Monday, November 23, 2015

Is development as an enabling condition for terrorism?

Is development an enabling condition for terrorism?

Enabling conditions have been a useful framework across many academic disciplines, as moving beyond the mechanistic cause and effect framework to include more complex issues tends to better reflect observed outcomes. These have been adapted into the fields of psychology (Cheng and Novick, 1991), biology (Ruiz-Mirazo et al, 2008), and many other fields (Tinsley and Faunce, 1980; Moore and Rodger, 2010). In complex systems, concepts like necessary and sufficient and linear-styled thinking are limited, as the scales in time and space is too variable, especially when systems are coupled with social factors

With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, resulting in over 120 deathswe can reflect on the global reach of the effects that ripple through social systems. In the wake of such a tragedy, it is important to understand the complexity of the task of identifying risks of national security, and the sensitive balance between civil liberties and the steps taken to ensure the safety of a nation's citizens. No matter where the loss of life occurs, it is a tragedy for all, both in the loss of unique individuals and all the benefits they may have brought to the world. 

Figure 1 The first image which comes up when one searches "terrorism" in Google Images. The image shows some commonalities of terrorist groups: a small group of gunman, isolated, and anonymous in silhouette (Image source:

However, it's easy to look back with hindsight, or to comment hastily with an agenda in mind. I suggest that it's potentially better to understand the root causes, or in absence of that, the enabling conditions for a terrorist group to form. In epidemiology, this is commonly referred to as primary prevention - preventing the development or exposure which causes the disease. 

It should be noted that I don't expect to break new ground with this blog post, however I think an brief overview of the research between development and terrorism is warranted. I will go through this in a few short summaries over the next few weeks. From my previous post linking global protests with networks of MNCs, we see that social movements even on a local level can have wide reaching implications, especially in densely connected networks.  

We know that the development of terrorism occurs within coupled social, economic and cultural systems, and across many contexts. Models have shown limited impact of economic development on the presence of terrorism (Piazza, 2006), although the study found that factors such as state repression, party politics, and ethno-religious diversity is more predictive.

Some have suggested that the political structures within Iraq are the dominant factor, with the former ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford stating that only a political solution which fully incorporate Sunnis into Iraq would be successful (Source: NYTimes). If the regression model above by Piazza (2006) is valid globally, the influence of political repression by states is especially important, suggesting that an inclusive culture at the federal level would help to prevent the radicalization which is one condition which can create fertile soil for more extreme ideologies to form. Similar studies have shown that the both ideologies and the amount of territorial area controlled by a group is most predictive of the projected deaths of a group. Groups that were both religious, ethno-nationalist, and controlled territory were the most likely to kill in a regression of data from 1998 to 2005 (Figure 2; Asal and Rethemeyer, 2008).

Figure 2 Predicted lethality of terrorist groups estimated by linear regression given ideology, size, and control of territory, note the lack of effect modification of the variables on projected deaths by organizational size (Asal and Rethemeyer, 2008).

This is a complex question, which might be inappropriate to answer in the length and rigor of a blog post. Knowing this, I think it could be asked again - can development be an enabling condition for terrorism? Should we search for enabling conditions for these complex problems, or it is a waste of time? Does the reflexive response to such global tragedies (including such attacks in a Kenyan mall, and many others) help or harm society? 

And one final question - do blog posts such as this one add "fuel to the fire", such as the news coverage of school shootings - do we need a constant re-framing of the news events in order to fully understand a problem (Chyi and McCombs, 2004)? Feel free to comment below. 


Asal, Victor, and R. Karl Rethemeyer. "The nature of the beast: Organizational structures and the lethality of terrorist attacks." The Journal of Politics 70.02 (2008): 437-449.

Cheng, Patricia W., and Laura R. Novick. "Causes versus enabling conditions." Cognition 40.1 (1991): 83-120. [link]

Chyi, Hsiang Iris, and Maxwell McCombs. "Media salience and the process of framing: Coverage of the Columbine school shootings." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81.1 (2004): 22-35. [link]

Moore, Susan A., and Kate Rodger. "Wildlife tourism as a common pool resource issue: Enabling conditions for sustainability governance." Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18.7 (2010): 831-844. [link]

Piazza, James A. "Rooted in poverty?: Terrorism, poor economic development, and social cleavages 1." Terrorism and Political Violence 18.1 (2006): 159-177. [link]

Ruiz-Mirazo, Kepa, Jon Umerez, and Alvaro Moreno. "Enabling conditions for ‘open-ended evolution’." Biology & Philosophy 23.1 (2008): 67-85. [link]

Tinsley, Diane J., and Patricia S. Faunce. "Enabling, facilitating, and precipitating factors associated with women's career orientation." Journal of Vocational Behavior 17.2 (1980): 183-194. [link]

Necessary and Sufficient: Issues of Complexity

Necessary and Sufficient: Issues of Complexity 

Looking to the Oxford English Dictionary, we see our terms of interest are defined in the following ways:

Necessary: "Needed to be done, achieved, or present; essential."
Sufficient: "Enough; adequate."

Necessary and sufficient in practice, especially within however, are a bit more nebulous. 

Looking from the point of view of formal logic, we know that if a condition is necessary, it makes a conditional statement true, such that if we have the statement: if N then S, or N is implied by S, N<--S. For example, it is necessary to be exist in order to be alive; E<--A. We can also say that S cannot occur without N; as A cannot occur without E. On the other hand, a sufficient condition goes in the other direction, tying the truth value to the consequent (N) rather than the antecedent (S). We can say then: if S, then N or S --> N, or that S guarantees N. For example, being alive (A) suffices for existence (E). In order to have both, we would need to say S if and only if N, or S <--> N.  (Betz, 2010). 

We say "this is a necessary condition for my model" but we don't always think of what that means. There can be many necessary conditions and many sufficient conditions which operate on different scales and levels. For example, if I want to travel from Boston, MA to New York, NY - there are many ways I can get there - plane, train, bike, on foot - all are sufficient. In order to choose one, I need to know the enabling conditions (and restricting constraints) along with the context (why I am I traveling? cost?).

Given in the above example, it’s harder to relate these to complex problems. For example, we know what is necessary and sufficient to have a rectangle in geometry – but what is the necessary and sufficient conditions for a water treaty to be signed? What is the necessary and sufficient conditions for the rise of a fascist regime in societies? It’s extremely to reach an objective, general solution to these problems that is constant through time and space.

Is it even possible to enumerate all the possible solutions to necessary and sufficient conditions? In fact, I suggest we can’t enumerate them – so we need to understand the enabling conditions (Islam and Susskind, 2012) for a complex problem. We can’t use the framework of necessary and sufficient conditions since these problems are interconnected and dynamic. In epidemiology, the more recent focus on contributing (component) causes rather than sufficient causes shows the issues with this simplistic view of problems.

Figure 1 Two views of causal mechanisms of disease – note that A the necessary cause must be present, while some of the component causes are B, C and D (Gerstman, 2013). 
For example, in order to develop AIDS, you must be exposed to HIV (necessary) but it’s not clear what the specific sufficient conditions are – even we need a certain viral load of exposure to develop an infection. In this way, even this traditional example in epidemiology is contingent on our knowledge - there is a limit to the application of the necessary and sufficient framework within complex systems (Figure 1).  However, we suggest that the contributing causes of a problem are flexible – many things can cause and outcome, and seem to be more realistic to problems. 

I suggest that in order to do this, I must map the feasible space of a complex problem. In order to do this, we can go through four steps:
  1. Define the problem: What is the actionable goal or outcome for your research? E.g. providing clean water (as defined by WHO)
  2. Constraints search: Enumerate the initial conditions (temporally-focused) and boundary conditions (spatially-focused) for the problem E.g. initial conditions there is limited piped water and income, and many people use chlorine, but use has decreased due to poor supply chain; boundary conditions we are located in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is limited electric power, road infrastructure, technology.
  3. Enabling search: Enumeration the conditions which can lead to the adoption of your goal E.g. what point-of-use technologies do people use which provide clean water within the constraints of your initial and boundary problems – what has worked in the past.
  4. Adapt: We can re-enumerate the concepts in steps 1 through 3, thinking about the system and contingencies. 

 I would welcome comments and questions on the above, feel free to post below. 

Betz, Frederick. Managing Science: Methodology and Organization of Research. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010. [link, pg 248]

Gerstman, B. Burt. Epidemiology kept simple: an introduction to traditional and modern epidemiology. John Wiley & Sons, 2013. [link]

Islam, Shafiqul and Lawrence Susskind. Water diplomacy: a negotiated approach to managing complex water networks. Routledge, 2012. [link]

Monday, November 16, 2015

Emergent movements undermine MNC networks: the case of China


Emergent movements undermine MNC networks: the case of China 

Note: This is a short analysis meant to be submitted for a course and is not peer reviewed. As such, errors may exist. Please feel free to correct me or contact me with ideas!

Multinational corporations (MNCs) have economic and infrastructural influence around the world. A recent analysis by a group of systems design researchers in Switzerland showed that much of the wealth is linked to a small number of these large corporate conglomerations.  They found that this large portion of the economic wealth of the world is tied into, tightly packed network of MNCs, as operating revenue passes from economic inputs into economic outputs. This is important for understanding that much of the economic products pass through a small number of corporations; but this has been clearly shown both in popular press and by the oft-mentioned “Occupy” movement.

Figure 1. The red dots are the tightly-packed connected companies, out of the full 1318 companies which dominate the global economy. The size of the dot is representative of the revenue of the company. Image © 2011 Vitali et al. 
More important to our work is the propagation of changes through this network. Since only a small number of companies dominate the global market, the downturn of one largely connected company could bring down an entire portion of the network of financial trading. This could have huge implications on the global market, especially in light of these growth-stunted times. This type of interconnection has even been highlighted as a new geography (Beaverstock et al 2000), and has been analyzed as such.

Multinationals also have a large influence on the regional economic level within countries such as China. Rapid development after the opening of much of China’s economy in 1978 has created with rapid advancement in foreign direct investment, mostly by large MNCs (Pearce et al, 2012). They have introduced new technologies and increased exports. However, in the mid-2000s, the local competition for market shares became greater, along with an increasing rate of reported crises situations in the media and on internet sites. This happens often with local stakeholders, or even general consumers. This is important, since small changes on the micro-scale can have wide spanning macro-scale impacts.

Figure 2. Number of crisis incidents as reported in the Chinese media from 2000-2011 (

 Many of these crisis incidents include labor strikes against major manufacturers. In 2010, a major protest movement occurred against the car manufacturer Honda which called for a “restructuring of the labor union.” This was organized by “poor migrants with no more than a middle-school education, but they were digitally savvy and used local online networks to communicate with fellow workers around the country.” This is a remarkable reimagining of the worker’s rights movement in a country which is traditionally viewed (within the US at least) as a socially restrictive area, especially for worker’s rights. These MNC are attempting to interface with the public on the local level in response, with limited success. For example, Proctor and Gamble suggests they are “Being a Chinese Citizen”. However, these attempts for connection with the people have not shown success in stopping stakeholder discontent at the local level, as they are unable to address the underlying problems. These problems are highlighted by the socially dense, highly relational culture of the Chinese people, which runs counter to the top-down structure traditionally used by MNCs (Fu et al, 2015).

In this way, the power structures of the large corporations, which we know dominate current global economic superstructure (Vitali et al, 2011) are undermined by emergent movements. The enabling conditions of electronic communication and density and strength of the social fabric are present. This relates directly to the problem of water in China, where is has been shown that collaborative environmental governance at the lowest levels in important for responding to drinking water pollution (Miao et al, 2015). We have seen self-organization occur in the prices and planning of homes in communities in China as well (see here for one example), and the author suggests that this is one possible route for solving the decentralized problem of point source water pollution, especially by MNCs. These large entities are not able to respond to the rapid emergent change fostered by an entire class of people gaining access to social media, and rapid spread of information allows for an unprecedented ability for citizens to respond to the actions of discrete companies, and create change.

Beaverstock, Jonathan V., Richard G. Smith, and Peter J. Taylor. "World‐City Network: A New Metageography?." Annals of the association of American geographers 90.1 (2000): 123-134.

Dou, Ming, Yanyan Wang, and Congying Li. "Oil leak contaminates tap water: a view of drinking water security crisis in China." Environmental Earth Sciences 72.10 (2014): 4219-4221.

Fu, Qiang, et al. "Toward a Relational Account of Neighborhood Governance Territory-Based Networks and Residential Outcomes in Urban China." American Behavioral Scientist (2015): 0002764215580610.

Miao, Xin, et al. "The latent causal chain of industrial water pollution in China." Environmental Pollution 196 (2015): 473-477.

Pearce, Robert, ed. China and the multinationals: international business and the entry of China into the global economy. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012.

Vitali, Stefania, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston. "The network of global corporate control." (2011): e25995.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Local Direct Democracy in the Wake of Rapid Global Change


Local Direct Democracy in the Wake of Rapid Global Change

Note: This is a short analysis meant to be submitted for a course and is not peer reviewed. As such, errors may exist. Please feel free to correct me or contact me with ideas!

Within the last ten years, protests have been on the rise globally, from the Occupy movement in New York City, the Arab Spring uprising, or the recent Umbrella protests by students in Hong Kong. These have been due to more general causes, such as the recent economic downturn, human rights abuses, lack of representation in local and national governments, and perceived global injustices (Ortiz et al, 2013). The rate of GDP growth has itself declined in recent years, as the rate of protests has increased. The correlation coefficient between the GDP and number of economic protests globally is 0.97, suggesting some strong connection between the two.

Figure 1 The US GDP (blue dashed line) and the number of global economic inequality protests (red line) from 2005 to 2013. Error is standard error. The reported R is the correlation co-efficient of the two datasets. Protest data from Ortiz et al 2013, GDP data from World Bank. Analysis by Kyle Monahan (kyle.monahan (AT)

The power of the global economy to cascade influences from country to country is one of the factors which led to the increase in global protests. A small number of corporations control a majority of the global monetary flow (Vitali et al, 2011), which creates a system with few links that is very sensitive to small changes within the key players. These changes impact the even the regional level which then ripple back (through social movements which are magnified by media attention) up to the national level. In times of economic troubles, social outcry remains strong within all governments. The structure of governments may influence local actors, but local actors can also operate independently of government influence at some scales. For this, we will look at the case of an experimental direct democracy in Indonesia and the roots of a popular democracy in rural China.

For especially complex or “wicked” water problems, systems with more direct democratic principles have been suggested to highlight a need for collaborative adaptive management to solve these problems (Susskind et al, 2013). We suggest that these large, process based approaches are not always needed, especially on the small scale (Ostrum’s operational level). Local decision making has been a recent trend in the developing world, and with the increase in protests, some amount of autonomy has also reached some populations within the developed world. The provisioning of public goods such as water are normally appropriated by governments (Susskind et al, 2013).One experiment by Dr. Olken from Massachusetts Institute of Technology actually tested the effectiveness of direct-elections through the use of plebiscites. These were direct elections (voting) by all adult community members on projects which would influence them. In another area, the women voted directly on projects that would relate to them.  These methods produced greater perceived benefits, higher willingness to contribute and better long term sustainability (Olken, 2010). However, the women’s project was selected to be in a poorer area, “which seems to suggest the plebiscite shifted power toward poorer women who may have been disenfranchised in a more potentially elite-dominated meeting process.” This highlights that there are benefits to giving under-represented people power; but this power transfer must also insulate the people from the pressures of those with power in their community – as the women selected a project which was very similar to the elite preference in the area. In this way, the local level was undermined in project type selection by the power-controlling elite, but the direct voting process still created more development in poorer areas and more densely packed areas. This suggests that the transfer of power to underrepresented groups can create a functional democracy even within a vacuum of process, no matter what the overarching government type within the country is.

Given this, it could be suggested that as populations increase this type of democracy becomes more feasible. As populations and scales increase, governments cannot reach (physically, socially) the local level populations as easily or rapidly. These conditions are currently found in rural China, where villagers have continued to elect their representatives in a democratic fashion, with nominations and direct voting. We know that the representative process can be flawed in some ways, after all Germany was a representative democracy when Hitler was elected into power (Kershaw, 2008), but we suggest that at the local level these direct voting processes can be effective.

Figure 2 The results of a survey of 34 rural villages in Shaanxi Province, PRC. There is a strong difference of overall satisfaction when comparing villager nominated elections (70%) to party nominated elections (44%) (Kennedy, 2002).

In this way, stakeholders can approach an equal level playing field with governmental actors, even within the more authoritarian governments of the world. In this era of increasing worldwide tensions and clashes over ideology and policy, grassroots resolution of environmental problems, especially water problems will be increasingly important. So called “wicked” water problems are more commonly solved by overcoming impasses in the social arena (van Bueren et al, 2015) – these developments in deliberative democracy demonstrate multiple possible applications in the global water arena.

Kennedy, John James. "The face of" grassroots democracy" in rural China: Real versus cosmetic elections." Asian Survey 42.3 (2002): 456-482.

Kershaw, Ian. "How Democracy Produced a Monster." New York Times 3 (2008).

Ortiz, Isabel, et al. "World Protests 2006-2013." Initiative for Policy Dialogue and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Working Paper 2013 (2013).

Susskind, Lawrence. "Water and democracy: new roles for civil society in water governance." International Journal of Water Resources Development 29.4 (2013): 666-677.

Vitali, Stefania, James B. Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston. "The network of global corporate control." (2011): e25995.

Van Bueren, Ellen M., Erik‐Hans Klijn, and Joop FM Koppenjan. "Dealing with wicked problems in networks: Analyzing an environmental debate from a network perspective." Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 13.2 (2003): 193-212.