29 January 2012

My Wikipedia Problem

Some months back I started getting a lot of traffic from the Wikipedia page on Lanchester's Laws. It seems that someone had noticed my efforts on the subject and linked to me as a reference. It wasn't much really, just a reference in support of a single sentence - Here it is, and [5] links to my first post on Lanchester's Laws:
In modern warfare, to take into account that to some extent both linear and the square apply often an exponent of 1.5 is used.[4][5][6]
Citation: Lanchester's laws. (2011, December 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:02, January 30, 2012, fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lanchester%27s_laws&oldid=465382667
I've put a lot of study into Lanchester's Laws, so I was happy that someone thought I was worth a reference, but I have a problem with that sentence. It's wrong.

To be fair, perhaps I ought to say it is incomplete statement on a complex topic, and the complete explanation would be much, much longer. It is true that an exponent between 1 and 2 is often used to approximate situations where both Linear and Square laws are in effect, but this exponent represents (in a very abstract sort of way) that a portion of each force are subject to the Linear law (exponent of 1), while the remainder is subject to the Square law (exponent of 2). There is no mathematical rule that makes any other values for the exponent correct, it just sort of works to describe how battles actually play out in an average sort of way. The article makes no previous mention of exponents at all, so it's hard to see how anyone could come away with a proper understanding of the statement. To my mind that makes it wrong.

Fixing it though, is another matter. I've thought about fixing it myself, and even contacted a Wiki editor about it, but I haven't had time or energy to take on the task. I still hope to get back to writing regularly again, but I have a stack of other topics to address, and I am not sure I really want to spend my time fixing someone else's problem. 

Tangent: If you are new to the subject of Lanchester's Laws, the Linear law (exponent 1) describes combat attrition in a one-on-one combat setting, such as might occur with archaic weapons or between aircraft in air-to-air dogfights. The Square law (exponent 2) applies when multiple combatants can attack the same target, and vice-versa, such as a naval gunnery battle. Those are ideas though, and in practice there is almost always some complex mixture of these situation.