.

    Similarly it would only surprise me if things like, oh, the size of undergraduate populations at different universities, the number of cars in each country, the number of stray dogs in each city, the average brain mass for each species, or the number of bullets used in any given firefight, do NOT follow a power law. It's just biology. That's the way things work.

    And, to keep things in perspective, I'm just a biologist. It could be that all natural phenomena follow that sort of pattern, like the mass of celestial objects, the surface areas of land masses, the percent cloud cover at each point on Earth, etc. The basic idea of power laws -- lots of small versions of a thing, only a few big ones, and a smooth distribution between -- seems inherently universal to my small brain.

    • by pgn674 (995941)

      And, to keep things in perspective, I'm just a biologist. It could be that all natural phenomena follow that sort of pattern, like the mass of celestial objects, the surface areas of land masses, the percent cloud cover at each point on Earth, etc. The basic idea of power laws -- lots of small versions of a thing, only a few big ones, and a smooth distribution between -- seems inherently universal to my small brain.

      Yeah, it is observed in non-biological systems [wikipedia.org], too. Interesting to note that power laws help explain why Benford's law exists.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The basic idea of power laws -- lots of small versions of a thing, only a few big ones, and a smooth distribution between -- seems inherently universal to my small brain.

      The reason the basic idea sounds familiar to not just you but everybody here is that it is the characterizing property of fractals [wikipedia.org]. I wouldn't go so far as to relate this idea to biology per se, however. It commonly occurs in physics as well.

      Intuitively, fractals (and therefore power laws) ought to arise whenever a finite resource i

  • Cosma Shalizi [cmu.edu] rants a lot about scientists' (often physicists') claims about having found a power law description of some empirical phenomenon (upshot: finding a straight line on a log-log plot isn't enough). See the following:

    http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/491.html [umich.edu]
    http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notebooks/power-laws.html [umich.edu]

  • Publishing this just upset the pattern. Knowledge should not be released to the public as they can use it for bad purposes!! They are just supporting the terrorists, warning them of their mistakes.

    ( just being sarcastic here.. people are stupid, they will ALWAYS follow patterns, and information should always be free )

  • Human Solidarity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psnyder (1326089) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:34AM (#30498654)

    the way in which humans do insurgent wars — that is, the number of casualties and the timing of events — is universal

    Did anyone else find it ironic that human solidarity was found in acts against human solidarity?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:35AM (#30498660)

    I wonder what mathematical laws are in play that results in the reported number of insurgents killed during any attack by coalition forces weirdly hovering around 30. Google "30 Taliban killed", or "30 insurgents killed", or "30 militants killed" and you see a lot results going all the way back when the wars were started. See this blog entry http://securitycrank.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/winning-the-war-30-taliban-at-a-time/ [wordpress.com] for more discussion.

    • by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @01:49PM (#30499576) Homepage Journal

      Ehhhh... I don't think so.

      A series of searches of "x insurgents killed" yields:

      2= 14,700
      3= 30,700
      4= 164,000
      5= 20,000 results
      10= 160,000
      15= 64,000
      20= 306,000
      25= 41,000
      30= 58,400
      31= 10
      32= 75,400
      33= 4,460
      34= 26,400
      35= 36,000
      40= 57,000
      41= 484
      42= 28,400
      43= 9
      44= 1
      45= 9,180

      I think it would be difficult to draw any conclusions about how many insurgents are killed at once. How do you decide when an incident starts and ends? Operations can last days. How close do they have to be to each other when they die? I can almost guarantee that we are taking out insurgents one by one or two by two for the most part. They don't run around in packs of 30, they sneak at night in pairs.

      That's just my experience, though. Keep your fun little "23" theory.

      -b

    • by sznupi (719324)

      If true, it might have something to do with the max size of close social group that humans form; it falls somewhere in "up to 30" range.

    • by fbjon (692006)
      I don't really see the pattern. Does 30 somehow stand out more than other numbers, such as 20, 25, or 40 etc? Not that I can see. Also, googling for "x people killed" is completely misleading, as it only says in how many articles/blogs that phrase appears, which depends on whether some of those incidents were more or less interesting to the media than others.

      That blog entry links to this article: Timeline Pakistan 2009 [wordpress.com]. Looking through those, I see no pattern at all. In fact, I'd argue that there is a stro

  • Hari Seldon. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jhon (241832) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:36AM (#30498668) Homepage Journal

    'nuff said.

  • So, the bloody results of combat can be quantified using a few formulas and tables?

      I think a few wargame designers at Avalon Hill are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes right now.

  • Everyone tag this "psychohistory" or "seldonplan."
    • by Quebec (35169) *

      Your comment is the most pertinent of all here, it's sad it didn't get noticed.

      A Seldonist.

  • Consider, for example, the quality and snarkiness of comments on Slashdot.

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday December 19, 2009 @11:45AM (#30498716) Homepage Journal

    Let's see. It takes more energy, time, and complexity, to move into place the resources needed for a bigger attack. So, its not really surprising at all that bigger attacks occur less frequently or even obey a power law.

    • by cpghost (719344)
      It's not surprising that the occur less frequently, but that the exponent is the same across different wars and cultures did come as a surprise.
      • by tjstork (137384)

        It's not surprising that the occur less frequently, but that the exponent is the same across different wars and cultures did come as a surprise.

        Not really. It's very likely the researchers threw out things and emphasized others to get the story that there was an exponential commonality to wars.

