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I have been studying patterns in terrorist and insurgent attacks since 2005. In my investigation, the time between attacks almost always follows an exponential distribution. The parameter of the distribution is affected by the geographic boundaries and what constitutes an "attack". This work has been replicated many times by others.
What is significant about this finding is the memoryless property, which means every time a patrol goes on a mission, they have the same probability of an attack. The probability of an attack at time t is independent of previous missions. Predicting a terrorist attack would be like predicting whether a major league baseball player will hit a home run or that I light bulb will burn out the next time you turn it on. This is the same distribution that governs peoples arrival at a drive thru window at a fast food place, or customers arriving at the bank.
If we take a closer look at any of these problems, we can find social explanations that hold more explanatory power. For example, the inter-arrival time at the fast food place will be affected by whether it is lunch time or off-peak time. In the same way, we must consider social factors in terrorism. The alarming thing about the posting, is that just because you can fit a distribution to something, does not mean you can predict behavior.
Ian McCulloh, Ph.D.
U.S. Military Academy
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On Sat, Dec 19, 2009 at 1:30 PM, Bienenstock, Elisa <[log in to unmask]>
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