Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Disciples of Change

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

I often encounter people who find it offensive that I haven’t subscribed to the Climate Change bandwagon. To be frank, that is where the conversation typically ends, because such people rarely have anything more to bring to the discussion than the average theist. The problem that always arises in those situations is the climate change disciple’s inability to differentiate between Climate Change science and the Climate Change movement.

The science behind Climate Change is sound enough, and the predictions seem rather certain, even though admittedly grim, so who am I to question them? Well I don’t question them, actually, but few Climate Change disciples are capable of engaging in enough rational discussion to actually figure that out. The issue that seems to set them off is my failure to perceive virtue in running around screaming that the sky is going to fall.

The line I most often hear is, “We need to take action now!” That’s fair enough, but I feel that I’ve been taking action for 20 years. I’ve been a minimalist for most of my adult life and have, as such, maintained a very small carbon footprint. To that end, I’ve driven the same 4 cylinder jeep YJ for over 19 years, resulting in fewer cars being produced. In those 19 years, I’ve racked up 125,000 kilometers on my jeep, which is less than most North Americans drive in 3 years, resulting in less fossil fuel combustion. Even the electricity that I use is over 90% hydroelectric. Furthermore, having had no children, my contribution to carbon dioxide emissions ends when I expel my last breath.

Given all of these things, any rational person should understand why I am unmoved by Climate Change disciples who load their children into SUV’s to go on unnecessary shopping trips to stores that sell superfluous items like battery operated cork screws. The irony of these things never seems to sink into the mind of Climate Change disciples, however. On the few occasions that I have been able to finish explaining that I restricted my carbon footprint long before they ever knew what a carbon footprint was, their anxiety actually seemed to escalate. The next message of salvation that typically flies out of their mouths is, “Not just us, the big corporations need to be stopped!”

The rationality of the above proclamation has always eluded me. I have many reasons why I think ‘big corporations’ are ‘bad’, but none of them are based on the state of our environment. The Climate Change disciple’s concept of ‘big corporations’ seems to be that of an alien entity that has landed on our planet to set up big carbon dioxide generating stations. There are no carbon dioxide generating stations being operated by aliens though; those stations are, in point of fact, factories that are run by consumer dollars.

Factories don’t produce goods for shipment to alien worlds; they produce goods to be purchased by human consumers. If you are a consumer of goods, then you are paying to have factories output carbon dioxide in exchange for the goods they produce. In this way, big corporations, in and of themselves, have no carbon footprint at all. This, however, is exactly where the religious aspect of the Climate Change movement is revealed. Rather than atoning for their own sins, Climate Change disciples seek absolution by nailing ‘big corporations’ to an imaginary cross. No climate change disciple that I have encountered to date has ever let me complete the vocalization of this blasphemy, however.

Some environmentalists have listened quite attentively to my thoughts on this matter, and for the most part they are very receptive. Typically our discussions develop into debates over the potential of reducing our carbon footprints by way of emerging technologies. I quite enjoy such discussions because they at least recognize the causes of Climate Change rather than declaring dogmatically that unquestioning belief is the solution. Only those who are willing to engage in such discussions can ever come to understand just how heavily the odds are stacked against us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Argument Against Allah (1)

An epistemological review by – Heather Spoonheim

In the case against the existence of gods I would like to submit the Gettier Problem. Essentially the Gettier Problem postulates that even if claimed knowledge turns out to be true, it may not actually constitute knowledge. As an example, consider a variation of Case 1 of the Gettier Problem:

Tamara works in an office where her friend, Bob Romanchuck, has applied for a job. While walking past the Human Resources office, she hears two administrators talking about how they intend to hire Bob Romanchuck for the new position. Now Tamara leaves, believing that Bob Romanchuck is going to get the job, and tells her friend that he is about to be hired. As it turns out, however, there were two Bob Romanchucks who applied for the job and it was the other Bob Romanchuck who got hired.

This example varies a great deal from Gettier's 10 coins but only in that rather than possessing an equal number of coins the applicants possess equal names. In this case, although (a) Tamara believed that a man named Bob Romanchuck would get the job, (b) a man named Bob Romanchuck did in fact get the job, and (c) Tamara had good reason for her belief – she did not in fact have knowledge and, in point of fact, she actually had false knowledge.

Consider then that a god exists: for instance, Anu. Anu is a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and dwells in the highest heavenly regions. He also has the power to judge those who have committed crimes. Should irrefutable proof be uncovered of Anu’s existence, Christians and Muslims might instantly claim that this is their beloved Yahweh or Allah but they would in fact be irrefutably wrong. Although Anu possesses similar traits to Yahweh or Allah, he is neither Yahweh nor Allah and sent neither Jesus nor Mohammed to earth to guide mankind to salvation.

In this instance, both Christianity and Islam would be wrong, even though they believed in a god and a god did in fact turn out to exist. Most importantly, however, their epistemology was flawed because the stories of Yahweh and Allah are known to be fabricated in the minds of men and there is no good reason to believe in their existence.

It is not enough, therefore, to simply abstract the concept of a god and say that perhaps there is some conscious prime mover and that conscious prime mover constitutes a god. Without the third criterion of knowledge being met – (c) the believer must have good reason for their belief – the purported knowledge is not knowledge at all, such as illustrated in Case 2 of the Gettier Problem. Without falsifiable evidence for a conscious prime mover, there is no good reason for such a belief and it is therefore not knowledge.

Furthermore, even though a conscious prime mover may in fact exist, there is no way of tying that conscious prime mover to the belief of such held by any deist. Without a specific claim of justified knowledge there is no justification in asserting that the sheer coincidence of the true case of unjustified knowledge constitutes any specific thing, least of all a ‘god’ – whatever that word even means at this point in time. Like the Tamara of the aforementioned example, the deist has nothing more than knowledge of a label/name that, even in the most charitable of circumstances, may be shared with a circumstance that turns out to be true.

To this end, one cannot rule out the possibility that a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away there was a young humanoid named Luke Skywalker who looked exactly like Mark Hamill. The existence of such a being, however, does not affirm that the fiction of George Lucas was, in fact, non-fiction. The creation of the mind of George Lucas remains a fiction regardless of the literal existence of a being that fits the description of one of his fabricated characters – the actual Luke Skywalker, regardless of how similar his life might have been to George Lucas’ Luke Skywalker, was not and is not George Lucas’ Luke Skywalker.

Considering all of these things and given that there is no evidence for the existence of gods, any and all claims of the existence of gods do not constitute knowledge and no such gods exist. Even if some evidence is one day discovered to prove the existence of a mighty being, creator of all things, that being must then and there be evaluated to determine whether or not it is in fact a god. Until such a time, no gods can possibly be said to exist or even postulated to exist in the form of anything one can rationally define as knowledge. There are no gods.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Islamic Threat

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

It has, of late, become impossible to compare or contrast the Abrahamic religions without encountering the theatrics of fear-mongering Islamophobes. Coherent dialogue rapidly becomes a phantom as emotional pleas propel themselves up slippery slopes, launching into nationalistic tirades. The greatest trick of the labyrinth lay in the abstractly, yet inextricably bound concepts of religion, culture, and government.

The enemies are as elusive as the various deities, who are, ironically, one. Each of the Abrahamic religions can be blamed for, as well as declared a victim of, some historic atrocity. Devotees of each chapter of the Abrahamic trilogy have killed, or been killed by, devotees of both other chapters. Many nations have state religions, or at least religions alleged to be at their foundation, but none of them rely on their god for protection; they turn, in his stead, to the weapons of man.

