A Peaceful Start to the New Year?

Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker, both authors of important and timely books on the decline of violence, have an interesting joint article suggesting that we’re back on track after a bit of a reversal over the last few years.

What they say makes sense to me in light of recent developments.  The war in Syria, spilling over into Iraq, is surely the main reason for the recent spike in violence.  But now Syria, as well as Ukraine and Yemen, are  experiencing imperfect ceasefires that do seem to be reducing violence in these places.  Goldstein and Pinker point to some other positive developments around the globe as well.

Of course, it isn’t hard for an avid news reader to find some negative developments.  But it seems right to me that Syria is the real driver of global violence trends and that Syria has become less violent over the last month plus.

Still, I’d be much happier if Goldstein and Pinker just deleted this bit:

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rate of killing has dropped by nearly half since the cease-fire began. That means that around 2,000 lives were spared in the first month. Since Syria is by far the world’s largest war, this reduction takes a big bite out of the global rate of war deaths as well.

Go to the web site of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) to find the SOHR dataset you’ll see why.  In fact, there is nothing there that can be construed as a dataset.  You can fish out reports saying that SOHR has “documented” X number of deaths in month Y.  But the SOHR seems to use the word “document” the way that most people use the word “assert”.

Certainly the SOHR does document many incidents in a more conventional sense and I was told by a Syria expert that these normally check out and are timely.  But do the numbers of people killed in documented incidents add up to the monthly totals publicized by the SOHR?  I don’t know but I kind of doubt it.

I would like to see documentary proof of the deaths the SOHR says it has documented.


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