Playing with HCI tools and terrorism research

Take Artificial Intelligence tools rendered usable with nice graphic interfaces and a hot topic in the world, and then one maps the ‘intellectual structure’ of those researchers who investigate terrorism over the years. This is what Reid and Chen did [1], with a tailor-made GIS algorithm, SOMs, visualization techniques and some manual pruning from citation databases.Not that it is going to give you any clue about what terrorism is, but it charts quite nicely that there is some structure in terrorism research.

Who are the core researchers, what are their institutional affiliations, publications, what are changing hot topics over the years among the terrorism researchers themselves, who-cites-who, and what are the key publications in the field?

The article has some really nice figures on subgroups (RAND Corporation – by a large margin the most active group -, St. Andrews in Scotland, ICPVTR in Singapore, CSIS), and ‘author behaviour’: Einzelgängers (Wilkinson often works alone), seemingly unsustainable co-authoring (Alexander), and prolific repeated co-authoring (Crenshaw).

Major topics in the content map include low intensity conflicts (superseded by `strategic threat to world powers’), political violence, osama bin (since 1997!), and IRA. Citation data used for the analysis is in the time span 1965-2003 and English-language only, which shows in the results; think e.g. Brigata Rossa, ETA, RAF/Baader-Meinhof, of which numerous books are written in Italian, Spanish, and German, respectively, and the recent flurry of publications on Al-Qa’ida, although that group has umpteen transliterations which AI tools do not process well. (Conversely, if you do not want to have your group picked up by such content map tools, then you are advised to take a name in a language that does not have a standardized transliteration into English or does have a translatable name into lots of other languages – but some day NLP will catch up).

Co-citations networks and clusters of research specialties revolve around legal aspects, historical aspects, terrorism & foreign policy, and organizational aspects.

Some advice for anyone who wants to start reading up a bit on terrorism and put it in some perspective, then the old-timers hit the charts in the most-frequently-cited hit list: “Why men rebel” by Gurr (1970), which came first in the 1983 ranking assessment and now still is first, “Terrorism” by Laqueur (1977), and “Terrorism and liberal state” by Wilkinson (1977). Personally, I would suggest as well (a few of many):

– For sociological aspects: Wieviorka, Michel, (1988), The making of terrorism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translated form French, original title: Sociétés et Terrorisme.

– Legal aspects: Khan, Ali. (1987). ‘A legal theory of international terrorism’. Connecticut Law Review. 19, 945-972.

– Historical aspects and definitions: Guelke, Adrian, (1995), The age of terrorism and the international political system. London, UK. I.B. Tauris.

– For in-depth analysis in German: Funke, M (ed.), (1977), Terrorismus – Untersuchungen zur Strategie und Struktur revolutionärer Gewaltpolitik. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.

– And let’s add an Italian reference as well, which takes issue with international relations: Bonanate, L. (2004). La politica internazionale fra terrorismo e guerra. Bari: Editori laterza.

All of them are certainly more interesting to read than scanning through yet another one-dimensional op-ed or news item about car bombs, that is, if you are a bit curious and are willing to get a somewhat informed idea about “terrorism”. Else, “Alchemists of revolution” by R.E. Rubenstein is an entertaining read: students and unemployed graduates (can) cause trouble and end up doing terrorist acts, well, that was an idea in 1987.

[1] Reid, E.F., Chen, H. Mapping the terrorism research domain. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 2007, 65: 42-56.