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[Update] UCLA Students Predicted in 2009 w 88.9% Certainty Bin Laden was Hiding Near Abbottabad

Amazing story from the Science Insider:

Could Osama bin Laden have been found faster if the CIA had followed the advice of ecosystem geographers from the University of California, Los Angeles? Probably not, but the predictions of UCLA geographer Thomas Gillespie, who, along with colleague John Agnew and a class of undergraduates, authored a 2009 paper predicting the terrorist's whereabouts, were none too shabby. According to a probabilistic model they created, there was an 88.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed last night. And they correctly predicted that he would be in a large town, not a cave.

The bin Laden tracking idea began as a project in an undergraduate class on remote sensing that Gillespie, whose expertise is using remote sensing data from satellites to study ecosystems, taught in 2009. Based on information from satellites and other remote sensing systems, and reports on his movements since his last known location, the students created a probabilistic model of where he was likely to be. 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.

And how was the study treated at the time? From a USA Today report in 2009:

The results, reported in the MIT International Review, are being greeted with polite but skeptical interest among people involved in the hunt for bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader behind 9/11. Bin Laden's whereabouts are considered "one of the most important political questions of our time," the study notes.

"I've never really believed the sitting-in-a-cave theory. That's the last place you would want to be bottled up," Gillespie says. The study's real value, he says, is in combining satellite records of geographic locations, patterns of nighttime electricity use and population-detection methods to produce a technique for locating fugitives.

Looks like Professor Gillespie and his pack of Bruins were on the mark.

UPDATE (A): The opening paragraph of science insider has been updated a bit:

Could Osama bin Laden have been found faster if the CIA had followed the advice of ecosystem geographers from the University of California, Los Angeles? Probably not, but the predictions of UCLA geographer Thomas Gillespie, who, along with colleague John Agnew and a class of undergraduates, authored a 2009 paper predicting the terrorist’s whereabouts, were none too shabby. According to a probabilistic model they created, there was an 88.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in a city less than 300 km from his last known location in Tora Bora: a region that included Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed last night.

That is still impressive.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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