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Reaching impartial judgment
Posted by: riverhousebill ()
Date: March 11, 2017 12:38AM

The same inflamed passions that give war its urgent human interest also stand in the way of scholarly or scientific understanding. Reaching impartial judgment about rights and wrongs seems all but impossible. Stepping outside the bounds of one's own culture and ideology is also a challenge—not to mention the bounds of one's time and place. We tend to see all wars through the lens of the current conflict, and we mine history for lessons convenient to the present purpose.

One defense against such distortions is the statistical method of gathering data about many wars from many sources, in the hope that at least some of the biases will balance out and true patterns will emerge. It's a dumb, brute-force approach and not foolproof, but nothing else looks more promising. A pioneer of this quantitative study of war was Lewis Fry Richardson, the British meteorologist whose ambitious but premature foray into numerical weather forecasting I described in this space a year ago. Now seems a good time to consider the other half of Richardson's lifework, on the mathematics of armed conflict.

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