ATbar Methodological Issues in Studying Suicide Terrorism

Methodological Issues in Studying Suicide Terrorism

30/10/2008 | by Multiple Authors  

By Prof. Alex Mintz & David Brule

Theoretical claims by scholars of suicide terrorism advance our understanding of this important phenomenon and advances knowledge on the subject. Kruglanski, et al.’s (2009) theoretical argument as well as research by other scholars of suicide terrorism are intriguing and promising. They add to our understanding of the motives of suicide terrorism.

Consequently, such research has the potential to lead to important policy implications. However, the data and evidence presented by Kruglanski, et al. (2009) cannot be viewed as support of the theoretical claims that are made concerning the motivations of suicide terrorists. We are sympathetic to the challenges facing researchers with a paucity of data available for conducting the systematic study of suicide terrorism – it is very difficult and often even impossible to get more data. We are also aware of the counter-claim that it is better to conduct an analysis based on a small number of cases and with anecdotal evidence than do no analysis at all.

However, solid inferences cannot be drawn from such an analysis. When scholars offer policy recommendations based on these inferences, the stakes determine the confidence we must have in the validity of scholars’ inferences. Some invalid findings may imply recommendations that would, at worst, waste taxpayer money. But when lives are at stake, solid inferences are required. Kruglanski, et al. (2009) offer policy recommendations intended to save lives that would otherwise be lost due to suicide attacks. Such recommendations may or may not be correct.

Based on the authors' research we simply cannot say, as there are a number of problems with their piece, which cast serious doubt on their findings, conclusions and recommendations. We offer potential solutions to these problems. We conclude that while Kruglanski, et al.’s (2009) research is valuable and the concept of significance quest very important, the authors should be more circumspect about their findings and any potential policy recommendations.

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