10 of the Craziest Discoveries of 2012

Serial Killers May Kill According to a Mathematical Formula
UCLA researchers discovered that there may be a math-based way to predict when a serial killer's next victim's number is up. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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].

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