Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Weapon of Math Deduction

My wife – decidedly not me - is the mathematician in the family, but even I could see the beauty in this one from the September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine. If you are a statistics wonk, you might really get off on this.

Following a great article detailing how incompetence within the Bush administration is rewarded by promotion cleverly titled, “heckuva job”, was this little blurb by Jen Phillips, (Mother Jones, September/October, 2007, p.22. reprinted here without permission):

Weapon of Math Deduction

It’s not the size of the Army; it’s how you use it. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by Patricia Sullivan, a professor at the University of Georgia, who has devised a simple yet effective statistical formula that correctly predicts the outcome of 78% of the conflicts plugged into it.

Pr = probablility that an intervening nation will achieve its goals
x, y = variables
ß = magnitudes and direction of variables’ effects
i = intervention in question

Sullivan’s formula has several variables, including war aims, troop levels, alliances, and length of conflict. She found that as troop levels increase, the probability of successfully achieving political aims through force decreases.

Sullivan tracked 122 military interventions involving the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the U.K. between 1945 and 2003. Overthrowing governments is easy, but using military intervention to get nations to do what you want has only a 17% chance of success. Propping up foreign regimes works just 40% of the time.


I’m sure I haven’t said this more than two million times, but isn’t it time we figured out a better way?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

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