MOSCOW, Russia — The outbreak of civil unrest and rioting in many cities this year may seem like a spontaneous reaction to social issues, but one study says there’s nothing spontaneous about them. Despite the fact that the vast majority of protesters are demonstrating peacefully, scenes of looting and violence still mar these protests that are meant to be non-violent. One scientist is being credited with predicting in 2010 the turmoil being seen across the globe today.
Using an innovative mathematical theory, researchers say they can show when countries will face social and political unrest. In the United States, they say violent surges occur every 50 years and this one is tragically right on time.
Peter Turchin, a Russian-American scientist from the University of Connecticut, used the structural-demographic theory (SDT) to accurately predict the increasing protests in the U.S. and western Europe throughout the 2010s. In a new paper in the journal PLoS ONE, Turchin and co-author Andrey Korotayev look back at how math can actually forecast future events.
A 50-year cycle of unrest?
To come up with these predictions, scientists first create a historical theory. Several factors are then calculated and a specific prediction is produced. Researchers then compare these social forecasts to real historical events to tweak and fine-tune future results.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is an unpredictable event. Yet Turchin, a specialist in cliodynamics, the mathematical modeling of socio-historical processes, finds the protests and social conflicts spilling into American streets happen at regular intervals throughout history. The original 2010 study reveals outbursts of violence in the 1870s, 1920s, and 1970s. These 50-year cycles reach a crisis point as society becomes increasingly unstable, which the forecast seems to be accurately predicting for 2020. Disturbingly, the cliodynamics expert says these periods of social turmoil can last between 10 and 15 years.
How can you turn society into a math equation?
SDT was developed by American sociologist and historian Jack Goldstone. Using math, the theory was first applied to historical processes in order to see which forces interact and lead to riots, revolutions, and civil wars.
Goldstone’s work establishes that every major social and political movement, like revolutions, take place after a surge in births. As families have more children, the population quickly exceeds the country’s ability to take care of everyone. The standard of living drops and civil unrests begins.
Click here to read more.