Social science equivalent of the Manhattan Project

“This may be the social science equivalent of the Manhattan Project,” says Gary LaFree, the University of Maryland criminologist who will direct the new center of excellence. “Too often, policy-makers have had to counter terrorists on the basis of assumptions and guesstimates. Our job will be to give them more solid information to work with.” The new center of excellence will be built around teams of social scientists drawn from many fields. “It’s an unusual way to do social research, but it fits the challenge,” La Free says. “We know a lot more about violence, group psychology and international conflict than has been brought to bear on this problem. Our teams will be more inclusive so we can tap this expertise.”

It’s a attention grabbing claim to equate new project to potential of nuclear bomb. It could be pompous statement based on nothing, but hot air.  It’s not clear if he is talking about this particular center research or social/behavioral terrorism related research in general. Such bold statement warrants further investigation especially if it’s coming from such reputable source (director of Homeland Social and Security Behavioral Research Center). If new weapon promise such huge potential maybe some oversight is warranted or at least explanation what is it that they are doing?

Research Targets

In the first year, one working group will study how terrorist organizations form and recruit, focusing on specific organizations that pose a clear and present danger. One line of research, for example, will ask whether terror groups inspired by religious zeal are more likely to use weapons of mass destruction than their secular counterparts. Another will look at the way terror groups have exploited the 9-11 attacks to expand their base of popular support. Yet another will examine U.S. prisons as recruiting grounds for terror groups.

In all these studies, researchers will look for ways to intervene and disrupt the process. “We’ll be a kind of academic rapid-response team,” LaFree says. “Part of our job will involve getting timely advice to homeland and national security professionals in government.”

A second working group will study the internal dynamics of terror organizations looking for patterns of behavior or other predictors of what groups may do next. A third team will study how to warn of terror risks, prepare for attacks and limit the damage once launched. “The strength of this center lies in the collaboration,” says Gansler. “Through teamwork the assets of each of the partners will be amplified.”

The researchers will draw on a variety of tools including major global databases of ethnic struggles over the past 60 years and the most comprehensive open data set on terror incidents. As part of his prior research, LaFree has been assembling the terror database and will begin to mine it for clues about the roots of terror and effective counter-measures.

The center will also have a strong educational component, helping to train a new generation of researchers in the field of terror-related social science.

I couldn’t find anything about this center on university center list website. It could be that it’s part of START (National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START)), which is led by the same guy – Gary Lafree. There are myriad of various terrorism and counterterrorism projects listed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s