Are terrorist attacks rare and infrequent, thus not worth our attention?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by SHNXX, Nov 22, 2015.

  1. SHNXX macrumors 68000

    Oct 2, 2013
    It seems that many people believe that because terrorist attacks do not account for a lot of deaths, it is not worth as much attention as it gets, since the chance of you dying from a terrorist attack is small, sort of like chance of dying in an airplane crash might be small.

    However, this misses an important way in which terrorist attack fatalities occur: they do not follow a gaussian distribution.

    Instead, terrorist fatalities follow a power-law distribution, which means that the chance of an attack that kills millions of people is not as astronomically small, as would be predicted if it followed a gaussian distribution.

    A good example of this is to imagine that a nuclear terrorist attack was successfully launched. All it takes is a single nuclear incident to occur in order for everything that we think about our ways of life to change forever.
    In fact, security experts believe the probability of a successful nuclear terrorist incidence to be somewhere around 10 to 30% in the next 10 years.

    So are terrorist attacks rare and infrequent? Are we being overly sensationalistic?
    I would think probably not.
  2. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013

    The goal of terrorism is to excert psychological pressure.

    Paying attention to terrorism is a reward for the terrorists!
  3. FieldingMellish Suspended

    Jun 20, 2010

    I'd hazard a guess that the President aligns himself with the post title's sentiment.

    All the Paris deaths the President deemed "a setback."
  4. vrDrew macrumors 65816

    Jan 31, 2010
    Midlife, Midwest
    The threat of nuclear terrorism - as opposed to the regular kind involving car bombs; semiautomatic rifles, etc. - is a somewhat different discussion.

    And assessing the odds of such an event happening in any given time scale really depend on a set of variables that no statistician can hope to quantify. The rate at which nuclear weapons proliferate among third-world countries (Pakistan, North Korea) plays a role. But so too do nuclear disarmament agreements - such as the one that eliminated nuclear weapons from Ukraine and reduced Iran's stockpile of nuclear materials.

    Just as the nuclear device itself requires a highly complex chain reaction - the actual use of a nuclear device by a terrorist group requires a specific set of events: The group in question decides it wants to acquire such a bomb. It acquires sufficient resources to do so (either making one themselves; stealing one from an existing military stockpile; or buying or receiving one from some rogue nation state.) It then must decide to actually use the weapon in an attack. And finally it must transport the weapon to the target area and successfully detonate it.

    Each step in this process presents an extremely high threshold cost. Even expressing the desire to acquire a nuclear device would come at a cost many such groups would find intolerable:

    For example. if ISIL declared it was going to acquire a nuclear device - it would have immediate negative consequences for that group. Donors would likely withdraw support. It would likely have negative effects on recruitment. It would all but guarantee a massive military intervention by concerned major powers. In short: ISIL just saying they wanted a nuclear bomb would probably end up being a disaster for ISIL.

    Each subsequent step in the process comes at an increasingly high cost. To the point where most organizations would decide that the potential "benefits" of proceeding are outweighed by the probable consequences. That is not to say that its impossible for it to happen - just that it is unlikely in the extreme.
  5. shinji macrumors 65816


    Mar 18, 2007
    Terrorism still affects people, even if their own risk of dying is small. It leads to governments making new laws to combat it, militaries potentially being sent overseas, etc.
  6. SHNXX thread starter macrumors 68000

    Oct 2, 2013
    nice argument, but it neither argues for nor against the above or the statistically analysis linked above.
    nobody is saying nuclear terrorism is easy; what the statistical analysis predicts is a higher likelihood than what is predicted by a gaussian distribution and what the experts are saying that the probability is in the teens in the next decade or so.
    but perhaps you know something they don't.
  7. Eraserhead macrumors G4


    Nov 3, 2005
    Experts might well be getting over excited...
  8. zioxide macrumors 603


    Dec 11, 2006
    More people have died in the USA due to gun violence since Paris than people were killed in Paris. According to people on your side of the aisle, that's just the "price we pay for freedom".

    The chances of dying in a terrorist attack are minutely small. It's all about creating fear and trying to get people to cave in and change their lives.
  9. nbs2 macrumors 68030


    Mar 31, 2004
    A geographical oddity
    There isn't a lot that I've been agreeing with him about in the foreign policy, small arms, and national security spheres lately. This is an exception.

    The attacks in Paris are a setback for Liberty (autocorrect capitalized that, but I'm choosing to leave it). Is there a cost to being a free society? There is, and it is a significant one. Those that might do us harm will often have an opportunity to do so.

    Does that mean we lie down and accept our fate? Of course not. What it means is that when we, in the course of our Liberal (my choice there) society, allow all men the freedom to make their own choices, there are some who will choose evil. It is a fine line to walk between allowing that choice, along with the choice to step back from the edge, and instilling controls that restrict those choices.

    As for me, I choose a path that will catch some and miss others. Is it any less painful to those directly impacted to know that the cause their loved ones died for is to the benefit of all? No. My grief can only imagine what theirs is. But that pain will not bring them back. As a result, I can continue to protect the freedom that we have cherished for year or I can throw it away in a moment of sadness.

    So yes, Paris is a setback. But it should not alter our course along the path of Liberty (autocorrect).

    Which is the problem. When we allow terrorism to encourage or support a social adjustment and change, we are allowing it to accomplish the very goal it set out to reach. Whether a crying child or a hostage taker, giving in only encourages future behavior.
  10. Happybunny macrumors 68000

    Sep 9, 2010
    To answers the OP question, Terrorism only matters if the targets are Western White people who are not poor.

    It's a sad fact that in the last decade thousands upon thousands have died, and been forgotten because they didn't fit the mold above.

    Public opion is fickle, last year Putin was the anti christ, today Russia bombs ISIS, and gives a puppy to France, and just as suddenly he's a good guy again, in the eyes of many in the west.
    The Ukrainians are left wondering were it all went wrong, the door to NATO membership/EU membership is closing because our new BFF.
  11. vrDrew macrumors 65816

    Jan 31, 2010
    Midlife, Midwest
    The number of terrorist attacks that have had a civilian death toll >1000 is exactly one. (Sept. 11, 2001.) The number of incidents with >5000 fatalities is zero. For that reason, I'm more than a little skeptical about any statistical analysis predicting - with any level of confidence - the likelihood of such an event happening over any time frame. There is simply not enough data on large scale events; and the probability of such an event taking place depends very much on political and military events not addressed by the statistics.

    Its very easy to get a knife. Somewhat harder to get a gun. More difficult still to get dangerous explosives. Very hard indeed to get control of a passenger jet. And bordering on impossible to get a nuclear device. Any rational terrorist planner will do the cost-benefit analysis and conclude he will (literally) get the best bang-for-the-buck out of guns and (conventional) bombs.

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10 November 22, 2015