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Probing the roots of terror

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Others agree that academia presents some serious hurdles to the would-be researcher into terrorism.

"It's still a bad choice if you are aiming to get tenure," says Jessica Stern, a Harvard expert on terrorism. "It's considered a very foolish move, and senior people in the field have said that directly to the more junior scholars. The problem is that it is inherently interdisciplinary and academe is inherently disciplinary."

Still, hypotheses and ideas about terrorism are now bubbling from a pot of academic research that had been almost empty. Indeed, a Monitor database search of scores of social-science research journals across 15 disciplines found a rise in scholarly articles with titles or references to terrorism. Between August 1999 and August 2001, there were 34 references to terrorism either in the text or title of the articles. In the two years since 9/11, however, there were 223.

"It's an area of very new research intensity, using everything from interviews with terrorists to mathematical game theory," writes sociologist Jack Goldstone, at the University of California at Davis, in an e-mail. "The long process of checking ... initial results is not yet done."

The political scientists

Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, was at his typewriter writing a book on great power politics - the broader causes of war and peace - when he got a call about what had happened in New York.

"It stopped my book cold at 8:48 a.m., and two years later it still isn't done," he says. "I've turned my entire attention, all of my research, toward the causes of suicide terrorism."

Most intriguing to him was the suicide component, but Dr. Pape soon learned there was no single repository of information on all prior suicide attacks. So he created one. He scavenged bits of data from researchers and organizations around the world, building a database from scratch for 1980 through 2001. When it was finished, it revealed 188 suicide attacks.

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