Abu Muqawama retains its autonomy and the views and beliefs expressed within the blog do not reflect those of CNAS. Abu Muqawama retains the right to delete comments that include words that incite violence; are predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass; or degrade people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. In summary, don't be a jerk.
So the quants, not content with mucking up the financial world, have turned their attention to the dynamics of irregular war. I may be a PECOTA guy when it comes to baseball, but I am wary of many quantitative efforts made to "explain" the dynamics of war. Strategic studies scholars I admire like Steve Biddle show the utility of quantitative analysis in their own work, and Steve in particular makes a strong case for why policy papers and academic research backed up by quantitative analysis have more of an impact than do papers based on strictly qualitative or theoretical work. But I think the pressure PhD students and junior professors in political science and international relations feel to check the three magic boxes -- qualitative, quantitative and theoretical -- when writing their dissertations and papers has contributed to the growing irrelevance of their fields in policy discussions. You shouldn't need two semesters of statistics to understand a policy paper on strategy or military operations. Acquisitions or budgeting, fine, but neither this book nor this book nor this book nor this book -- all enduring classics in the field of strategic studies -- rely on quantitative analysis. (This favorite of the blog, yes, but the key observations in the first half are all based on historical evidence.)
Anyway, you guys could probably care less why I never read the APSR. But based upon my limited personal experience in high-intensity and low-intensity conflict as well as my academic research -- to include field research in several active combat zones -- human or "moral" factors often explain war far better than number-crunching. (At its worst, the aforementioned number-crunching you see in scholarly journals is just qualitative judgements assigned numerical value, i.e. if 10="good" and 1="bad".) And all methods of analysis are inherently limited in their explanatory value.
That said, there is an article in Nature on the "unified model of insurgency". And Josh Foust and his gang of hired assassins have posted a critique of it on Registan.net worth checking out. Josh & Co. laud the authors of the Nature article for the way in which they have approached their subject. (And yeah, actually, they should be lauded, because honestly, God bless them for tackling a complicated issue with such methodological rigor.) What I get from the critique, though, is that the model the authors have constructed is -- surprise! -- too simple to reflect the realities of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. And it reminds me of the way in which Quants on Wall Street discovered that all of their complicated computer models had failed to reflect the actual behavior of markets and indeed hastened the destruction of the very funds for which they had been constructed to generate income. (Honestly, didn't we learn our lesson with LTCM in 1998?)
I'm not trying to come off as one of those analytical dinosaurs the gang at Fire Joe Morgan used to poke fun at (you know, the guys who value "grit" and "hustle" over OPS), but we have to admit that in certain chaotic "systems" involving real live humans acting both rationally and irrationally -- such as international finance, or war -- the explanatory value of quantitative analysis might have its limits.