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Insurgent Attacks Follow Mathematical Pattern

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the news-from-terminus dept.

Math 181

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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Uhuh (4, Funny)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498430)

I saw this on "Numb3rs!"

Re:Uhuh (5, Insightful)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498470)

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

Re:Uhuh (3, Informative)

Chysn (898420) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Uhuh (0, Offtopic)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498836)

lando ~ # apt-cache search assload
libclassworlds-java - framework for container developers requiring manipulation of ClassLoaders
libclassworlds-java-doc - Documentation for the Classworlds Java library
libjboss-classloader-java - JBoss Classloader

just sayin'...

Re:Uhuh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499704)

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 (5, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498530)

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 (5, Interesting)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Uhuh (3, Insightful)

2stein (871221) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498550)

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:Uhuh (5, Funny)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498606)

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.

at which point it all becomes a blur

Re:Uhuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498776)

A lot of things DO follow a power law.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_distribution

Re:Uhuh (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499440)

And a lot of things are Gaussian. And a lot of things are Tracy-Widom....etc. Guess what? They all drop off to zero! Amazing. I wonder if there is a reason for that.

Re:Uhuh (3, Funny)

600Burger (986100) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498784)

Luckily our government is dedicated to collecting the valuable data, in vast quantities.

Re:Uhuh (2, Interesting)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499078)

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?

Re:Uhuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499258)

No no, the only way to be sure is to nuke from orbit!

They may have a limited supply (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499660)

They may have a limited supply (income) of explosives, correlating timing and size of blasts.

Re:Uhuh (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498942)

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

Re:Uhuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499616)

numbERZ 4L5O pH19UrEd OuT h4XoR T4Lk.

First comment (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498432)

First comment. Yes!!

There was a TED talk on this (5, Informative)

sp332 (781207) | more than 4 years ago | (#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]

Re:There was a TED talk on this (4, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:There was a TED talk on this (2, Insightful)

sp332 (781207) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498850)

As usual, there is a difference between the law and reality. It may not officially be a war, but it is definitely a war. :)

Re:There was a TED talk on this (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498946)

No, a war is a reciprocated armed conflict between two or more factions; these are just massacres.

Re:There was a TED talk on this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498588)

I didn't RTFA, but how can an exponent be larger or smaller than 2.5 at the same time??

Re:There was a TED talk on this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498678)

Because "or" and "and" are two different concepts, logic boy.

Re:There was a TED talk on this (4, Interesting)

tomhath (637240) | more than 4 years ago | (#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".

Re:There was a TED talk on this (5, Insightful)

foobsr (693224) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499458)

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.

I must be missing something (5, Insightful)

belthize (990217) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:I must be missing something (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498616)

Can they predict what anonymous is going to do next?

Re:I must be missing something (5, Informative)

forand (530402) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498710)

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.

Re:I must be missing something (4, Interesting)

belthize (990217) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:I must be missing something (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499366)

Long ago a famous mathematician/scientist (Lagrange?) said that nearly any physical phenomenon can produce a straight line on a log-log scale. I can't remember who. Here it is again. [umich.edu]

Re:I must be missing something (1)

bkeahl (1688280) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498818)

No, you're not missing anything. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading the article. It was an interesting article though. Yeah, it's a lot easier to get 10 people together to do something than 100. Therefore, you'll have more activity with 10 participants than 100 participants. I read the article thinking they were going to be able to accurately predict probabilities by day - which would be really useful.

Re:I must be missing something (1)

Livius (318358) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498832)

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

Re:I must be missing something (1)

Storchei (723338) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499504)

I don't see what it is they think they've discovered

It's quite straightforward, man. They discover a mathematical pattern that can be used to kill more enemies(a.k.a. people)

Now, THAT'S USEFUL! (if you can't see the irony you're blind)

I think the instantaneous question after this report was published would be: Why in hell money is spent in such a pointless research? (pointless for people who pay the research, of course). Aren't there more important or necessary thing to spend the money?
Anyway, more of the same..

Insurgent mathematics . . . (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!"

Re:Insurgent mathematics . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498628)

CNN news: Mathematically based comedy *really* sucks!

