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Scientists rely on Maths model to outwit terrorists

Last Updated: Saturday, December 19, 2009 - 18:51

Washington: A maths model developed by researchers can outwit terrorists by predicting the likelihood of attacks, their timing and strength.

The model was developed by researchers at the University of Miami (UM). Their finding supports the belief that insurgent wars represent "fourth generation warfare" with different dynamics from conventional wars.

UM researchers and collaborators analysed the size and timing of 54,679 violent events reported in Afghanistan, Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Northern Ireland, Peru, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

"We have found a unified model of modern insurgent wars that shows a fundamental pattern in the apparent chaos of wars," says Neil Johnson, UM professor of physics and principal study investigator.

"We find that the way humans fight modern (present and probably future) wars is the same," he says. "Just like traffic patterns in Tokyo, London and Miami are pretty much the same."

The unified model of insurgency demonstrates that it behaves like a "soup-of-groups, with no permanent network or leaders, but with common decision-making processes," says Johnson.

This "mathematical law of war" challenges traditional ideas of insurgency based on rigid hierarchies and networks, explains Johnson.

Interestingly, this model of human insurgency bears a "striking similarity" to models of crowd behaviour of financial markets.

Therefore, the study "also suggests a possible link between collective human dynamics in violent and non-violent settings," says Johnson.

Johnson and collaborators are planning to explore what would happen if a third population is added to the analysis, such as a peacekeeping mission; and how they should be deployed in order to minimise casualties.

They also hope to extend this insight to other areas. "We are starting to explore its applications in other `wars,` such as the personal battle of a patient with cancer," Johnson says.

The study is featured as the cover story in the Thursday issue of Nature.


First Published: Saturday, December 19, 2009 - 18:51
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