  • The 2.5 Exponent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @12:03PM (#30498806) Homepage

    The value of the exponent is interesting. If one assumes that the smallest attacks happen roughly once a day then the attacks that are an order of magnitude larger happen about once a year. This implies that there may be some sort of calendar event that triggers these larger events. If these events can be identified then it may help avoid some of the large attacks. It would be interesting to check this by looking at the timing of the largest attacks in the data set that was used for this study.

    • by wjh31 (1372867)
      There is a huge difference between an event happening about once a year, and happening once at the same time every year. A 1 year event wont have exactly one year between each even. Instead there will be on average a year between each event. It would not be unreasonable to see 2 years or a few months between a pair of 1 year events.

      While it may be true that some events are linked to events in a calendar, i believe you are interpereting what is actually said incorrectly.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mrsquid0 (1335303)

        That is certainly true, but it would be interesting to see if there is some sort of periodicity, particularly considering that there are many different annual events and cycles that could affect insurgencies and the way that they plan and carry out attacks. The 2.5 exponent may be completely unrelated to the year, but it is interesting that it does roughly correspond to an order of magnitude larger attack on roughly annual timescales.

        • by wjh31 (1372867)
          remember that there is nothing special about the number 10. If you didnt have any thumbs and were looking for a factor of 8 rather than ten, might you not be seeing this pattern? I believe that you are seeing patern where there is coincidence. Dont feel bad, that is a very human thing to do.

          I am in no way trying to write off the suggestion that annual celebrations might have an effect on event severity/frequency. This is a very valid suggestion, but perhaps a little outside of what this research is tacklin
          • Re:The 2.5 Exponent (Score:4, Interesting)

            by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @01:37PM (#30499474) Homepage

            Yes, we would see the same timescale regardless of the base that was used. The only difference would be the value of the exponent. The value of the exponent itself is not the key, it is the timescale that the exponent (in combination with the base) implies. The timescale may very well be a coincidence, but if it does merit some consideration to see if there is any evidence to suggest that the timescale is real. Fortunately, there are many tests that can be made to see if there is any evidence for some sort of periodicity or pseudo-periodicity. OF course, this whole idea falls apart if the timescale for the smallest attacks is significantly different from one day, which is another test of the hypothesis.

        • Re:The 2.5 Exponent (Score:5, Interesting)

          by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @02:01PM (#30499652) Homepage Journal

          These may be useful to you:

          http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/insurgency/etc/graph.html [pbs.org]

          http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/12/iraq_by_the_numbers.php [longwarjournal.org]

          I can't speak of afghanistan, but in iraq the insurgent attacks were higher and more effective:

          -when the ground was dry (moving around in iraq during the rainy season is a nightmare)
          -lots of blowing dust in the air, drastically reducing visibility
          -around dusk
          -toward the end of ramadan

          That's just a taste of all the factors that you'd have to account for to get an accurate map of insurgent behavior. Even then, I think it'd be pretty useless, since they are not a regular army and do not usually coordinate among cells. Maybe they want to attack, but the shipment from libya isn't here yet, so they wait for that but now the americans are getting suspicious so they launch all 20 of their libyan mortars at once and high-tail it out of there. Seems like a major, coordinated attack when in reality things are very different.

          Guaranteed to make your brain hurt.

          -b

  • The Art of War (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cenc (1310167) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @12:14PM (#30498858) Homepage

    Yea, who would have thought that war follows a predictable (even mathematical) pattern.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War [wikipedia.org]

    • by pclminion (145572)
      Stating that there is a pattern in something, and mathematically describing it in accurate detail are two very different things.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cenc (1310167)

        yea, the guys with this study likly failed at both. I am not sure I would want to be the guy in the field getting shot at when it turns out they got one of the variables wrong (which from the article seems like they got more than a few wrong like this B.S. about the media).

        My point was more aimed at the people that thought this was somehow a special discovery. The Art of War contains many specific (if not basic) formulas, mostly in regards to economics, about the nature of troop strengths, cost fielding tro

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @12:36PM (#30499014)

    ...if we brought them all home?

    • by Rayonic (462789)

      ...if we brought them all home?

      If we brought all of the insurgents home? I don't know if that's feasible. I mean, are they even housebroken?

      Oh... you meant if we bring all our soldiers home. Well, since the insurgents generally attack the local government and civilians, I don't think their behavior would change very much.

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday December 19, 2009 @01:47PM (#30499560)

    Power laws are ubiquitous in human affairs - almost everything we do as a group involves power laws. This works for the size of cities and the sale of books and traffic to web sites, so I am not surprised it also happens in insurgent attacks.

    Whether that will actually result in the effectiveness of Army tactics is another question, and, frankly, I am dubious. The sale of hit records follows a power law, but knowing that doesn't make me into a better musician.

  • One more study to (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AnAdventurer (1548515)
    Just what we need, another mathematical model show people are numbers and the dead and wounded (wounded; not like a broken finger, but like arm GONE) are only statistics.
  • I think a lot of comments above miss a more important point, that knowing the attacks follow a power law distribution (for argument's sake) still doesn't help predict individual events. Really, unless you're placing bets on terrorism (google for "futures market terrorism Poindexter") this won't help you much.
  • Interesting... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tengeta (1594989)
    Sir you are under arrest for a crime you would be committing in an hour. Our equation said so.
  • Patterns... (Score:2, Interesting)

    "Restate my assumptions: One, Mathematics is the language of nature. Two, Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. Three: If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: The cycling of disease epidemics;the wax and wane of caribou populations; sun spot cycles; the rise and fall of the Nile. So, what about the stock market? The universe of numbers that represents the global economy. Millions of hands at work
  • for the insurgents. As soon as this analysis becomes part of DOD operational planning, they can choose to attack in ways that don't match the pattern.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

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