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Forecasting Terrorism

February 24, 2015

A computer scientist finds predictable patterns in terrorist attacks.



Is there a pattern to terrorism? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, computer scientist Aaron Clauset, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, discussed patterns in terrorism.

AARON CLAUSET (University of Colorado, Boulder):

For the past ten years or so, we’ve been looking at this database of terrorism events across the entire world, and remarkably find that they do follow a pattern. This pattern is the same pattern we see in the frequency and severity of earthquakes.


But humans and, of course, terrorists have free will: they can do whatever they want. So how could they follow natural laws that earthquakes would?


If you think about birth rates, for instance, the county is able to track how many births they expect to see in a given month because there are patterns to these things. In the same way, there are patterns in terrorism. We can’t predict precisely which event will happen next, or where it will happen, or who will do it, but we can give some estimate that can be used to guide policy and also guide responses to terrorism.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.