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Academic Minute

Dr. Neil Johnson, University of Miami - Chaos and Predictability in War


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Neil Johnson of the University of Miami reveals how an advanced statistical analysis of war's chaotic events can provide predictive power.

Neil Johnson is Professor of Physics at the University of Miami where he heads an inter-disciplinary research group examining complexity. The group studies the physics of collective behavior and emergent properties in "complex" real-world systems.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Neil Johnson - Chaos and Predictability in War

"Three soldiers killed in an ambush in Afghanistan". "Two civilians dead in a bomb attack in Iraq, or Pakistan, or Colombia". Unfortunately this is how nightly news bulletins tend to sound, followed by some expert's opinion of long-term trends specific to that country's economic or political landscape. But it turns out that this seemingly random sequence of nightly numbers is hiding a remarkable message which has remained buried - until now.

Using the lens of complexity science, our research team based at the University of Miami have recently shown that the SAME statistical pattern lies hidden in these nightly casualty figures across a wide range of insurgent conflicts and terrorist campaigns -- from the deserts in Iraq, to the jungles in Colombia, and from the streets of Northern Ireland to the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The implication is that the WAY in which insurgents and terrorists carry out day-to-day violent attacks is statistically the same everywhere -- irrespective of where they are or why they are doing it. And just as medical diagnostics can help specialists treat new diseases as they arise, so our findings offer new insight into how insurgent and terrorist groups organize themselves and hence how best to disrupt them.

Actually we hope our research will help a number of other important situations where a system is under repeat attack - from cyber attacks on networks, to attacks by pathogens on the immune system. It also turns out that it addresses one of science's most fundamental problems: How to describe mathematically a complex evolving collection of adaptive interacting objects that compete for some kind of limited resource. That is why our research team includes physicists, biologists and sociologists working side-by-side. And that is why those nightly numbers have our fullest attention.

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