For most of the life of this writer, the balance of religious violence has been confined to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Having been cognizant of this conflict and observing, at times, daily reports on the violence, political contexts, ideologies, and grievances for over 30 years while also having read over a dozen books on the subject, one thing is clear: religion no longer has anything to do with it. Jesus Christ could appear in the Hubble Telescope tomorrow, zooming in faster than light to take his throne in Jerusalem and the Israelis and Palestinians would both start shooting at him, each declaring him to be a fraud perpetrated by the other.

Even if the entire Jewish population of Israel converted to Islam tomorrow, Palestinians would still hate them and want to kill them; so too would it be vice versa. The erasure of religion altogether would not erase the hatred of groups identified as murderers, racially defined boundaries, or the lust of politicians for garnering station and status. Failing all else, cultures would be redefined by ideologies as arbitrary as opening boiled eggs from the big or small end.

For the rest of us, this Jewish/Muslim conflict spilled out onto the world stage on the 11th of September, in the year of the Christian lord, two thousand and one. The images of the horror were burned into the Western mind in a televised holocaust. The broadcasts repeatedly informed viewers that 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center. As the towers collapsed, many viewers, including this writer, fell to their knees and were reminded yet again that 50,000 people worked in those towers.

Before the estimates of fatalities had dropped below ten thousand, the face and name of Osama Bin Laden were branded into the Western psyche. He was an Arab, and a known Islamic terrorist who was at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list: a prime suspect. As the estimates of fatalities continued to drop, the hatred of al-Qaeda, Islam, and Arabs in general, escalated – and the proverbial finger of blame began to swing wildly.

A Democratic President had rocketed al-Qaeda training camps but had failed to capture the Islamic terrorist who had openly declared war on the U.S. over 3 years earlier. The Republican Commander in Chief at the time of the attacks had failed to act on intelligence reports that might have saved so many lives. The American intelligence community had dropped the ball repeatedly by not sharing information efficiently. Noam Chomsky was quick to blame Western civilization itself but that finger of blame was leveled too quickly, too harshly, and was bitten off; many still chew on it.

By the end of the month some backward clerics from a podunk country were given an international audience. Osama Bin Laden was there, it was claimed, and that shoddy lineup of holy men wouldn’t hand him over. There was no way to declare war on the country, however, because those holy men were not recognized as the official government and, in any event, had no connection with the attacks. The solution was to declare a military action and label it a ‘War on Terror’; Ted Turner must have peed a little.

By the end of the year it was clear that roughly 3,000 Americans had died at the hands of terrorists in the September 11 attacks; little to no attention was given to the fact that during the course of that same year Americans themselves had killed roughly 16,000 Americans; it was time for the enemy to start spilling some blood. Who was this enemy though? We were told that we weren’t at war with Arabs, Islam, or even any single nation. In a post hoc twist, we were told that we weren’t even at war with al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden.

We were at war with those who despised freedom, and we had to sacrifice freedoms to protect freedoms. We were killing people overseas so that we could spread freedom. In America, habeas corpus was suspended, the intelligence community began illegal wire taps, secret warrants, courts, and arrests were authorized, and the American President himself gave the green-light to torture – all in the name of freedom. The notion of protecting freedom became as convoluted as the notion of a god who fathered himself so he could kill himself to appease himself at the anger he harboured for that which he had himself created in his own image. The scripture for protecting freedom became bound in The Patriot Act; a scripture that was re-consecrated today, a decade after the infamous attacks.

Somewhere along the way Iraq was invaded as well; it is still occupied. The determination of civilians and enemy combatants in an occupied country is a philosophical paradox but, nonetheless, the Iraqi death toll from the ‘War on Terror’ is irrefutably into the six figures and terrorism is more rampant there than ever before. The death toll in the Afghani theatre of the ‘War on Terror’ is impossible to establish, but it isn’t any better than in Iraq. This is the death toll inflicted by the West in the ‘War on Terror’: a war that has never been declared on Islam but which, nonetheless seems to claim primarily Islamic victims.

Today there are those who feel the need to declare Islam a threat, to ring the alarms, sound the bells, and run madly down the street screaming; others are much more eloquent in their declarations of the Islamic threat. Although terrorist have never, in a single calendar year, around the world, killed more people than Americans kill Americans in the same calendar year – they are a scourge on humanity and must be stopped. They have no nation other than Islam common to them, so it must be that religion of theirs that drives them to such madness. Their madness could not possibly derive from the occupation of their lands by foreign powers, for they have always been terrorists, all the way back to Sayyid Qutb, who was born as the world was shifting into a petroleum economy. This sarcasm only grows a little dry when it is pointed out that suicide bombers are far more frightening, even if less deadly, than American criminals with handguns.

The ‘War on Terror’ is an oxymoron, an hypocrisy, and an abject failure. The death tolls prove that the West has been the greatest terrorist in the world for the past decade. Freedom cannot be delivered to a nation; it must be won by that nation. Will the West recognize an elected Iraqi or Afghani government that does not espouse Western values? Are they free to adopt sharia as their system of law if they freely choose to do so?

Perhaps the greatest failure of the ‘War on Terror’ is the toll it has taken on the capacity and moral stance of the West to respond to the nuclear proliferation of Iran. The one country in the Middle East that was actually on course to pose a serious threat to the world has been left to develop its nuclear capabilities. Rather than chasing phantom enemies or developing a hatred for Islam, we would have been far better reasoned to focus on Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad. Let us not, however, make the mistake of calling this man an Islamic threat.

Unlike Osama Bin Laden, Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad is a head of state who openly declares his hatred of the West and all Judaism. He is actively pursuing nuclear technology and, although we have him surrounded, any move against him is going to seal our fate with all of Islam. We are at a precipice overlooking the eternal hatred that exists between Palestine and Israel. If we allow Islamophobia to control our adrenal gland, all the terrorists need do is say boo and we’ll be diving into an ocean of hatred that will outlast our species.

How can the West justify an attack on Iran while North Korea has been dealt with through economic sanctions? Islam is no justification at all considering the cult of personality that surrounds Kim Jong-Il; that guy makes Mouhmoud Ahmadinejad look like Sigmund Freud. Islam, however, will be seen as the culprit whether declared as such or not.

With the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the tolerance of torture and secret prisons, and a death toll that is still ticking, the West has lost the advantage of any moral stance to which it ever laid claim. Our open ended ‘War on Terror’ is one step away from being a war on Islam and most in the East perceive the West to have crossed that line 8 years ago in full sprint. Adding cultural hatred of Islam to our repertoire will only serve as the cement that binds us to our extinction.

If the West engages the East in a war of ideologies it will only be a matter of time until, like Israel and Palestine, religion will no longer be needed to perpetuate the violence. Honestly, this writer feels that the only option we have left is to allow Iran to develop its nuclear capability as we get our asses the hell out of there. We can always take solace in the fact that the only planet destroying nuclear arsenal in the world resides in the United States of America; let’s just make sure fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t gain control of it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What is Reality?

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

Recently I have run into a string of theists who suggest that I am unable to perceive reality, or that my notion of reality is as much a fairy tale as I suggest theirs to be. These assertions are most aggressively made when I tell them that creationism and/or intelligent design are not scientific models and therefore do not belong in science classrooms. When I explain that science is based on observations of physical reality, observations that either of us can make for ourselves should either of us choose to pursue that avenue, they inevitably regress to the suggestion that I cannot even define physical reality. To this end, I’ve decided to take up that challenge.

Although reality would seem to be an objective, unequivocal truth, any attempt to conclusively define it quickly deteriorates into solipsism. One begins by trying to establish the certainty of one’s own existence by identifying with the thoughts that one perceives as arising in one’s own mind. From this definition of self (I think therefore I am) it becomes clear that there are perceptions that arise exclusively within the mind (thoughts) and perceptions that arise exclusively from without (senses). Continuing further, reality can be defined as an objective interpretation of that which can be perceived outside of the mind (sensed).

