Towards a More Peaceful World [insert ‘!’ or ‘?’ here]

Each war is dramatic and horrible and warrants a hundred history books and a thousand songs of sorrow. But it also provides one more data point, along with relevant covariates, to the collection of Tolstoyan war-and-peace data-bases, and statisticians may study the evolution of alleged decreasing violence levels over time.

1066 and All That … with perhaps six thousand dead out of twenty thousand soldiers.

One of the bigger questions is both deceptively simple and quite controversial: are we getting more peaceful over time, or not?

PRIO, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, jointly with the University of Oslo, organises a series of Oslo Lectures on Peace and Conflict, and their invited speaker in January 2018 was Aaron Clauset (University of Boulder, Colorado). In the ensuing panel discussion, where I took part, along with war-and-conflict researchers Håvard Hegre and Siri Aas Rustad, proper attention was paid to the partly controversial question mark in his talk title, Towards a More Peaceful World?. It is controversial, since we would prefer it to be a !! instead, and since there is extensive work, in vivid prose and with dry facts and neutral analyses, indicating that The Better Angels of Our Nature are slowly winning

Clauset rather argues that the war world history is still essentially stationary, to an almost amazing degree, and that we can’t yet assert that the violence is in decline. In statistical parlance, he’s not yet rejecting the big null hypothesis H0 that the violence degree for interstate wars has been essentially unchanged, over the past two hundred years – he explains, rather, that it might take him another hundred years to agree with the Pinker view of the world. This blog post addresses some of these statistical concerns (using the same dataset, on the number of battle deaths for wars), and reaches partly different conclusions.

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