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09 May 2011

Today's Lesson in Social Research Methods: Reductionism

I have heard an extraordinary number of reductionistic interpretations about terrorism lately. Most follow the pattern, "Osama bin Laden was responsible for al Qaeda, 9/11, and the spread of terrorism over the last two decades. Now that he is dead, these problems will recede." This is another example of the tendency for our narratives to be individualistic. Reductionism is falsely attributing the cause of some large-scale event or macro-level phenomenon to a small-scale or micro-level incident. Here is a quintessential example: What caused WWI? If you answered "the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand," you probably aced your high school history test, but you are, nonetheless, absolutely wrong. The killing of an individual has never started or ended any war.

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