There seems to be no way of conclusively defining reality without acknowledging the role that one’s own senses, and therefore one’s own mind, play in determining that reality. In point of fact, one’s very notion of reality is nothing more than an internal model (thought) of that which has been externally perceived (sensed). To make matters even more complicated, there exists the possibility that the very notion of reality is nothing more than a dream, that it has all been generated internally (thought).

If, in fact, the physical reality of which I have a notion is nothing more than a dream generated by my own mind, then I am the god of that reality: I have created it; I can manipulate it to my own will, without limit; nothing occurs within it that isn’t the product of my own will; and I am the only facet of it that will continue to exist when I have ceased to dream of it.

If, in fact, the physical reality of which I have a notion is nothing more than a dream generated not by my own mind, then I am deceived. If my thoughts are even my own, which is questionable, then the senses that I have do not reveal anything other than that which the deceiver wishes me to perceive. Such a deceiver, therefore, is determining my notion of reality and therefore corralling my notions thereof. Under such circumstance I am unable to conceive of such a deceiver by any definition other than that of a malevolent trickster, a demon.

Finally, if in fact the physical reality of which I have a notion is not a dream, that is to say that it exists independent of my notions of it, then it is something which I can only come to know through my own senses. To this end, other people whom I encounter have their own minds, independent of my own, and they too have the ability to sense the same physical world of which I am a part. Furthermore, it is possible for us to compare what we have sensed to determine whether or not our models of reality match; that is to say that we can actually exchange thoughts about the nature of the reality which we have independently sensed.

Physical senses can often be deceiving though. I might perceive that there is a bat hanging in a tree only to later realize that it was a shadow. For this reason, determination of reality requires extensive investigation. The most powerful tool we have in determining physical reality is the model of collaborative investigation put forward by science. One need not be a scientist to benefit from the model it puts forth though.

For instance, to determine the amount of money taken in at a restaurant, several people act independently to count that money at different stages. Each server counts the money they have taken in and makes a note of that amount. The head server collects all their money and counts it, as well as calculating the sum of the values entered in their notes. The accountant makes another count of that money and the money is counted yet again at the bank. If, at any given point, the amounts counted and noted by different people do not add up, the discrepancy is not adequately explained away by simply declaring that one person or the other has a different perception of reality.

If the owner of the restaurant finds that the revenues are not to his liking he may have the thought that a thief exists. Simply thinking that the thief exists does not give rise to the existence of the thief, however. The determination of whether or not a thief exists requires an investigation, an audit of the paper trail and perhaps surveillance of the staff. If the investigation fails to prove the existence of the thief then a rational owner would have to at least entertain the notion that no such thief exists. He may cling to the notion that a thief exists simply because he does not find the revenues appealing, but that notion is not well grounded in reality.

Having such notions does not make a person less of a human being; on the contrary, I suggest that such notions are very much a part of what it means to be human. To be a rational human, however, one must accept that notions of reality do not always reflect reality and that there is in fact an objective reality to be investigated. It is this objective reality that I define as reality. It is the investigation of this reality that I call science, and it must, for the sake of rationality, remain unpolluted by notions that are not founded upon physical evidence. The notion that there is a god of some sort manipulating or propagating our reality is one that is not, and by most definitions of god cannot be, supported by the evidence and therefore it must remain outside the science classrooms of our children.

I realize that creationists and proponents of intelligent design feel that their notions of god are being discredited by objective investigations of reality, but like the aforementioned restaurant owner they should at least entertain the notion that no such god exists. It is important that young scientists learn what it means to investigate physical reality and follow the evidence as it becomes uncovered. If there truly is a god then physical evidence for that god will eventually be discovered or else god is a deceiver, a malevolent trickster – a demon, and therefore no god at all.

Objective investigation of physical reality shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that prayer does not have the efficacy of medicine, surgery, engineering, or even sound investment strategy. Objective investigation of physical reality has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the fallacy of the cosmological model, deluge mythology, historicity, and even some animal husbandry practices of several passages of religious scripture. Objective investigation of physical reality has revealed no evidence whatsoever that supports the notion of a god.

I acknowledge that reality is not easily defined and my own attempt at it may fall short in the opinion of many. I have, however, at least made a sincere attempt to define it and to question my own perception of it. The only answers I can arrive at are that I am god, I am deceived by a demon, or that there are no gods or demons. The last of those three answers surely seems the most reasonable and rational. If my definition and/or conclusions fall short, then I leave the ball in your court and ask: What is reality?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Non-Cognitive Survival

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

War stories often relate extraordinary tales of soldiers who have survived the grimmest of odds. As we zoom in on a soldier hanging on for dear life in the belly of a landing craft headed for Omaha Beach we can hear the screams of those being blown to bits in the landing crafts around his. As the front wall of the craft drops to reveal hell on a beach, our soldier rushes out through a hail storm of high caliber machine gun fire that shreds the bodies of his comrades. Amazingly, he presses forth with the survivors of the other landings only to watch unknown soldiers around him being blasted into oblivion by landmines.

Death lays in wait for our heroic soldier at every turn. With every move he makes he narrowly evades the horrific obliteration of yet another comrade. And so the story continues, with morbid destruction looming over every step, all the way to Berlin. How can our soldier have possibly survived such a journey of death and destruction? The explanation is purely mathematical: fatalities did not amount to one hundred percent on any of the battlefields that he crossed.

Our soldier could not possibly have known which turn was fatal and which was not. Many of his fallen comrades may have actually met literal dead ends without a survivable option being left available to them. Like many soldiers, however, our soldier was presented with non-fatal options at every step. Like a select few soldiers, as it turned out, our soldier selected the non-fatal path in every instance.

It boggles the mind to consider the odds of our soldier having not only had non-fatal options at every turn but also having made non-fatal selections all the way through. The fact of the matter is, however, that if he hadn’t had non-fatal options and made non-fatal selections all the way through then he wouldn’t have been the soldier we zoomed in on at the beginning of this story. Stories of anonymous soldiers who died three minutes into the battle are simply not very interesting. The interesting stories are those of the soldiers who survived, or at least those who survived long enough for the narrative to develop.

The selection of the soldier for this story began not in the landing craft but in Berlin. Had no soldiers survived to reach Berlin then the selection would have begun not in Berlin but in London, and the soldier would have been German. Soldiers did survive to reach Berlin, however, and it is from this pool that the selection was made. In point of fact, it is not entirely extraordinary that there were soldiers who survived to the end of the war. In point of fact, it is extraordinarily extraordinary just how many did not.

Consider if you will just how many stories had to exist in order to generate the pool of soldiers in Berlin from whom we made our selection. How many stories ended in the landing crafts, on the beaches, in the trenches, or in catatonic states of terror? How many stories never got past the first page? How many never got past the first chapter? How many stories ended in obscurity? War does not generate heroic stories, it cuts stories short and heroic stories are simply those that remain where war has failed.

This is a useful analogy for evolution. Abiogenesis is the landing craft that delivers little self-replicating soldiers to hostile environments that make Omaha Beach seem like a children’s carnival. Natural selection takes the form of fortified machine gun turrets that fire automatically in the ever-changing, mindless patterns of environmental factors. In the absence of generals to call the shots, our little self-replicating soldiers can do no more than run back and forth across the beach; there is no map to Berlin; Berlin does not even exist. This process, therefore, is entirely non-cognitive.

