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Friday math movie - The mathematics of war

By Murray Bourne, 08 May 2009

The intro to today's movie has:

By pulling raw data from the news and plotting it onto a graph, Sean Gourley and his team have come up with a stunning conclusion about the nature of modern war -- and perhaps a model for resolving conflicts.

I was troubled by this video because it is not up to TED's usual high standards.

Anyway, watch it first (it's 7 minutes) and then see my critique below.

His graphs are just Zipf Distributions (which I wrote about in Zipf Distributions, log-log graphs and Site Statistics) and as he introduced the topic, I expected him to say something like "and this is a common pattern found in wealth distribution, word frequency in a book, and so on". But he doesn't.

The implication from what he says is that his team was the first to discover such a pattern. It could be that he is trying to address a non-mathematical audience and he's trying to make things simple (that's good), but it comes across as sloppy.

He doesn't make clear what he understands by "alpha". It appears to be the amount of conflict, but I'm not sure that too many politicians (especially Bush, but we don't have to worry about his ignorance any more) will be inspired to "lower α" - how would they do it, anyway?

It's interesting, but in the end, it's not a very satisfying video...

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