YORK, England — In these modern times, it seems like there’s a whole lot to feel negative about. Between pandemics, protests, and political vitriol, 2020 is creating more pessimists by the day. Well, if you’re looking for a bit of good news regarding the world we all find ourselves living in, researchers from the University of York have a piece of positivity.
According to their calculations, the world as a whole is much more peaceful over the past 30 years in comparison to the first half of the twentieth century. Of course, 1910-1950 was marred by two extraordinarily violent world wars. Since then, the global death rate has continued to steadily drop.
War and peace
Scientists and historians have long debated whether or not battle deaths have really been declining on a worldwide scale since 1945. So, a team of mathematicians at UY performed a “change point” analysis on any and all publicly available data regarding global battle-related deaths since the Napoleonic Wars way back in the early 19th century.
This analysis includes an algorithm that precisely identifies data points indicating major changes in the sizes of wars. Besides picking out the fairly obvious conclusion that 1910-1950 saw a big uptick in battles and death, the algorithm also finds that peace has been on the rise since 1990.
“The question of whether the world today has become more or less dangerous is a hotly debated issue among historians. Our study attempts to address this question purely from the perspective of what the data can tell us,” explains Professor Niall acKay, from the University of York’s Department of Mathematics, in a release. “The change for the better our analysis detected over the past 30 years may be due to peacekeeping work by global organizations like the UN and increased collaboration and cooperation between nations.”
Interestingly, a major shift was also found around the year 1830. Around this time it became much more likely for any given soldier to die during a military conflict. As far as why this happened around 1830, researchers aren’t sure. But the early 19th century did see a big boom in technological improvements and populations.
Most accurate study on violence in modern era
In the past, accurately analyzing battle deaths and data had proven very difficult. Things were different this time around thanks to the aforementioned “change point” analysis technique employed by researchers. That technique was originally conceived by researchers at Lancaster University, but the team at UY improved on the approach and made it even more accurate.
To be clear, the study’s authors admit that the data they used can’t 100% put to bed the question they set out to answer. That being said, this is the most accurate and thorough investigation into violence in the modern era thus far.
“Data on war deaths will never be perfect. Firstly, it is difficult to know which deaths to include in the data set as many deaths are often brought about indirectly from war – such as famine or outbreaks of disease. For example, should deaths from Spanish Influenza be counted in the total number of deaths from the First World War?” comments lead study author Brennen Fagan, a PhD student in the Department of Mathematics at York.
“We also acknowledge that the data is likely to be Eurocentric, with the possibility that many deaths incurred by conflicts in the developing world have not been included,” Fagan adds. “While it has its shortcomings, our analysis provides a methodology for future investigations and an empirical basis for political and historical discussions.”
The study is published in Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, series A.