In 99.9% of the cosmos, abiogenesis hasn’t even come close to the beach. On earth, abiogenesis hit the beach about 4 billion years ago. The earliest soldiers didn’t even have legs; the only option for mobility was self-replication. Soldiers that didn’t self-replicate died before exiting the landing craft. Soldiers that self-replicated perfectly only moved in straight lines and, as such, were cut to shreds. Soldiers that self-replicated terribly lost all course information and, as such, just circled about until they hit land mines. Only those soldiers that replicated with slight imperfections could retain course information while also changing course from time to time, and although they were mowed down without mercy, the odd one managed to survive for a few pages worth of narrative. It was an entirely non-cognitive process.

Environmental factors that are not harsh enough to destroy a particular organism today will change sufficiently to destroy it tomorrow. The errors that occur in self-replication may very well terminate the self-replicating process altogether - or might, against significant odds, result in attributes that facilitate survival through tomorrow’s genocidal environment. It is important to realize that every genetic change is the result of a mistake in the self-replication process: an error, not an adaptation. In this regard, every detail of every living organism represents an error in the self-replication process. It is an entirely non-cognitive process.

Every aspect of the environment represents an obstacle to survival: life continues in spite of the environment, not because of it – hospitality does not exist. Almost every line of self-replication has hit a dead end, run out of non-fatal options, and gone extinct. Because of all of this, it is inaccurate to say that evolution ‘solves problems’, ‘favours an adaptation’, or ‘reuses’ anything. Evolution is the filter through which imperfect self-replications pass or fail. The filter changes properties as the environmental factors change, but it is an entirely non-cognitive process.

The proof of the carnage lies in the fossil record and other, as yet undiscovered, genetic dead ends. Further proof lies in the vestigial genes that signify self-replication errors long past. The map back to our evolutionary Omaha Beach lies in our DNA, and binds every living thing together by virtue of having survived an horrific war that shredded almost all of our comrades.

It boggles the mind to consider the odds of us having not only had non-fatal options at every turn but also having made non-fatal replication errors all the way through – over a span of 4 billion years. The explanation, however, is purely mathematical: fatalities simply did not amount to one hundred percent on any of the battlefields that we happened to cross. The fact of the matter is that if we hadn’t had non-fatal options and made non-fatal replications errors all the way through then this story wouldn’t be the one being written. Consider if you will just how many stories had to exist in order to generate this one. Evolution does not generate survival stories, it cuts stories short at every turn and survival stories are simply those that remain where natural selection has failed. It is an entirely non-cognitive process.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Prophecy FAIL!

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

It is now 6 P.M., May 21, 2011 in Kiribati (Time zone UTC +14:00) and the rapture has begun, according to imminently-debunked, eschatological-prophet Harold Camping. One must wonder when the failure of the faithful to evaporate will become conspicuous to those in the Camping camp. For those not sharing in the delusion propagated by this repeatedly prophetic pie-eyed piper, the real questions might be when the disciple himself will disappear and whether or not he is stuffing his bindle with bundles of donations at this very moment.

On the other hand, he may choose to stick around for one last hoot and holler as his devotees praise their messiah in a final grand hurrah before sending themselves into the great hereafter. Alternatively, he may not even be done with his milking and bilking for there may yet be money to be made before breaking out the Flavor Aid. Many a modern religion seems to be based on humiliating adherents and what could be more humiliating than failing to be faithful enough to be raked up by the rapture?

The failure of Camping devotees to sell their homes, liquidate their assets, and give themselves over completely to their master belies their doubt. Surely Camping could weave their mutual failures into some sort of second chance, a great revival, and a giant paycheque. By playing off the elusiveness of the rapture as a heavenly check-raise, Camping could cash-in like never before; but would his devotees push all their chips to the middle of the table? Only time will tell, and we have plenty of it - because the end of the world isn't arriving anytime soon.

Astoundingly, even though Camping has joined a long list of failed end-times prognosticators for a second time, he isn't the first to accomplish this feat - Benny Hinn is actually listed three times! Although Camping could easily match Benny by resetting his countdown timer, it is difficult to imagine the 89 year old will last long enough to have a fourth go at the apocalypse. Perhaps the old man can still secure himself a legacy in the extraordinarily audacious claims department by taking a stab at joining the long list of messiah claimants. It would be difficult for him to outperform David Icke, but then again, Mr. Icke has at least never humiliated anyone other than himself. The audacity displayed by Camping in turning his devotees out into the streets to spread his bullshit has surely got to be taken into account.

In closing, the final question that remains is: when will mankind evolve past the level of gullibility it takes to entertain the ravings of these self-deluded snake charmers?

Philosophy is Alive and Well!

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and fellow physicist/co-author Leonard Mlodinow declare that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with modern developments in science. Ironically, they then proceed to outlay a philosophical proof of their audacious claim. It seems, for the most part, that they feel quantum physics has developed sufficiently to warrant the putting to bed of metaphysics. To this end I would agree, although I have very strong atheistic views that I have yet to defend ubiquitously against philosophical arguments.

I would like to assert here, philosophically, that philosophy is certainly not dead but that it is, rather, alive and well – and perhaps more vital than ever. Science is certainly an essential tool for acquiring knowledge, although an understanding of what exactly constitutes knowledge remains firmly rooted in the realm of epistemology – a branch of philosophy, not science. For most people, including me, epistemology may often seem like a bunch of fart-sniffing navel gazing, but even I cannot refute the necessity of at least a cursory ponderance of epistemology in establishing a basis for evaluating one’s own beliefs.

The evaluation of one’s own beliefs must be a central tenet of any form of skepticism espousing itself to be free of hypocrisy. Such evaluations, and skepticism itself, rely on critical thinking skills that are firmly rooted in philosophy. Whether or not the skeptic embraces ontology, the skeptic’s demand for evidence relies on ontological evaluations of empiricism and rationalism as a basis for evaluating what constitutes evidence at all.

Indeed, in the absence of philosophy scientists become nothing more than technicians left unable even to determine what knowledge they should seek. Where science seeks answers, philosophy posed the question. Where science seeks truth, philosophy establishes our motivation for seeking in the first place. Where science establishes proof, philosophy finds meaning in that proof.

It is a scientific certainty that all of man’s folly will come to an end. Timespace is finite leaving entropy to erode all flesh and, with it, all knowledge. Nothing that man can learn will prevent our ultimate demise and so we must ask: what, if anything, can be gained by our intellectual pursuits? This very question and any answers to it are the very essence of philosophy, which, more than ever, is alive and well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Iraq War Civilian Fatalities

A report by – Heather Spoonheim

With estimates for civilian casualties in Iraq ranging from one hundred thousand to one million, one must wonder – what the hell is going on? For the most part, it seems, the parties producing these numbers are making no attempts whatsoever to mislead anyone. The reason such a wide discrepancy exists between the highest and lowest numbers being reported is that the statistic is simply not a straight forward matter at all.

In truth, only a window to an alternate reality could provide a truly objective evaluation of the civilian toll. If one could accurately determine civilian deaths in Iraq from that alternate reality and then compare those to the civilian deaths in the Iraq of our reality, the difference would provide a very objective basis for evaluation.

In lieu of such a window, however, one is left grasping for rather elusive evidence. Essentially, the best method left available to the statistician is determining and comparing mortality rates for before and after the invasion/occupation. In a culture that demands a body be in the ground in short order, however, and in an environment where the infrastructure required to establish firm records has been compromised, sourcing such statistics is difficult, at best.

One source, and a very fortunate one to have, is Iraq Body Count (IBC). Initially set up before the invasion of Iraq began, IBC has kept very meticulous records of confirmed civilian war/violence related fatalities throughout the conflict and occupation. Their record set is somewhat limited, however, since fatalities that are not reported by media sources available in English are not recorded by IBC. Even so, IBC fatality statistics must be highly regarded as setting a very reliable minimum number of civilian fatalities resulting from the Iraq war/occupation.

