Believe it or not, there may be a method behind serial killers' madness, according to the findings of two researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles. The researchers found a strong correlation between the timing of the murders committed by the "Rostov Ripper" -- a serial killer -- and a mathematical distribution called a power law.
Power laws are used to predict sporadic events such as earthquakes and stock market crashes. Serial killers act sporadically, often killing people in close succession, then waiting months or years before striking again. Scientists have often wondered why.
The researchers plotted the number of days between the Rostov Ripper's murders against the number of times he waited that number of days. The result? A nearly straight line on a log-log plot graph, which matches the results scientists get when they plot the magnitude of earthquakes in a particular area against the number of times each magnitude has occurred.
What does this suggest? A serial killer murders when the firing of neurons in his brain goes awry. Our brains fire neurons that trigger thousands of others to fire. This rapid firing is generally a short-term event. But in serial killers, the firing occasionally crosses some threshold, resulting in an irresistible impulse to kill. The power law may be able to predict when a killer's neuron-firing will next cross that threshold [source: Wolchover].
Author's Note: 10 of the Craziest Discoveries of 2012
No, one of the craziest discoveries of 2012 wasn't that Elvis is still alive. But a non-stick ketchup bottle? Now that's crazy!
- Andries, Kate. "Colorful Honey." National Geographic News. Oct. 11, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/pictures/121011-blue-honey-honeybees-animals-science/
- Choi, Charles. "Potty Mouth! Turtle Dips Head in Puddles to Pee." Live Science. Oct. 11, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/23893-turtle-pees-from-mouth.html
- Choi, Charles. "Puddles of Good? Brainless Slime Molds Have Memories." Live Science. Oct. 8, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/23797-brainless-slime-mold-memories.html
- Dell'Amore, Christine. "Deep-Voiced Men Have Lower Sperm Count, Study Says." National Geographic News. Jan. 5, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/01/120105-deep-voices-sperm-masculine-men-women-science-health-evolution/
- Dell'Amore, Christine. "New Fanged Dwarf Dinosaur Found -- "Would Be Nice Pet." National Geographic News. Oct. 3, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121003-new-dinosaur-species-fanged-sereno-science/
- Dell'Amore, Christine. "Tentacled, Carnivorous Plants Catapult Prey Into Traps." National Geographic News. Sept. 27, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/09/120927-catapult-carnivorous-plants-sundew-insects-science-animals/
- Fiegel, Amanda. "Could Cyborg Cockroaches Save Your Life?" National Geographic News. Sept. 7, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/09/120907-cyborg-cockroaches-video-science-remote-control-robots-bugs/
- Kurihara, Kazutaka and Koji Tsukada. "SpeechJammer: A System Using Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback." ArXiv. Feb. 21, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1202/1202.6106.pdf
- Rogell, Eric. "The New, Mind-Blowingly Slippery Non-Stick Coating: Watch as Ketchup Slides Right Out of the Bottle (Video)." Discovery. Aug. 16, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://dsc.discovery.com/life/the-new-mind-blowingly-slippery-non-stick-coating-watch-as-ketchup-slides-right-out-of-the-bottle-video.html
- Sinha, Sanskrity. "Winners of 2012 Ig Noble Prizes for Odd Discoveries Revealed [PHOTOS + VIDEO]." International Business Times. Sept. 21, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/386805/20120921/2012-ignobel-prizes-winners-photos-live-nobel.htm
- Than, Ker. "'Virgin Birth' Seen in Wild Snakes, Even When Males Are Available." National Geographic News. Sept. 14, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/09/120914-virgin-birth-parthenogenesis-snakes-science-biology-letters/
- Wolchover, Natalie. "Math Formula May Explain Why Serial Killers Kill." Live Science. Jan. 18, 2012. (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/17983-math-formula-explain-serial-killers-kill.html
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