Re:Insurgent mathematics . . . (5, Funny)

gbarules2999 (1440265) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499682)

It's easy to forget what sin is in the middle of a battlefield.

Predicting humans (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498528)

dont work when they know the predictions too. Even if is just to prove that they have free will.

Re:Predicting humans (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498662)

I agree with you to a point, but if that were completely true than the disciplines of psychology and advertising would not exist.

Re:Predicting humans (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498808)

As with psycohistory, it works with big enough numbers, not with individuals. You can choose to refuse to buy something advertised because you know what is it, but take a lot of people and some will buy. Also matters to understand what is predicted, not just a "numbers can predict what i will do".

The ones organizing those attacks are somewhat a small group of people, and if they get aware of this they could change behaviour.

Re:Predicting humans (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499552)

As with psycohistory, it works with big enough numbers, not with individuals.

Things will (and already begin to, IMHO) change once you have enough (micro-)data regarding an individual. Imagine you have a complete history of a person sampled at a small enough scale (including physiological variables). You might then use a 'single-case' approach on a rich real life dataset lending itself to statistical analysis of sorts.

CC.

Re:Predicting humans (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499662)

I agree with you both, but I think you're missing my point. The disciplines of both psychology and advertising are based on the assumption that while we are all individuals and have free will, we also as a group have patterns and tendencies. Hence the Forer effect [wikipedia.org] (a.k.a, Barnum statements) which are used by the folks writing horoscopes. We have free will, but we have numerous undetected forces acting to influence us.

It's a much simpler equation for non-guerilla wars (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498538)

It's actually a much simpler equation for non-guerilla (ie. traditional) warfare.

Take the War in Iraq, for instance. It basically boils down to:
        (Crazy Corporate-Controlled Republicans) + (Lust for Oil) + (Mercenaries) + (Hatred for Brown People) = Unprovoked Invasion and War

Predictable? (1)

TimeElf1 (781120) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498552)

Modelers claim wars are predictable

Up to a point yes they are, but as Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke so succulently said No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. I can only imagine that if someone tries to predict a battle they are going to be left holding their graph at the end of the battle saying what the hell just happened?

Re:Predictable? (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499234)

Succulently?

You really shouldn't use such words around married readers... ;-P

Location? (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498566)

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.

Re:Location? (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498614)

Hmmm...useless might be an overstatement. I'm assuming they're talking about large scale trends here, not "the enemy will attack at precisely 12:07 pm on Dec 23rd". If so, it would indeed help with planning a troop surge. In fact, I wonder if you could even break the pattern by knowing the cycle? If you knew that in 6 months there was going to be a surge, and you brought in boatloads of troops, might it discourage the enemy?

MMPI Comparison (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498568)

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 attempting to determine the causality might still provide the best predictive power.

Re:MMPI Comparison (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498596)

Nice! Another thought: maybe this model could be extended to different levels of conflict? Maybe the patterns for guerrilla warfare are different than the larger "subsidized" events?

Psychohistory begins. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498582)

See subject.

P.S. This shit is assinsine... I postin in a different topic ages ago... this in conjunction with the censorship system makes slashdot almost unusable. Hmmm perhaps "almost unusable" is their goal?

Slow Down Cowboy!

Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

It's been 9 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment

I still figure it's serverload protection from the ravages of perl.

Re:Psychohistory begins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498766)

Umm, try registering? ACs have to wait between posts for obvious reasons...

Re:Psychohistory begins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498792)

Umm, try registering? ACs have to wait between posts for obvious reasons...

I registered once. I made one post. My opinion happened to differ from someone with mod points. I was thus banned BY ANOTHER USER (not an admin) from posting for 24 hours! (it was a simple technical opinion, nothing political, religious or spammy) I was horrifically shocked by that.

No thanks. Registering results in less free discussion. Remaining AC, at least I can post something. 9 minutes is better than 24 hours, I guess. The censorship here is depressing in its insidiousness. Then the hypocrisy over censorship almost makes it laughable.

Thanks for reading my lowly AC post and taking an interest though.

Re:Psychohistory begins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498934)

...actually I think it was Karma points... whatever, regardless, random users should not be able to ban other users from posting. At least not on their first day of membership and on their very first post. That is an extremely user hostile environment. I mean holy fuck man!

