Sunday, April 21, 2013

Investigative Visual Analysis of Global Terrorism

The application of visual analytics to global terrorism.  The authors, Miler, Smarick, Ribarsky and Chang, used an existing database with information on terrorist organizations to apply visual methods.  The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) contains information on both domestic and international terrorist organizations.  The authors applied their visual analytic system to this existing database to look at the five W's (who, what, where, when and why) of terrorist organizations in a manner that is easier for decision makers to understand.

Prior to this tool there were typically two groups of visual analytics: social network analysis and geo-temporal visualizations. The system implemented by the authors attempts to combine both social network analysis and geo-temporal visualization  This tool has a number of layers that can be activated to look at the various elements of terrorist organizations.  There are levels that show the location of attacks, which can be detailed on to see the specifics of what took place at that location. Through the different layers various elements can be visually depicted, which makes it easier to understand the data that is present.

The authors indicated that there are three types of individuals who typically go to the GTD website: the general public, investigative analysis, and terrorism experts.  Through the visual analytics tool, individuals with varying levels of exposure to the subject matter can gain a significant level of understanding of the material.  When the system was used by individuals in various organizations, they were all interested in applying the method to the various fields they were in.

One element the authors identified in their conclusion was that there were certain elements that could be enhanced overtime.  For example, there were instances of over-plotting data and geographic lines, which made it difficult to look at.  Overall, it appears that this method is extremely useful to apply to existing data. Not only does it analyze various elements, but it also increases the ease of communicating with decision makers, as well as decrease the ambiguity that may be present in large data sets.  This method is certainly something that should be incorporated when possible and certainly enhances the distribution element of information.

Wang, X., Miller, E., Smarick, K., Ribarsky, W., & Chang, R. (2008). Investigate visual analysis of global terrorism. Computer Graphics Forum, 27(3), 919-26. Retrieved from:


  1. I found the article to be very interesting based off of my usage of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) for my data collection on a terrorism related project I completed during my undergraduate degree. Based off of my usage of the GTD I had first hand experience of the voluminous amount of data that is presented in this database, in combination of the GTD's representation of the data with over 100 different variables. Without some knowledge of statistics or familiarity with terrorism, the GTD can not only be overwhelming to look at, but also potentially confusing. Being able to display the GTD with various overlays on a map would be much easier to comprehend and analyze. However, being able to combine the GTD with social network analysis and geo-temporal visualization would allow for a deeper understanding of the data and would most likely be able to display important relationships about the global nature of terrorism. Overall, I think this approach to display aspects of the global terrorism phenomenon visually would be very appealing to individuals in the intelligence community, especially decision-makers.

  2. I particularly liked the point you made about how the authors identify three distinct types of users of the GTD. Something important to recognize in creating visualizations is that users with different end goals will seek or need different components on the visual presentation. It sounds like the researchers acknowledge that and account for it through the use of layers that can be included or excluded based on user needs and prior knowledge of the subject.

  3. I think one of the most import parts of your critique was how this modifier can decrease ambiguity. When looking at a long spreadsheet, a decision maker would not know immediately whet the important parts are. By using this modifier though, any one can tell with a quick glance where the most important areas are. This greatly aids communication between analyst and decision maker.

  4. The authors’ applications of visual analytics help the consumers of The Global Terrorism Database effectively navigate the large quantities of data in the database. The idea of combining social network analysis and geo-temporal visualizations to implement the new application can be convenient to the consumers because it has the potential to combine the best of both tools into one application. Lastly, this idea is well though out because its geared toward the consumers of the database.

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