A Physicist Explains the Iraq War

Chris Higgins

Sean Gourley is a physicist who wanted to know more about the Iraq war. He wanted to understand the war via the data -- data about attacks, deaths, types of weapons used, locations, and so on. So he and his team started using publicly available data to chart the war and its effects. His conclusions about the nature of war are powerful: there is order in war; there is mathematical predictability in the way fighting forces work. The patterns that underly the Iraq conflict look the same across many conflicts. But what's most interesting: you can use math to gauge the effectiveness of strategies (like the famous Surge) and chart the nature of a war over time.

Discussed: charting number of attacks versus size of attack (number killed), the pattern of war across the world, an equation to predict the likelihood of an attack in a given country, "so what," the organizational structure of groups carrying out attacks (as a mathematically consistent value), why insurgencies work, and most interestingly: did the Surge work?

If you're interesting in statistics or war, have a look:

If you can't see the player, check out the TED site directly. See also: more on Sean Gourley.