It is total abdication of responsibility for content. That is what it is. Note how there is no appointed moderators here. That would imply responsibility for content. It is all about the cowardice of the administration of slashdot.

Oh fuck, here we go again... 20 minutes so far this time... makes it really hard to have a coherent discussion, don't you think?

Slow Down Cowboy!

Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

It's been 20 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment

Yup, running a site on perl must suck that bad... it has nothing to do with spam filtering and everything to do with promoting mod_perl. Fuckin pointless.

I'm going to begin the process of submitting this post thousands of times of the next few minutes. Perhaps they'll get the idea fdrom the logs that it just might be more efficient to allow the post?

So the last count is 20 minutes, but I've seen it go as high as 29 before.

Here go, watch your logs there slashdot boys and tell me which is more efficient?

Submitted 100+ times now... I guess what they're saving in perl cpu rapage they are losing in bandwidth, that does not make sense, bendwidth is much more expensive than processing power.

Up to 25 minutes and over 400 submissions.. wow, that's efficient code there, yup.

Re:Psychohistory begins. (4, Funny)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499428)

I'm going to begin the process of submitting this post thousands of times of the next few minutes. Perhaps they'll get the idea fdrom the logs that it just might be more efficient to allow the post?
So the last count is 20 minutes, but I've seen it go as high as 29 before.
Here go, watch your logs there slashdot boys and tell me which is more efficient?
Submitted 100+ times now... I guess what they're saving in perl cpu rapage they are losing in bandwidth, that does not make sense, bendwidth is much more expensive than processing power.
Up to 25 minutes and over 400 submissions.. wow, that's efficient code there, yup.

You're doing it wrong. There's no use in doing thousands of submissions if you don't follow the correct power law. An attack with ten submissions should be 316 times more likely to occur than an attack with 100 submissions.

Re:Psychohistory begins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499644)

Well, well look at that, modded down for a good post. So I happen to state my frustration with the slashdot censorship system too. Oops, guess we mustn't let the truth of that out!

*insert "this message was submitted several thousand times and delayed by x minutes" statement here* ...actually, a new record... just past 56 minutes and must well over 3000 submissions...

The really should randomise the position of the submit button to make this harder.

Hmm (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498586)

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 identified as "terrorists" on circumstantial evidence strictly because of the "higher probability" of an imminent attack?

We may never know if this model is true. As a day trader, however, I can shake my head at people who exclaim they have a new theory to predict the future based on the past. Yeah, er, good luck with that. There's something called "insufficient data". Just wait.

Past Data (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498612)

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".

Re:Past Data (1)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498898)

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.

Just Biology (4, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498620)

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.

Re:Just Biology (1)

pgn674 (995941) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499510)

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.

Caveat in re: power laws in empirical data (5, Interesting)

Internalist (928097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498630)

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]

The WERE following a pattern (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498642)

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 (2, Interesting)

psnyder (1326089) | more than 4 years ago | (#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?

A more interesting pattern (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:A more interesting pattern (1)

jocabergs (1688456) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498726)

More than likely the laws of economics, do you want to send a 600k munition at one hostile with an AK in the desert or 30; it could well be the threshold for a munition strike is for a platoon size force i.e around 25-50 hostiles. Either that or they don't want to risk firing into a civilian area unless there is actionable intelligence which indicates a large group of hostiles can be taken out with one strike. I just made this up by the way so I have no idea if knowing if its correct, but it seems logical.

Re:A more interesting pattern (4, Interesting)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499576)

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

Re:A more interesting pattern (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499630)

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.

Hari Seldon. (4, Insightful)

Jhon (241832) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498668)

'nuff said.

Re:Hari Seldon. (1)

SockPuppet_9_5 (645235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499012)

When did Seldon predict Iran gets the bomb? I don't think I want to know how high the power levels end up going...

Re:Hari Seldon. (1)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499166)

He predicted someone would post that.

Re:Hari Seldon. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499224)

-1000 redundant. See my post:
http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1484368&cid=30498582 [slashdot.org]
Saturday December 19, @10:19AM

Your post:
Saturday December 19, @10:36AM

Yup, redundant.

(this post was submitted >4000 times, perl rep protection message up to 37 minutes now...)

