One of the most common quesitons from the general public for international relations is whether the war and conflict is increasing or declining. Now the librarian Matthew White has compiled and impressive new tome ranking atrocities by body count. (Grim, and certainly not cocktail party chatter–but very informative.)
Mr. White’s methodology is simple. He gathers every estimate he can find, including some that mainstream historians might reject as unsavory. (“Beggars can’t be choosers,” he writes.) He throws out the highest and lowest numbers and then calculates the median, arriving at what he acknowledges is often just an informed guess. Deaths from famine and disease stemming from armed conflict count, but natural disasters and purely economic events do not. (“There has to be a core of violence,” he explained.) All sources are listed on his Web site, along with darkly witty ruminations on the inherent uncertainty of numbers, especially where what he calls “mass unpleasantness” is involved.
Mr. White’s estimates are “at the high end of the range,” Mr. Pinker said. But he called Mr. White’s transparency about his sources impressive and his methodology statistically sound, in keeping with the scientific tradition of meta-analysis of previous studies.