13 April 2011

Counting on peace and war

Just under a century ago, a Quaker conscientious objector served during the first world war as a civilian volunteer ambulanceman. By this decision he ended his academic career, but nevertheless managed to leave behind numerous instances of his name in the academic fossil record. He become a primary figure in the origination of several new areas which later became fertile ground for scientific computing.

He was Lewis Fry Richardson, who died just as the computers began to appear which would make his theoretical work feasible in practice. His works on fractals was greeted with indifference at the time, but Benoit Mandelbrot would later[1] acknowledge it. And his Statistics of Deadly Quarrels[2,3] is a keystone for modern scientific study of peace and conflict. One of the world’s first Peace Studies research centres is named after him: the Richardson Institute within Lancaster University, host of this year’s Conflict Research Society annual conference.

Moving up to the present day, my writing of this article was overtaken in topicality by a flood of emails and data streaming in from the laptops of individuals handling rapidly changing analyses from the Maghreb and Persian Gulf. [more]

  1. Mandelbrot, B., How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension. Science, 1967. 156(3775): p.636-638.

  2. Richardson, L.F., Statistics of Deadly Quarrels ... Part one of a comprehensive work on the Instability of Peace, etc. [With a bibliography. Typescript, with MS. and printed additions.]: pp. 421. The Author: [Kilmun,] 1950.

  3. Richardson, L.F., Statistics of Deadly Quarrels. 1966, Stevens and Sons Limited.

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