Substantiation of IBC’s numbers can be found in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The GTD is an extensive database of over 87,000 terrorist ‘events’ spanning the years 1970 through 2008. A query of the GTD for events that resulted in fatalities in Iraq from 2003 through 2008 provides a record set that seems to correlate with the IBC statement of civilian deaths attributable to suicide attacks and vehicle bombs over that same period. IBC reports those numbers as deaths per day for each year, and the table below compares those numbers with GTD results for those years divided by 365.

Year IBC/Day GTD/Day
2003 1.4 1.4
2004 5.2 7.4
2005 10.0 12.2
2006 16.0 12.6
2007 21.0 18.1
2008 10.0 7.7

It should be noted that the GTD records only events considered to be acts of terrorism. It is unlikely that acts of inter-sectarian violence are often classified as terrorist events, resulting in the GTD not recording many fatalities that are recorded by IBC. Furthermore, given that IBC only records civilian fatalities, the IBC does not record fatalities of military personnel listed in the GTD. Considering these differences in methodology, it is rather notable that the resulting numbers from each database correlate so tightly. The only year for which the GTD records more fatalities than IBC is 2004, although it might be assumed that in the early months following the invasion there were many more military than civilian targets, or that the military has been more capable than the general public in adapting defenses to suicide attacks and vehicle bombs.

The IBC firmly establishes the minimum number of violent civilian fatalities that have occurred during the Iraq war/occupation, and it is also an invaluable tool for determining an expected distribution of such fatalities. The full total of excess civilian deaths of the Iraq war/occupation, however, cannot be established with such certainty.

The methodology for determining total excess civilian deaths requires the use of well designed interviews of members of randomly selected clusters of households and established practices of interpreting the resulting data. To date there are only two peer reviewed studies that have attempted this task - a rather daunting one considering the security issues faced by doing door to door surveys in an unstable country, with at least one survey taker actually becoming a statistic himself.

One of those peer reviewed studies, published in the Lancet, estimated that there were over 600,000 excess violent civilian deaths from the invasion/occupation by June of 2006. The other peer reviewed study published in the New England Journal of Medicine by the Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) estimated that there were approximately 150,000 excess violent civilian deaths during the same period. By comparison, IBC reported approximately 100,000 confirmed violent civilian deaths being accumulated by October of 2006.

Given the 100,000 confirmed deaths recorded by IBC, one is left to wonder how the 600,000 estimate reported in the Lancet could vary so greatly from the 150,000 estimate reported by the IFHS. There have been wide ranging criticisms of both reports that go well beyond the scope of this short review. The criticisms of the Lancet report, however, seem to be made from incredulity and focus mostly on the sample sizes and true randomness of distribution. The criticisms of the IFHS report, on the other hand, seem to center on the potential for underreporting of violent causes of death due to the involvement of government affiliated survey takers and a ministry controlled by Moktada al Sadr.

As the death toll in Iraq continues to accumulate, those who profit from sensational headlines tend to gravitate towards seven figure casualty estimates. Staunchly conservative analysts, conversely, gravitate towards the barely six figure number of confirmed fatalities reported by IBC. The truth of the matter, however, would seem to lay somewhere in between. Even assuming a rather moderate figure of 250,000 civilian casualties of the Iraq war and occupation to date, it is sobering to realize that the civilian cost of just that one theatre of battle in the ‘War on Terror’ is greater than the total worldwide death toll from terrorism during the entire lifetime of this writer, and yet the occupation and violence are far from over.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Rule of 72 and Doubling Time

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

The drunken haze that I refer to as my ‘first year in University’ instilled within me three distinctly poignant lessons: that I did not want, in any way, shape, or form, to become a teacher; that one should never add water to a jar containing sodium just because there doesn’t seem to be enough fluid covering it; and that statistics are the bane of the layman.

One Sunday afternoon when my informal Dr. Who fan club couldn’t find a free venue in which to congregate, smoke, and watch our favorite show, I found myself sitting alone reading How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. It was a book that changed my life because, for the first time, I realized that mathematics could tell lies. Darrell Huff taught me that cold, hard, irrefutable mathematical reductions could invoke false beliefs, without need for any mathematical trickery whatsoever.

The problem is that math is amoral and unsocial; it just has no concept of right or wrong and it has absolutely no desire at all to communicate with us. If one wants to understand what math has to say then one must learn the language of math for, like all too many Anglophones, math simply refuses to communicate in the vernacular. You see, it isn’t so much that math tells lies but, rather, that it speaks its own language and cares not what meaning we glean from its pronouncements. The misrepresentations conveyed by math are actually the result of our own shortcomings. Consider the following two statements:

  • This portfolio will double every 10 years.
  • This portfolio will provide 7.2% annual growth.

Which one sounds like the better investment to you? If you are a layman of mathematics then you may be surprised to learn that both statements predict the same returns. This is an illustration of the rule of 72. The rule of 72 is a rule of thumb that aids in the prediction of doubling time. Essentially, if you divide 72 by the percentage of growth (72 divided by 7.2), the result will be the number of cycles (years) it takes for the original amount to double. If something increases by 7% per month, then it will double in roughly 10 months. If something increases by 10% per year, then it will take roughly 7.2 years to double.

This one little rule of thumb is critical for making decisions in today’s world, yet few people are even aware of it. When newspapers report that inflation for the year was 3.6%, most people just shrug that off as some discreet and irrelevant economic statistic. Inflation, however, represents the amount by which prices have gone up in the consumer market. Although 3.6% inflation may seem irrelevant, the realization that your grocery bill has doubled over the past 20 years can be startling.

When I was a wee child, a bottle of soda cost 25 cents; now the bottle is made of plastic and the price is a dollar. For those not inclined to do the math on this one, either inflation has been greater than 3.6% during my lifetime or it has been more than 40 years since my earliest memory of pulling a soda out of a vending machine. You see, at an annual inflation rate of 3.6%, it takes 20 years (72 divided by 3.6) for the price of soda to double. After 20 years, that 25 cent bottle came to cost 50 cents, and after another 20 years it came cost one dollar.

The very concept of doubling time itself is a difficult concept for most people to grasp. The most powerful illustration of doubling time that I’ve ever heard involves a tale about a man who invented the game of chess for his king. The king was so impressed that he offered the inventor anything that his heart desired. The inventor, being mischievous as well as mathematically inclined, told the king that he desired a precisely determined amount of rice. He stated that he wanted one grain of rice for the first square on the board, two for the next square, and then three, and so on, for every square on the board. The king laughed at the inventor’s seemingly paltry wish and granted that it should be so.

Now there are 64 squares on a chessboard, and after only 8 squares (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 …) the king made a keen observation. The next number was going to be 256, and it so happens that 1+2+4+8+16+32+64+128=255. This, he accurately surmised, meant that each time the amount was doubled the result was one greater than the total number of grains that had already been granted. The inventor was kind enough to inform the king that this mathematical truth was going to play a big roll in the future of his kingdom.

By the end of the second row the court jester had taken several days to count the 32,768 grains of rice required for the 16th square. The king, becoming very concerned at the prospect of having to count so many grains of rice, asked the inventor if they could just start weighing the rice instead. The inventor agreed, and they determined that the 32,768 grains of rice weighed about 8 kilograms and so it was that they continued with the payments by weight. By the end of the 3rd row, the king was amazed to find that four carts had to be employed to hall in the 2,048 kilograms of rice required for the 24th square. By the end of the 4th row, however, things started looking grim for the king as cart after cart had to be driven into the castle for days in order to provide the necessary 524,288 kilograms of rice that were required for the 32nd square.

