Google Ideas and Extremism

Google’s think/do tank (!!) is sponsoring a summit on extremism. See the post by Jared Cohen, its director, here.

The problem is that, like many such discussions, it’s based on the autobiographies of a number of people who became extremists — the idea is to look for commonalities in such biographies as hints about the process and/or drivers of extremism.

BUT it ignores the very large number of people from apparently identical backgrounds who didn’t join gangs, or the IRA, or jihadist groups! Such people are counterexamples to almost all explanations of what happens with radicalization, and yet they are often/usually ignored in the discussion.

So Google asks:

“Why does a 13-year old boy in a tough neighborhood in South Central LA join a gang? Why does a high school student in a quiet, Midwestern American town sign on neo-Nazis who preach white supremacy? Why does a young woman in the Middle East abandon her family and future and become a suicide bomber?”

But just as important are questions like: why did the 13-year old boy’s best friend and classmate NOT join a gang, etc.

This summit’s approach is called, in the research community, “sampling on the dependent variable”. Google should know better.


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