A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Building Quality into Everything We Do: A Note from the Director

Gary LaFreeAs we approach the ten-year anniversary of the START Center, I wanted to take just a moment to reflect on the results of our ongoing efforts to maintain the highest standards in all of the research, education and policy initiatives that we pursue. This is of course an ongoing process but I feel that because of the efforts of the faculty, students, staff and affiliates of START we have a lot to brag about this year.  

In terms of success in high-profile peer-reviewed outlets, START consortium members have been making their mark some of the most prestigious publications in the many fields we represent. The examples are literally too numerous to mention but a few outstanding illustrations include recent articles by Laura Dugan and Eric Chenoweth in the American Sociological Review, Martha Crenshaw in Political Studies Review, Victor Asal, Kathleen Deloughery, and Ryan King in Crime and Delinquency,  Rick McCauley in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Jeff Gruenewald, Steve Chermak, and Josh Freilich in Criminology and Public Policy, Arie Kruglanski, J. Belanger, Michele Gelfand, and Rohan Gunaratna in American Psychologist, and Erin Miller in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology

To further recognize the remarkable scholarly contributions of our consortium members we plan to present an award for the best peer-reviewed article of the year at our next annual meeting in September 2014 (nominations for the award accepted here).

Our successes have been fueled by tremendous growth. During the past year alone we established an Unconventional Weapons and Technology program and we reestablished a resilience program that emphasizes projects on risk communication. During the same year, the GTD team at START became the provider of the Department of State’s world-wide terrorism data

Our education and training programs have also grown dramatically, including the production of a Massive Open Online Course, the doubling in enrollment of our Graduate Certificate, and perhaps most importantly, the growth of START’s flagship internship program. START’s internship program has now welcomed more than 700 students from a wide array of institutions and academic disciplines. In Summer 2013, students were drawn from 33 different institutions around the country. This semester we have more than 100 interns who are working on real-world research questions and developing the methodological skills that will help them as scholars and national security professionals. In early 2013 START headquarters moved to a larger office space to accommodate this growth in both research and education.

The Consortium continues to propel the scientific study of terrorism and counterterrorism through the DHS Office of University Programs Center of Excellence grant but I am also happy to say that START researchers around the world are collaborating on many projects outside of the center grant – testimony to the force multiplier effects of the center grant and the interdisciplinary consortium model on which START was founded. 

For example, the work funded by the OUP grant has led to additional work on violent extremism sponsored by the Resilient Systems Division. Similarly, the long-standing support for the Global Terrorism Database has made possible a National Science Foundation grant that is allowing us to consider the possibility of integrating terrorism data with data on many other types of conflict and violence. Taken together, START is now fostering research projects around the world and creating an impact that I could not have anticipated ten years ago.

In 2013, more than 3.5 million people visited our website, up from nearly 2.6 million in 2012. The number of visitors to our site has increased 370 percent since 2009. We are seeing our reports being circulated and more widely read than ever before. One START report, a best practice guide for emergency managers and communicators, has been downloaded more than 310,000 times.

The full Global Terrorism Database is being downloaded more than 300 times on average per month. Its users are based throughout the United States and around the world, including all five branches of the U.S. military, affiliated research organizations such as the Naval Research Laboratory and Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and armed forces serving in Africa and Europe as well as the United States. Scholars from hundreds of universities have downloaded the full dataset for custom analysis, including users from public universities, private universities, minority-serving institutions, all eight Ivy League institutions, community colleges, and international universities.

The relevance and timeliness of START’s data and research was underscored last year in the wake of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. The START Background Report written to provide context for these attacks has now been downloaded more than 10,050 times in 94 countries. START researchers also provided insight for more than 100 separate news media requests to help provide the general public with factual information regarding the attacks. .

In 2013, members of Congress called upon START to give Congressional testimony on public perceptions of terrorism and counterterrorism, offer briefings on the radicalization process and provide data on numbers of terrorist attacks worldwide. In addition, we have recently been asked to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 4 on the “State of al-Qa’ida.”

But of course we cannot be complacent. In fact, all of these activities raise important new quality control challenges.  As we face these challenges we must insure that quality remains a sine qua non for all START projects. The hope of course is that if we continue to put quality first, we will have just as much to be proud of next year as we have during this past year. Thanks to all of you for your fantastic support and contributions and here is to an excellent 2014!