It’s more than power-laws and statistics

by seangourley on December 18, 2009

One of the important things to understand about our Nature paper on the ‘Ecology of war’ is that the results in this study go beyond first order statistical analysis and power-law distributions. In this paper we look at the deviations from power-law and we analyse the temporal distribution of attacks. This in itself represents a significant advance in the field of quant analysis of conflict.

But perhaps more important still is that we are able to create a robust model to explain the emergence of these statistical patterns. And this model is applicable across a wide range of different conflicts including modern terrorist activity. With this model we can finally start to understand what it is that makes an insurgent ecosystem successful. Going even further, we can run different strategic scenarios on this model to understand how the insurgency is likely to respond to specific policy changes i.e. increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan. We are simply not able to gain this type of understanding with simple statistical analysis – the modeling is key.

Mikael Huss captures this realization nicely in his latest piece

An interesting article about analyzing and modeling data from wars and conflicts was published in Nature yesterday. On first glance, it looked like one of those “look, we found another power law” papers, but after I had read this interview with one of the authors, I changed my mind – it’s really quite interesting.

Huss also notes that the results are independent of the specific source data used for the analysis i.e. the results are not just a signature of the way mass media reports violence.

Even this data-collection effort is interesting in itself. According to Sean Gourley…the statistical pattern remains similar no matter what data source (governmental/academic/mass media) you are looking at.

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