The king became furious as he pondered the toll impending on the second half of the chessboard, and he asked the inventor just how many grains of rice it would take to fulfill the entire contract. The inventor told the king that the number of grains of rice required for the 64th square would be 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Since every time the amount was calculated for a square it would result in a number that was one greater than all the rice previously granted, the rice already granted by that time would be 9,223,372,036,854,775,807. The sum of the two numbers, he said, was 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 – or roughly 2 trillion metric tons of rice. The king seized upon the inventor and promptly cut off his head.

This little story about the rice and the chessboard has always stuck with me because of just how profoundly it illustrates the potential of exponential growth. Armed with this knowledge, and the rule of 72, one can actually begin to understand why so many economists and scientists are so preoccupied with studying trends. To this end, let us consider how short sighted the king’s murderous rage might have been.

As the king had accurately surmised, every time the number was doubled, the result was actually greater than the sum of all the previous numbers. The inventor had also been kind enough to inform the king that this mathematical truth was going to play a big roll in the future of his kingdom. The trouble, though, was that the king had no idea what the inventor had meant by that and the poor sod’s head was already rolling around the courtyard before the king had regained the presence of mind to ask for clarification.

The king called upon his barristers to find out if he was obligated by any other contracts that stipulated a doubling of payments and they assured him that he was not. The king then racked his brain to think of anything in his kingdom that had ever doubled. The only thing he could think of was the number of farms he had raided to keep his kingdom well fed. In the last year of his father’s reign, the old man had raided 40 farms. After the old man died, passing the crown to the foolish chessboard king, it took 7 long years to increase that number to 80, and he remembered it well for he had thrown a big celebration to commend his knights on having doubled their efforts. It suddenly dawned on him that it had been about 7 years since that glorious celebration, and this year’s plans were to raid 160 farms.

This didn’t seem quite the same as the problem with the chessboard, however, for the raids had never doubled in one year. The king consulted with the court scholar on the matter, and the scholar assured him that the number of raids only increased by a little over 10% each year so their was certainly no reason to worry about a repeat of the chessboard fiasco. (Reminder: by the rule of 72, a 10% annual growth rate produces a doubling time of roughly 7 years: 72 divided by 10.)

Unfortunately, although the scholar knew about the rule of 72, and had recently witnessed how doubling values lead to exponential growth, he just didn’t understand how such equations could impact something like farm raids. Since the king’s father had raided 40 farms the year before handing over the crown, the king himself, raiding 10% more each year, had kicked off his reign with 44 raids. In the 7th year of his reign he raided 80 farms, and in year 14 he planned to raid 160. How then, might the next 7 years look in terms of raids? These numbers are illustrated in the table below.

Farm Raids
Period 1 Period 2 Period 3
44 88 177
49 98 195
54 108 216
59 119 238
66 131 263
72 145 290
80 160 320
Totals: 424 849 1699

As you can see, not only does the number of annual farms raids move from 80 to 160, but the total number of farms raided in periods one and two also doubles. Furthermore, with the number of annual farm raids predicted to double again, to 320, the total number of raids for period 3 (1699) is actually greater than for the 14 years previous to that period (424+849=1273). Although the number of raids was only increasing by 10% per year, the number of farms that the king would need to raid in any given 7 year period would actually be greater than the sum total of all farms he had ever raided before that period, in the entire history of his kingdom. At some point, perhaps in his great-grandson’s reign, there simply wouldn’t be enough farms in all of India to raid. If you don’t believe this then please re-read the chessboard segment of this article.

In 1977, when U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that the world had used more oil in each of the preceding decades than had been consumed previous to those decades, in the history of the world, millions upon millions of people laughed openly. Hopefully the reader has gained enough from this article so as not to ever be moved to laughter by such ignorance, for even today, few people realize just how dramatically that consumption trend had to be altered. The fact is that we haven’t been able to double our oil usage in any 10 year period that followed that speech. Today we need to face the fact that we will never again double that number, for we’ve already consumed half of all that was ever available and we would need more than what is left to ever double our consumption again.

We must acknowledge, therefore, the importance of remaining diligent in observing trends in all forms of economic growth and consumption. Today, rather than raiding farms, we seek out new sources of energy as petroleum sources begin to decline. As we continue to double our energy consumption, however, we will find that there are only so many rivers to be dammed, only so much uranium to be mined, and only so much wind to be harvested. Even though the sun is, for us, an eternal source of energy, our ability to harvest that energy is dependant upon our ability to source out the materials required for that harvest. Eventually we must face the fact that there are a finite number of farms for us to raid.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


A statistical summary by – Heather Spoonheim

Synopsis - GTD

The information included herein summarizes data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), maintained by The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), based at the University of Maryland. At the time of this writing, May 14, 2001, the START webpage states that the GTD includes information on over 87,000 terrorist events, spanning the years 1970 through 2008.


The information included herein is not guaranteed for accuracy. It is recommended that the following information only be used with a citation to the GTD so that queries can be rechecked for accuracy.

The Total Fatalities Dataset (TFD)

A May 14, 2001 query of the GTD for records that included a non-zero entry for fatal casualties returned 36,153 records. This dataset of 36,153 records is herein called the Total Fatalities Dataset (TFD). The oldest events in the TFD are GTD ID records 197000000001, 197001000001, and 197001110001 (all 3 are referenced here because the first two do not specify the day of the event, although all three are dated for 1970). The most recent event in the TFD is GTD ID number 200812310012, which specifies a date of December 31, 2008. There are 5 events in the TFD that specify a date of December 31, 2008.(Disclaimer)

Table of Contents

General Summaries of the TFD

  • The TFD includes records of 36,153 terrorist events that resulted in at least 1 fatal casualty.

  • The total number of fatalities recorded in the TFD is 201,594.

  • There are 3,355 records in the TFD which do not specify a count of non-fatal casualties.

  • There are 32,798 records in the TFD which do specify a count of non-fatal casualties. These 32,798 records record a total of 178,025 fatal casualties and 196,202 non-fatal casualties.

  • There are 19,329 records in the TFD which specify 0 non-fatal casualties. These 19,329 records record a total of 95,262 fatal casualties and include; 9157 records that specify 1 fatal casualty, 2973 records that specify 2 casualties, and 1625 records that specify 3 casualties. GTD ID number 199404130008 references a record that specifies 0 non-fatal casualties and 1180 fatal casualties.

  • The TFD contains 1510 different entries for terrorist groups, including the designation “Unknown” and 6 other entries containing the word ‘Unknown’. Records specifying the terrorist group as ‘Unknown’ record 62,136 fatalities and records containing a terrorist group entry containing the word ‘Unknown’ (although not just ‘Unknown’) record 38 fatalities.

