I’ve recently been trying to get a handle on terrorism trends in Pakistan, and in that process have been reminded of the problems in terrorism datasets. Based on extant data, I could tell you two stories about Pakistan: terrorism in Pakistan is either getting progressively worse or has gotten considerably better since 2009.
Here is the basic trend for terrorism in Pakistan using the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) Global Terrorism Database (GTD).
Compare that with the trend for all terrorism using the National Counterterrorism Center’s World Incident Tracking System. (Through some process opaque to me, the U.S. government decided to stop producing this data series. Or they likely continue to produce it, but just don’t provide it to the outside world. And ignore the redline, which is just the mean across the years shown.)
If you believe GTD, you should be really worried about Pakistan. If you believe NCTC, we may have turned a corner. Get your “Mission Accomplished” banner ready.
The evidence is a little more consistent when looking at just suicide terrorism. Here is the data from the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST). Sadly, this data hasn’t been updated since October 2011, suggesting they ran out of funding, and also meaning the 2011 data below is incomplete. But, the data suggest a strong peak at 2009, and then sizeable decreases since then, even with the incomplete 2011 data.
Finally, compare that with the GTD data for just suicide attacks. Strong peak in 2007, and then a more modest decline since then.
I don’t have much in the way of conclusions, but despite how many asterisks are found in coefficient charts, we should be skeptical of terrorism findings that are not robust across datasets, and given the discrepancies across data sets, such robustness may be unlikely. The long twilight struggle for cumulative knowledge continues.