Slow Down Cowboy!

Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

Fair chance my ass! This guys gets credit for my post. Such bullshit. At least be honest about it. 37 minutes, see how this works? By the time I get this posted everybody will be done reading the thread.

Really? (1)

cherokee158 (701472) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498672)

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.

Listing of recent "Islamic Terror Attacks" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498676)

Found this link recently that is purportedly a detailed listing of all the "Islamic Terror Attacks" for the last two months.

http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/index.html#Attacks

The site is a strong concentration on only the violent aspect of Islam. It's pretty horrific.

Asimov was right! (1)

PakProtector (115173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498684)

Everyone tag this "psychohistory" or "seldonplan."

_Everything_ follows an approximate power law. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498698)

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

Just One Question (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498708)

So, if we know when they're going to attack, wouldn't we not want them to know that we know? I mean, won't publicizing this just make the insurgents change their pattern? ...military intelligence.

Hello Captain Obvious! (0, Troll)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498712)

The total amount of attack will/power stays the same, no matter what size the individual attacks are? No shit? I could have told you that too.
Together with other amazing facts, like that the amount of coffee in a can stays the same, no matter of the size and number of cups you fill with it. ;)

I can even predict, that they do not actually stay the same, but in the biggest picture of e.g. one war, go in a curve, first rising strongly, then falling off slowly, only to be re-risen by big events (similar to the scandals / media coverage relationship).

Do I get the Nobel Prize now? ;)

Re:Hello Captain Obvious! (4, Insightful)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498796)

> The total amount of attack will/power stays the same, no matter what size
> the individual attacks are? No shit? I could have told you that too.

But you did not. I am constantly amazed that every time some sort of insightful discovery is
made there is a chorus of voices saying " I could have told you that". Wake me when someone
actually does "tell me that" before someone else publishes it.

Re:Hello Captain Obvious! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499694)

Meh. I could have told you that.

Not surprising at all. (3, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498716)

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.

Brilliant! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498758)

Yeah, let's post these findings for everyone to see so that the insurgents now can work on being even more random. Matter of fact, in all our wisdom, let's also tell the world how to take down the world trade center or how exactly people can sneak items through the airport screeners.

Johnson? (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498772)

The same Neil Johnson who did the 200th anniversary time-based Christmas Lectures?

The 2.5 Exponent (3, Interesting)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498806)

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.

Re:The 2.5 Exponent (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498998)

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:The 2.5 Exponent (2, Interesting)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499072)

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.

Re:The 2.5 Exponent (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499228)

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 tackling.

Re:The 2.5 Exponent (3, Interesting)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499474)

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 (4, Interesting)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499652)

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

Re:The 2.5 Exponent (1)

asterix_2k1 (781702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499712)

2012. Yes sir! That's when the really big attack is gonna be.

Does this mean... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498814)

...that Bin-Laden is really a fractal?

Need to see big picture. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498852)

"Hmmm...useless might be an overstatement."

This is why western countries are having difficulty battling fanatics. If you think that there are a few trouble makers that need to be dealt with, you won't win. If you realize that 1 billion people in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia unconsciously push a constant amount of marginalized people to commit war crimes, then you can start to win.

The Art of War (2, Interesting)

cenc (1310167) | more than 4 years ago | (#30498858)

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

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

Data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498892)

Where would one go about finding the data they used in their models? I assume they went to the trouble of making it public since they themselves critized governments for not putting their data in the public.

So apply this to 911 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30498966)

It looks like we have only another 250 years until it happens again.

Ahhhh, panic. Everybody buy your duct tape.

This is going to make that 200 year was look short.

I wonder what the exponent would be... (4, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499014)

...if we brought them all home?

Calculate this (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499232)

Kill'em all, let allah sort'em out.

Re:Calculate this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499674)

and their reward: http://bit.ly/5gL0ll [bit.ly]

Another significant pattern (1)

aoeu (532208) | more than 4 years ago | (#30499266)

is one that my brother noticed vis a vis the earliest days of the insurgency in Iraq. If there is a lethal attack every day, it is organized.

STOP Illegal Bush/Cheney Wars for OIL NOW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30499274)

Oh, wait. . .

Every collective human endeavor does this (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

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