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Can Mathematical Models Predict Historical Events? One Academic Thinks So




A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.
A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

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Many humanities-minded historians think that human beings and the course of human history are too complex to analyze broadly or to examine using predictive models - but one evolutionary anthropologist believes that mathematical models could be used to understand the past, and to predict the future. 

In his recent Atlantic piece “The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse”, Graeme Wood dives into the research of evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin who coined the term and discipline “cliodynamics” -  statistical modeling and analysis of the rise and fall of human societies. He explores Professor Turchin’s methods, as well as his dire predictions for the next decade in American history.

We dive into the academic endeavor to use big data and mathematics to analyze and predict history, Turchin’s predictions for the next decade and the larger tensions between science and humanities-minded academics over the validity of this approach. 

Guest: 

Graeme Wood, staff writer at The Atlantic, where his recent piece is “The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse”; lecturer in political science at Yale; he tweets @gcaw