News

Predicting bombs and bullets

Dr. Neil Johnson worked with scientists to create a mathematical model for predicting the likey location, timing and strength of modern insurgent attacks.

One of the most dangerous aspects to the war on terror is the unpredictably of insurgency attacks. Explaining and predicting why insurgency strikes happen when they are so erratic in nature, is something the U.S. military, political scientists and television pundits struggle with every day. From a field known more for numbers than case studies comes a possible solution.

University of Miami physicist Dr. Neal Johnson and his team of researchers have developed a model that they believe will predict the likelihood, timing and strength of where and when the enemy will be next.

“We have found a unified model of modern insurgent wars that shows a fundamental pattern in the apparent chaos of wars,” said Johnson, the principal investigator of the study. “In practical terms, our analysis can be used to create and explore scenarios, make predictions and assess risks, for present and future wars.”

The basic premise of Johnson’s study is that insurgency groups of all types, from terrorists in Afghanistan to Northern Ireland, form fluid networks and groups that are not ruled by a hierarchical system of any kind, but are always shifting and changing. Johnson and other researchers studied the size and timing of 54,679 violent events reported in nine countries.

“Despite the many different discussions of various wars, different historical features, tribes, geography and cause, we find that the way humans fight modern (present and probably future) wars is the same,” Johnson said. “Just like traffic patterns in Tokyo, London and Miami are pretty much the same.”

The study, entitled “Common Ecology Quantifies Human Insurgency,” was published in the scientific journal “Nature,” and is the first of its kind.

“It’s so common place to hear so many different theories on insurgencies,” Johnson said. “I’m used to the physics perspective, you have to look at the data. You have to compare your theories to the numbers. A lot of theories we hear in the media are plausible, but we didn’t need them at all to explain this data, there’s a pattern here.”

Johnson recognizes that terrorist attacks are difficult to predict, but says that they are only unpredictable when viewed through the lens of a hierarchical model. His study is based on a more ecological perspective, and looks at the way people and animals, not just terrorists, interact in informal situations.

Johnson says that attacks will be clustered, and that with his model there might be a way to deduce how strong or weak a terrorist group is feeling.

According to Dr. Joseph Parent, a professor of political science at UM who specializes in security studies, the data sets presented in Johnson’s study are promising.

“Although much work remains to be done on the subject, this is an exciting time to try to discover solutions to pressing problems like terrorism and insurgency,” Parent wrote in an e-mail with The Miami Hurricane. “How many other researchers have the potential to save so many lives?”

Saving lives is what Johnson hopes his study might lead to. The research presented may not be the end all solution to predicting terrorist attacks, but it is a step towards a better understanding of the chaos that has cost so many Americans their lives.

Laura Edwins may be contacted at ledwins@themiamihurricane.com.

January 27, 2010

Reporters

Laura Edwins

Managing Editor


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • Error

The University of Miami has a starting quarterback. On Tuesday, 11 days before the 2017 home opener, ...

Mark Richt, pleased and seemingly confident about his selection of redshirt junior Malik Rosier as t ...

Once known as ‘Quarterback U,’ the Miami Hurricanes have a spotty record of producing top signal cal ...

View photos from the Miami Hurricanes' football practice on Tues., Aug. 22, 2017 … Click to Con ...

Duke Johnson, the all-time leading rusher in Miami Hurricanes history, was one of a dozen members of ...

Students and faculty gathered at the Rock to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse. ...

The University of Miami has embarked on an ambitious 10-year housing plan that will transform the st ...

UM’s new chief academic officer holds some 40 patents, and in 2017 was inducted into the National Ac ...

University of Miami students and researchers are blogging during a month-long expedition in the Gulf ...

María de Lourdes Dieck-Assad, a world-renowned economist and former ambassador, fills a new role for ...

RSS Error: A feed could not be found at http://www.hurricanesports.com/. A feed with an invalid mime type may fall victim to this error, or SimplePie was unable to auto-discover it.. Use force_feed() if you are certain this URL is a real feed.

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.