  • Disclaimer

Table Summaries of the TFD

Total Fatalities by Country

Total Fatalities by Country - sorted by country

The following table summarizes the TFD by country, showing total fatalities for each country as well as the totals for the 5 year periods preceding the years indicated.(note that the TFD ends on December 31,2008)(Disclaimer)

Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 Total
Afghanistan   53   138 148 105 866 3493 4803
Albania         1 80 2   83
Algeria         288 6708 1660 563 9219
Angola   19 467 363 371 747 1040   3007
Argentina 52 276 3 34 119 2     486
Armenia         16 16     32
Australia 1 2 3 8 9       23
Austria 4 5 5 6         20
Azerbaijan         204     5 209
Bahrain         1 10   1 12
Bangladesh     13 300 217 102 167 77 876
Barbados   73     3       76
Belarus           2     2
Belgium   2 10 16 4       32
Belize         2       2
Bhutan               9 9
Bolivia     13 6 16       35
Bosnia-Herzegovina         27 14 2 3 46
Botswana 1     4 6       11
Brazil 2 5 48 15 42 44   20 176
Bulgaria     2       8   10
Burkina Faso     1   1       2
Burundi         804 2809 531 76 4220
Cambodia 3 1   11 237 168 26 1 447
Cameroon         52     34 86
Canada 2   1 332       1 336
Central African Republic     3   3   14 6 26
Chad         210 81 20 247 558
Chile   6 79 99 30       214
China       20 25 95 42 38 220
Colombia 1 282 1810 4200 1961 2781 1458 419 12912
Congo (Brazzaville)     15     109 47   171
Congo (Kinshasa)   1 2 28 12 328 164 431 966
Corsica     6 7 4 2     19
Costa Rica     8 1   4     13
Croatia         239 2     241
Cuba         3 2   1 6
Cyprus 1 3 9 12         25
Czech Republic           2     2
Czechoslovakia         1       1
Denmark       1 1       2
Djibouti   5   10 237 11     263
Dominica     3           3
Dominican Republic 1 4 6 8 5 6     30
East Germany (GDR) 1     1         2
Ecuador   4 6 30 5       45
Egypt 1 4 68 17 53 225 42 112 522
El Salvador   328 8891 2482 741 2     12444
Equatorial Guinea         1       1
Eritrea               4 4
Ethiopia 4 131 200 41 507 8 6 255 1152
Fiji         1       1
Finland               9 9
France 9 44 73 60 8   4 4 202
French Guiana     1           1
Gabon   2       8     10
Gambia         13       13
Georgia         96 116 8 32 252
Germany         17 6     23
Ghana           2     2
Gibraltar       3         3
Great Britain 88 27 68 293 11 4 2 72 565
Greece 99 17 19 92 54 2 2 63 348
Grenada     9           9
Guadeloupe     5 2 1       8
Guatemala 2 125 4172 580 166 36 8 5 5094
Guinea     1       109   110
Guinea-Bissau             2 11 13
Guyana   6 2         29 37
Haiti     5 7 212 12 24 4 264
Honduras   1 101 57 25 6 28   218
Hong Kong         1       1
Hungary           2     2
India   31 359 2828 3285 2566 3753 2849 15671
Indonesia   1 6 92 64 182 640 87 1072
International             2   2
Iran 7 527 447 91 88 28 8 121 1317
Iraq   13 105 43 132 325 3235 18440 22293
Ireland 46 24 22 11 3 2   1 109
Israel 110 145 40 86 135 122 966 168 1772
Italy 88 80 186 28 13 2 4 2 403
Ivory Coast         1 34 30 58 123
Jamaica   4 16 3 3 2     28
Japan   11 2 8 3 12     36
Jordan 3 9 2   1   2 64 81
Kazakhstan         2 2 4 2 10
Kenya   31 13 4 184 426 26 182 866
Kosovo           42 76 3 121
Kuwait   1 7 14 2   12 2 38
Kyrgyzstan           2 10 1 13
Laos       2 3   20   25
Latvia             2   2
Lebanon 4 93 1080 1330 251 120 32 220 3130
Lesotho     29 4         33
Liberia         139     12 151
Libya     15           15
Macedonia             69 2 71
Madagascar         12       12
Malawi         30   2   32
Malaysia   105   29         134
Mali         170     75 245
Malta   1   1 3       5
Mauritania   4           35 39
Mexico 3 81 17 2 74 339 4 55 575
Moldova         10     2 12
Morocco   10   202 5   71 3 291
Mozambique   36 115 1799 603 13   6 2572
Myanmar   86 30 288 297 102 24 64 891
Namibia   37 34 96 3 13 46   229
Nepal       6 9 71 1574 507 2167
Netherlands 2 8   4 2   4   20
New Caledonia     11 24         35
New Zealand         1       1
Nicaragua   306 7884 2992 97 2     11281
Niger       174 71 62   65 372
Nigeria     1 4 158 289 166 435 1053
North Yemen   2 1           3
Northern Ireland 876 799 373 376 213 104 22 5 2768
Norway       1         1
Pakistan 1 14 46 435 607 1414 1007 3133 6657
Panama   1 1 1 28 2     33
Papua New Guinea       13 39 12     64
Paraguay 1 1 4     6     12
Peru   5 4637 4385 3275 211 62 39 12614
Philippines 46 283 843 2109 1253 342 1549 478 6903
Poland         2 2     4
Portugal   6 19 8 1       34
Puerto Rico 5 10 5 2         22
Qatar     1 3     2 4 10
Rhodesia   193 24           217
Romania     1 2 1       4
Russia         20 789 2470 337 3616
Rwanda         1670 1396 2 30 3098
Saudi Arabia   5   64   19 163 10 261
Senegal       2 63 157 50 4 276
Serbia             2   2
Serbia-Montenegro             4 2 6
Sierra Leone         338 399 28   765
Singapore         4       4
Slovak Republic           4     4
Solomon Islands           4 4   8
Somalia     1 30 14 199 111 911 1266
South Africa   22 103 580 1190 103 14 1 2013
South Korea 1   2 5 1   192   201
South Vietnam 81               81
Soviet Union   4   6 85       95
Spain 27 289 290 240 98 18 287 16 1265
Sri Lanka   2 490 5319 3356 2557 613 1388 13725
Sudan 3   307 80 57 53 114 1042 1656
Suriname       28 1       29
Swaziland     1     2     3
Sweden 27 4 1   4 2     38
Switzerland 47 1 2 1 7   14   72
Syria 1 86 380 65   15 8 24 579
Taiwan 25       23   4   52
Tajikistan         19 109 22 1 151
Tanzania   1       11     12
Thailand 2 92 97 43 51 16 140 864 1305
Timor-Leste           46 12 3 61
Togo       1 57       58
Tunisia     41 2 7   37 14 101
Turkey 4 199 160 549 2291 457 168 175 4003
Uganda   13 413 266 86 982 1056 169 2985
Ukraine         1 4     5
United Arab Emirates 1 6 114 1         122
United States 120 52 39 7 8 205 3013 8 3452
Uruguay 4     1         5
Uzbekistan           36 49 2 87
Venezuela   2 44 71 52     2 171
West Bank and Gaza Strip 1 10 58 89 218 28 649 213 1266
West Germany (FRG) 33 9 25 27 1       95
Western Sahara       1         1
Yemen         16 36 55 136 243
Yugoslavia 1 1 4   8 119 12   145
Zambia 3 2   44 20 2     71
Zimbabwe     63 64 9   16 7 159

Total Fatalities by Country - sorted by fatalities

The following table summarizes the TFD by country, showing total fatalities for each country as well as the totals for the 5 year periods preceding the years indicated.(note that the TFD ends on December 31,2008)(Disclaimer)

