Social sciences

  • TerrorismWhy hundreds of westerners are taking up arms in global jihad

    By Ali Mamouri

    The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are attracting many Westerners as jihadi fighters. The stereotype that these fighters are migrants who have struggled to find a place in their adopted societies is shattered upon viewing YouTube propaganda videos. The typical portrayal of a violent jihadi is as a brutal group member, wearing sinister ninja-style costumes, maintaining a lifestyle straight from the Dark Ages and determined to drag the world back there. This stereotype is far from reality. Salafism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, one that materialized the abstract concepts of Islam into an actual political system to be implemented. Salafists use modern means such as the Internet, social media and other technology. Their language embraces modern concepts of freedom, liberation and equality, which are all foreign to traditional Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Salafists also strongly oppose the traditional Islamic seminaries and institutes. They see these as one of the major barriers to Islamic awakening. Jihadi Salafism promises its followers an attractive utopia that is certain to become reality with the application of strong will and assertive action. They see their battle as a fight for humanity and for a better world where purity and authenticity prevail. In this regard, they, like other utopian movements such as particular types of socialists and communists, have a clear strategy for changing the world.

  • Arab SpringBad social policy, not ideology, is to blame for the Arab world’s downward spiral

    By Rana Jawad

    Nothing symbolizes the sorry state of Arab politics more than the rise of ISIS. The Arab world at large appears to be fast descending into a political quagmire, only a few years after the euphoria of the so-called Arab Spring. The unravelling of old dictatorships in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has opened up a Pandora’s box of sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions, old fault lines that have persisted under the heavy hand of police states for the last century.

  • CrimeThe real reason for a decline in violent crime

    A scientific analysis of twenty million words recorded during 150 years of criminal trials at London’s Old Bailey reveals how changes in culture rather than law helped to reduce violent crime, according to a new study. “What we have been able demonstrate through analyzing the language used in court is that the decline in less serious forms of violence, such as assault, was not led by legislation or moments of dramatic change in the law, but by social attitudes,” says one of the authors.

  • Ethnic conflictPreventing ethnic violence: Full integration or full separation

    What if we could use science to understand, accurately predict, and ultimately avoid, ethnic violence? A new study argues that the key to peace is either completely to integrate or completely separate people based on cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences.

  • Aviation securityHuman behavior studies offer helpful insights to airport security officers

    A recent Sandia National Laboratories study offers insight into how a federal transportation security officer’s thought process can influence decisions made during airport baggage screening, findings which are helping the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) improve the performance of its security officers. The TSA-funded project focused on the impacts on threat detection when transportation security officers are asked to switch between the pre-check and standard passenger lanes.

  • TerrorismEvaluating English-language jihadist magazine “Inspire”

    In a recent in-depth analysis of Inspire magazine, researchers applied the information, motivation, and behavioral skills model (IMB) of behavior change, an empirically tested and widely applied model, and found that the online English-language jihadist publication created in Yemen used religious arguments, terroristic propaganda, and quotes from prominent American figures as tools to radicalize and recruit Western terrorists and promote a do-it-yourself approach to terrorism.

  • In the trenchesMaking hunches better than 50-50 propositions

    Detecting roadside bombs while in a moving vehicle; sensing impending danger based on something unusual at local café; deciding whether that object just launched off the coast is a missile or airliner — these are just a few of many scenarios where there is not a lot of time to make a decision, and where we have to rely on hunches. Hunches are 50-50 propositions, but U.S. Navy researchers want to know whether those facing the unexpected in the heat of battle can be trained to guess right more often than not.

  • Behavioral detectionGrowing questions about TSA’s behavioral detection program

    TSA has spent roughly $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” as part of theScreening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. The purpose of SPOT is to identify facial and body expressions that signals terrorist activity. Psychologists – and the GAO – question the effectiveness of the program.“The common-sense notion that liars betray themselves through body language appears to be little more than a cultural fiction,” says one psychologist.

  • Countering radicalizationToo much too young? Teaching children about violent extremism

    By Morgan Squires

    Dealing with the rise of homegrown terrorism has prompted governments to take novel approaches in combating such threats. The U.K. government, for example, has recently pushed for schools to teach children as young as four about the dangers of violent extremism. One counter-radicalization strategy adopted by the U.K. government is Prevent, which has been used effectively in British secondary schools. Prevent has in the past been viewed with suspicion, however, particularly by British Muslim communities, as Prevent funding has previously been tied directly to the number of Muslim schools in an area. What Australia can learn from the British example is ensuring that certain communities do not feel alienated. Instead, any attempts at education should focus on the problem of radicalization as a whole.

  • Post-warForeign support for rival sides in civil war makes post-war democracy less likely

    From Ethiopia to Nicaragua, countries that go through civil war are much less likely to become democratic if the winning side gets help from rival nations, a new study finds. The study examined 136 civil wars from 1946 to 2009, 34 of which involved rivals aiding the winning side. Of those thirty-four countries, only one — Algeria — bucked the trend by becoming significantly more democratic over the next decade. The others either remained undemocratic or became substantially more repressive after the civil war.

  • Social mediaBuilding a lie detector for social media

    In our digital age, rumors — both true and false — spread fast, often with far-reaching consequences. The ability quickly to verify information spread on the Internet and track its provenance would enable governments, emergency services, health agencies, and the private sector to respond more effectively.

  • Insider threatIdentifying, thwarting insider threats before they do damage

    Researchers argue that one way to identify and predict potential insider threats even before these individuals begin to do damage like stealing and leaking sensitive information, is by using Big Data to monitor changes in behavior patterns. Researchers at PARC, for example, found that individuals who exhibit sudden decrease in participation in group activity, whether in a game like World of Warcraft or corporate e-mail communications, are likely to withdraw from the organization. A withdrawal represents dissatisfaction with the organization, a common trait of individuals who are likely to engage in insider security breaches.

  • CrimeWal-Mart effect: Decline in crime rates slower where Wal-Mart builds

    Communities across the United States experienced an unprecedented decline in crime in the 1990s. For counties where Wal-Mart built stores, however, the decline was not nearly as dramatic. A new study examines crime rate in 3,109 U.S. counties in the 1990s, a time of dynamic growth and expansion for Wal-Mart and falling crime rates nationally. During that decade, Wal-Mart expanded in 767 of those counties. The researchers show that Wal-Mart tended to expand in counties with higher than average crime rates, and with numerous crime-related predicators, such as poverty, unemployment, immigration, population structure, and residential turnover. The researchers speculate that much of this relationship occurred because Wal-Mart finds better success building in communities that are less likely to protest the company’s arrival.

  • Negotiations"Envy-free” algorithm may help in settling disputes

    Whether it is season tickets to Green Bay Packers’ games or silver place settings, divorce and inheritance have bred protracted disputes over the assignment of belongings. Now, a trio of researchers has found a method for resolving such conflicts in an envy-free way. The envy-free algorithm may be used by negotiators in intractable political or territorial disputes. “The problem of fairly dividing a divisible good, such as cake or land, between two people probably goes back to the dawn of civilization,” write the authors.

  • GunsRestrictive concealed weapons laws correlated with an increase in gun-related murders

    It may make sense to assume that states in which there are tight laws on weapons would make that state a safer place and one with less gun crime, but recent research argues that the very opposite is true. Research shows that in states with more restrictive concealed carry weapons (CCW) laws there is actually an increase in gun related crime. The author notes that his study looks solely at gun crime, rather than violent crime, which is the case in similar research.