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The real Hari Seldon? Mathematician predicts wave of violence in 2020

ananyo (2519492) writes | about a year and a half ago

United States 2

ananyo (2519492) writes "In a feature that recalls Asimov's Foundation series and 'psychohistory', Nature profiles mathematician Peter Turchin, who says he can see meaningful cycles in history. Worryingly, Turchin predicts a wave of violence in the United States in 2020.
Quoting from the piece:
To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won't be as bad as 1870,” he adds."

Link to Original Source

2 comments

Wow... (1)

gagol (583737) | about a year and a half ago | (#40855409)

We are still lightyears from Hari Seldon psychohistory but it is a great leap forward in social planning. Though, politicians attitude and economic instability make this prediction a no-brainer.

Statistics of Deadly Quarrels 1950 (1)

beachdog (690633) | about a year and a half ago | (#40856501)

Preceding the work of Peter Turchin is Richardson who published Statistics of Deadly Quarrels in 1950. Also Benoit Mandelbrot studied patterns in currency trading. before he began his fractal writing.

The problem here is multiple usages and meanings of "predict...", The problem is extrapolating numerical values into the future, as if one does a Fourier analysis of the past numerical values does not result in a table that accurately describes what will happen on a specific date in the future.

The other problem is what Mr. Turchin chooses to measure is simply one variable out of a huge set of variables. The world is facing a very dramatic climate change caused by CO2 in the atmosphere. That CO2 level has a huge time constant on the scale of 50 years and the effects of that rising CO2 level swing greatly with the annual 1 year cycle of the seasons. CO2 level is an important value but a graph of it requires a lot of explanation and fiddling when added to a graph of social violence.

So here is the problem with the Peter Turchin work: He is surely aware of the distinguished mathematical uncertainties that guarantee that the future can not be predicted quite right.

The problem is with the popular misapplication of the research by one group of people to say "Future violence is inevitable. Therefore maintain the status quo and keep building prisons."

Political economist Henry George in the 1870's found a cycle of progress and poverty in America. He noticed that the population growth and food supply problems noted by Henry Malthus were re-interpreted by rich people to justify programs of no change in the status quo. It is inevitable they said.

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