A Brief Primer on Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Methods in the Study of Terrorism

For years, terrorism researchers and security professionals have lamented a lack of primary data to inform our understanding of issues surrounding the use of terrorism and how that understanding might influence policy decisions. Despite these ongoing complaints, most research within terrorism studies has not featured primary data, employed rigorous social scientific
methods, or benefited from statistical analyses. Without these fundamentals of empirical scientific investigation, valid inferential claims about terrorism and related phenomena have been rare. Fortunately, terrorism researchers come from a variety of fields that have used rigorous empirical methods for decades, many of which can be used to help answer questions within terrorism studies. One method that has long been the foundation for social scientific knowledge but has yet to gain traction in the study of terrorism is experimentation. This paper proposes that terrorism researchers, security professionals, and policymakers should embrace experimentation to address salient research questions. More specifically, this paper describes various forms of experimentation that could be used in the study of terrorism and offers examples of how these different experimental approaches might be put into practice.

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