Iraq 131054313232532351844022293
India 313592828328525663753284915671
Sri Lanka 2490531933562557613138813725
Peru 5463743853275211623912614
El Salvador 328889124827412  12444
Nicaragua 30678842992972  11281
Algeria    288670816605639219
Afghanistan 53 13814810586634934803
Burundi    8042809531764220
Russia    2078924703373616
United States120523978205301383452
Rwanda    167013962303098
Angola 194673633717471040 3007
Uganda 134132668698210561692985
Northern Ireland8767993733762131042252768
Mozambique 36115179960313 62572
Nepal   697115745072167
South Africa 2210358011901031412013
Sudan3 30780575311410421656
Somalia  130141991119111266
West Bank and Gaza Strip1105889218286492131266
Indonesia 169264182640871072
Nigeria  141582891664351053
Congo (Kinshasa) 122812328164431966
Myanmar 86302882971022464891
Bangladesh  1330021710216777876
Kenya 3113418442626182866
Sierra Leone    33839928 765
Syria18638065 15824579
Great Britain882768293114272565
Chad    2108120247558
Argentina522763341192  486
Cambodia31 11237168261447
Niger   1747162 65372
Canada2 1332   1336
Morocco 10 2025 713291
Senegal   263157504276
Haiti  5721212244264
Djibouti 5 1023711  263
Saudi Arabia 5 64 1916310261
Georgia    96116832252
Mali    170  75245
Yemen    163655136243
Croatia    2392  241
Namibia 37349631346 229
China   2025954238220
Honduras 11015725628 218
Rhodesia 19324     217
Chile 6799930   214
Azerbaijan    204  5209
France94473608 44202
South Korea1 251 192 201
Brazil2548154244 20176
Congo (Brazzaville)  15  10947 171
Venezuela 2447152  2171
Zimbabwe  63649 167159
Liberia    139  12151
Tajikistan    19109221151
Yugoslavia114 811912 145
Malaysia 105 29    134
Ivory Coast    1343058123
United Arab Emirates161141    122
Kosovo     42763121
Guinea  1   109 110
Ireland4624221132 1109
Tunisia  4127 3714101
Soviet Union 4 685   95
West Germany (FRG)33925271   95
Uzbekistan     3649287
Cameroon    52  3486
Albania    1802 83
Jordan392 1 26481
South Vietnam81       81
Barbados 73  3   76
Switzerland471217 14 72
Macedonia      69271
Zambia32 44202  71
Papua New Guinea   133912  64
Timor-Leste     4612361
Togo   157   58
Taiwan25   23 4 52
Bosnia-Herzegovina    27142346
Ecuador 46305   45
Mauritania 4     3539
Kuwait 17142 12238
Sweden2741 42  38
Guyana 62    2937
Japan 1128312  36
Bolivia  13616   35
New Caledonia  1124    35
Portugal 61981   34
Lesotho  294    33
Panama 111282  33
Armenia    1616  32
Belgium 210164   32
Malawi    30 2 32
Dominican Republic146856  30
Suriname   281   29
Jamaica 416332  28
Central African Republic  3 3 14626
Cyprus13912    25
Laos   23 20 25
Australia12389   23
Germany    176  23
Puerto Rico51052    22
Austria4556    20
Netherlands28 42 4 20
Corsica  6742  19
Libya  15     15
Costa Rica  81 4  13
Gambia    13   13
Guinea-Bissau      21113
Kyrgyzstan     210113
Bahrain    110 112
Madagascar    12   12
Moldova    10  212
Paraguay114  6  12
Tanzania 1   11  12
Botswana1  46   11
Bulgaria  2   8 10
Gabon 2   8  10
Kazakhstan    224210
Qatar  13  2410
Bhutan       99
Finland       99
Grenada  9     9
Guadeloupe  521   8
Solomon Islands     44 8
Cuba    32 16
Serbia-Montenegro      426
Malta 1 13   5
Ukraine    14  5
Uruguay4  1    5
Eritrea       44
Poland    22  4
Romania  121   4
Singapore    4   4
Slovak Republic     4  4
Dominica  3     3
Gibraltar   3    3
North Yemen 21     3
Swaziland  1  2  3
Belarus     2  2
Belize    2   2
Burkina Faso  1 1   2
Czech Republic     2  2
Denmark   11   2
East Germany (GDR)1  1    2
Ghana     2  2
Hungary     2  2
International      2 2
Latvia      2 2
Serbia      2 2
Czechoslovakia    1   1
Equatorial Guinea    1   1
Fiji    1   1
French Guiana  1     1
Hong Kong    1   1
New Zealand    1   1
Norway   1    1
Western Sahara   1    1

Total Fatalities by Terrorist Group

Terrorist Groups Killing 1000 or More

There are 27 different terrorist groups (including “Unknown”) in the TFD that are alleged to have caused at least 1000 fatalities. Excluding ‘Unknown’, the remaining 26 groups are alleged to have caused 78,518 casualties. Please note: this table does not include data from 14 terrorist groups recorded in the TFD that include the word “Al-Qa’ida” their name.(Disclaimer)

Terrorist GroupVictims
Shining Path (SL)11194
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN)8482
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)8006
Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN)7266
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)3722
New People's Army (NPA)3064
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)2743
Sikh Extremists2670
Mozambique National Resistance Movement (MNR)2436
National Union for the Total Independence of Angola(UNITA)2380
Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE)1803
Irish Republican Army (IRA)1746
M-19 (Movement of April 19)1253
National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN)1241
Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)1227
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (suspected)1225
Taliban (suspected)1156
Other (suspected)1066
Al-Qa`ida in Iraq1054


There are 16 terrorists groups in the TFD that include “Al-Qa’ida” in their name. These 16 terrorists groups are alleged to have caused 6,730 fatalities.(Disclaimer)

Terrorist Group Victims
Al-Qa`ida 3464
Al-Qa`ida in Iraq 1054
Al-Qa`ida (suspected) 784
Al-Qa`ida in Iraq (suspected) 668
Al-Qa`ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) 259
Al-Qa`ida,Jemaah Islamiya (JI) (suspected) 202
Al-Qa`ida in Levant and Egypt 91
Al-Qa`ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) (suspected) 81
Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) 48
Al-Qa`ida (suspected),Ansar al-Islam 28
Al-Qa’ida in Yemen 27
Al-Qa`ida,Ansar al-Sunna 10
Al-Qa`ida in Iraq (suspected),Islamic Army in Iraq (al-Jaish al-Islami fi al-Iraq) 6
Al-Qa`ida,Al-Qa`ida in Iraq 4
Al-Qa’ida in Yemen (suspected) 2
Al-Qa`ida,Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) (suspected) 2

Fatalities Count Distribution

The following table summarizes fatalities recorded in the TFD by providing a count of all fatality entries that fall with the designated ranges. For instance, there were 316 records with fatality entries between 50 and 99 inclusive, for a total of 20,307 fatalities occuring in that event range.(Disclaimer)

Fatality CountOccurancesFatalities
10 to 24335548312
25 to 4986528790
50 to 9931620307
100 to 1999111219
200 to 299265923
300 to 39992958
400 to 4992830
500 to 9991518
Over 100033940

Worst Terrorist Events

The following table lists all 15 terrorist events in the TFD in which the fatality count was 300 or more.(Disclaimer)

DateCountryLocaleTerrorist GroupFatalities
11-Sep-01United StatesNew YorkAl-Qa`ida1380
11-Sep-01United StatesNew YorkAl-Qa`ida1380
21-Mar-04NepalBediCommunist Party of Nepal- Maoist (CPN-M)518
19-Aug-78IranAbadanMujahideen-I-Khalq (MK)430
18-Jul-87MozambiqueHomoineMozambique National Resistance Movement (MNR)386
23-Jun-85CanadaTorontoSikh Extremists329
01-Feb-98Sri LankaKilinochchiLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)320
20-Jul-96BurundiCentral BurundiHutus304
13-Feb-84SudanUaskeing (named Hegliga)Christians300
15-Aug-80El SalvadorSuchitotoUnknown300

Graph Summaries of the TFD

Graph of Worldwide Fatalities Per Year

The following graph summarizes fatalities in the TFD by year.(Disclaimer)

Global Terrorism Fatalities by Year

Graph of Worldwide Fatalities - Cumulative

The following graph shows a cumulative count of fatalities in the TFD - cumulative total displayed over time.(Disclaimer)

Global Terrorism Fatalities - Cumulative