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Statistics, Damned Statistics and Terrorism Link Drop

In preparing yesterday’s post, “Lies, Damned Lies and Anomalies”, we found a few great links that didn’t quite fit with the flow of the article. Here are a few random terrorism factoids:

1. The CIA Does Their Homework. Newsweek interviewed one of the top lawyers in the CIA about drone strikes against terrorism. The exacting process requires lawyers to “write a cable asserting that an individual poses a grave threat to the United States. The CIA cables are legalistic and carefully argued, often running up to five pages.” Five entire pages? Yep, that’s what I call due process.

2. Across the world, it seems like violence from war and terrorism is lowering. Check out this report by the Human Security Research Group. We shouldn’t stop working to lower violence, but I think it means we need to be less concerned with fighting terrorism. Improving quality of life, spreading democracy and preventing failed states will stop terrorism, and lower violence around the world.

3. We’ve made this point before. We linked to Stephen Pinker in this speech at the TED lecture series, writing about this lecture in our review of the introduction to William Vollman’s Rising Up and Rising Down. The takeaway of that post? Vollman uses anecdotes about violence to show it increasing; Pinker uses statistics to show it lowering.

4. Terrorist hordes won’t invade the US and the Western world. A few months back, Glenn Beck theorized that maybe ten percent of the world’s Muslim population were terrorists. Fareed Zakaria demolished--utterly demolished--this assertion. (On a side note, labeling Afghan or Iraqi insurgents as terrorists does nothing to help the debate. More to follow on this topic.)

5. When we wrote our article “What You Should(n’t) Be Afraid Of” we missed a few additions. This article by a pilot shows how prevalent terrorism was in a four year span in the 1980s. (H/T to Armchair Generalist.) Also Gene Healy, president of the Cato Institute, makes the "not an existential threat" point in an opinion piece.

6. Want to save Americans? Lower the speed limit. According to the guys at the Freakonomics blog, studies show that traffic fatalities rose after Congress raised the federal speed limit from 55 mph to 65 mph. While some traffic-ologists disagree with this assertion, the point is we spend trillions fighting terrorism, and much less on the National Transportation Safety Board (76 million versus 700 billion for the Department of Defense; Less than four hundred employees at the NTSB, more than 5.2 million in DoD contractors).

7. Top Secret America and Frontline. An On V blogroll favorite, Top Secret America, had an initial Frontline documentary released in January. It makes the case that not only do we waste billions on fighting terrorism, but that good ol’ fashioned police work stops most terrorism. (Ol’ fashioned police work is called Human Intelligence in the Army.)

Finally, I want to clarify a point I made on my article “The Debate We Aren’t Having About Yemen”. I wrote, “We have more terrorists than we did in 2001”. I believe this is true because several of our foreign policy decisions have encouraged radical takfiri terrorists since 9/11. The failure in Afghanistan, the disaster of Iraq, the prolonged war in Pakistan, and the drone strikes in Yemen promote radicalization. Further, Somalia and Yemen have not demonstrably improved their governments or standards of living since 9/11.

That said, even though we have more countries harboring terrorists, that doesn’t mean terrorism is as big a crisis facing our country as say, exploding health care costs or the national debt. We don’t spend our money in the right places, and chasing the terrorism statistical anomaly is part of the reason why.

seven comments

Reading about the Nir Rosen/Lara Logan fiasco, I just read an interesting indictment of Nir Rosen by Jeffrey Goldberg, “he thinks al Qaeda poses no threat to America; he wishes Americans would “get over” 9/11” ((Read here.))

That’s why we’re doing these posts this week. Al Qaeda poses a threat to America, but it is a tiny one, based on statistics.


I think the Pinker lecture should be seen by everyone who believes our world is eroding to violent Armageddon. It’s the common assertion of the aging that the golden year of their childhood were better than than the world is today that’s skewed by perceptions and memories affected by time and circumstance.

As for lowering the speed limit, it would make my job easier, but what about (this?) Not for every car, but definitely for those with DUI’s or DWI’s on their record.


Seems like you could figure out ways around the breathalyzer issue. So if you want to drive drunk you will.

I’ll also say that marking cars with license plates saying they are drunk drivers isn’t the way to go.

If Nir Rosen thinks we need to “get over” 9/11 he is wrong. If we need to adjust our domestic spending policies to adequately address the threat he is correct. What he said about Lara Logan is just uncalled for.


@ Matt – I think if you’ve been convicted of a DUI, for a certain period of time, that’s not a bad idea.

On the Pinker video, should we show it to Jehovah’s witnesses? I’ve had many (mostly entertaining) arguments with them about the end times.


@ Eric – isn’t peace in the Middle East a sign of the end times? Egypt’s moving towards (democracy). I think your LDS friends can still be afraid.


Muppets appeared on Top Chief, another sign of the apocalypse?


Egypt is moving far from Democracy and don’t, in fact, want it. A recent Pew Poll found the following:

• 49 prefer the religion play a “large role in politics.”

• 84 support stoning adulterers.

• 77 support a law segregating women from men in the workplace.

• 54% believe suicide bombings that kill civilians can be justified.

The Muslim Brotherhood will be running the show eventually.

Peace in the Middle East is NOT a sign of the 2nd Coming of Jesus. In fact, it is war in the Middle East and Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead.