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New model predicts ethnic violence

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Controversial new research claims that racially motivated disturbances can be predicted using mathematical models based on the ethnic make-up of the population. The scientists believe their work could suggest ways in which different groups can successfully integrated to avoid disturbances.

The study, published in Science, describes ‘islands’ and ‘peninsulas’ of ethnic groups surrounded by a different race. Apparently, violence occurs when these islands reach a certain size, and when the boundaries between the two groups are not defined well enough to prevent misunderstandings about cultural norms.

The models were based on physical theories used to predict how chemicals, such as oil and water, interact and form boundaries. ‘This divorces the problem of violence from specific aspects of cultures, to a very general and objective process,’ says Dr Richard Metzler, one of the researchers.

The scientists claim violence could be avoided either by solidifying these boundaries, to prevent cultural norms from being broken in the first place. Alternatively, a complete mixture of the two groups would prevent the islands from occurring in the first place.

The team from The New England Complex Systems Institute tested their models by successfully predicting disturbances in India and the former Yugoslavia using census data.