An international team of scientists have bravely taken time away from fusion research, curing cancer and solar power to announce some truly staggering results: in war, sometimes some people get killed. But other times, more people get killed. It's amazing stuff.
In a complexity study more staggeringly misleading than a blind guide dog that's just been spun in a centrifuge, their discovery of a "Law of War" was announced at the European Consortium for Mathematics. The work doubtless contains valuable insights from the growing field of complexity theory, so it's unfortunate that such valid research is tarted up with buzzword headlines more mercilessly targeted on defence department dollars than a cash-seeking missile.
They created mathematical models based on a mass of online news sources and official government casualty reports (thereby guaranteeing that they'll be inaccurate right from the start). The keener minds among you may spot that this sort of work is less "science" and more "statistics", the impoverished cousin of the mathematics family who will say literally anything if used properly.
The buzz-bringing headline is the ability to predict war, when of course the best that really happens is predicting probabilities of casualties. Even those are fundamentally suspect with primary investigator Professor Johnson revealing ignorance of the realities of conflict with statements like "Although wars are the antithesis of an ordered system..", and going on to sound surprised that any patterns are visible in the chaos of conflict at all.
Listen, Professor, just because those involved are the jocks who used to stuff you in a locker in high school doesn't mean they're all stupid. It turns out the organizations involved in shooting at each other have actually been at it for a while, and anybody who views them as brownian bodies just flailing around at random may not be the best qualified to comment on conflict.
The reduction of complex conflicts to mathematical formula is fascinating work, as long as it remains in the realm of pondering. The idea of ignoring the realities of individual conflicts because the War-O-Tron says you're going to win is terrifying, and since we're lacking psychohistorian Hari Seldon we can't even claim the math is that right.
What he lacks there, though, he makes up for in PR-pitching skills that would make an advertising executive blush. "Regardless of the origins and locations of modern conflicts, the insurgent groups in each case are operating in the same way. In short, it is effectively the same enemy on all fronts", he says, and if you can see the words "pseudoscientific backing for concept of the War on Terror here, PLEASE FUND ME" swimming between the lines, then congratulations on having basic cognitive ability.
This statistical mish-mash is being pitched to the Pentagon, where it will doubtless find another home in the "pile of numbers we use to justify things." But if you really want check your contribution to a war effort, ask yourself this: if I told some troopers we spent the money on this instead of body armor, would they punch me in the face?
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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