US: The end of one of the most dangerous terrorist, Osama bin Laden, justified the theory of UCLA geographer Thomas Gillespie and raised a debate that Osama could have been found faster if the CIA had followed the advice of ecosystem geographers from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Based on information from satellites and other remote sensing systems, and reports on his movements since his last known location, Gillespie along with his colleague John Agnew created a probabilistic model of where he was likely to be. At undergraduate students, they authored a paper in 2009, predicting the terrorist’s whereabouts and their predictions were none too shabby. According to their probabilistic model, there was an 80.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed on May 1. And they correctly predicted that he would be in a large town, not a cave.
Their prediction of a town was based on a geographical theory called “island biogeography”: basically, that a species on a large island is much less likely to go extinct following a catastrophic event than a species on a small one. “The theory was that if you are going to try and survive, you are going to a region with a low extinction rate: a large town,” Gillespie said. “We hypothesised he would not be in a small town where people could report on him.”
In the end, they zeroed in on a Pakistani border town called Parachinar which has, among other things, access to medical care. Then they predicted the exact building he would be in by making assumptions as to the characteristics of the building itself, such as high enough ceilings to accommodate bin Laden’s 6’4” frame, a fence, privacy and electricity.
The undergraduates did such a nice job on the project, Gillespie says, that he wrote the results up as a paper and submitted it to a small journal, MIT International Review.