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The Mathematics of Terrorism August 31-September 2, 2009, Santa Fe NM

Organizers: Aaron Clauset (Santa Fe Institute) and Brian Tivnan (MITRE)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Aaron Clauset

The Dynamics of Terrorist Groups

Much of the research on terrorism and other forms of political violence, perhaps due to a strong prior on rational-actor theories, assumes that the incidence and severity of violence is highly context-dependent and highly strategic. It is thus commonly assumed that no fundamental laws exist, and that very little can be predicted about the dynamics of terrorism. For some aspects of terrorism, however, these assumptions turn out to be wrong. In particular, for the frequency and severity of deadly attacks, there exist strongly regular patterns, some of which may admit simple mechanistic explanations. In this talk, I'll summarize some of my recent work (with Kristian Skrede Gleditsch) on two such patterns: (i) a universal acceleration in the frequency of attacks as a terrorist group gains experience and grows in size, and (ii) an independence in the severity of those attacks from the total experience or size of the group.