Professor Bear Braumoeller passed away earlier this week. Bear was a political scientist who studied the likelihood and causes of catastrophic wars. You may have read his book Only the Dead or heard his appearance on the 80,000 Hours podcast. For a short, recent example of his work I recommend this piece of his about the Russia-Ukraine war.

Bear’s work on conflict likelihood, escalation, and catastrophic wars is certainly among the best research on major conflict risks. Only the Dead was an important counter to strong claims about the long-term declines in interstate violence. Bear found, in brief, that the data on war severity offer few reasons to think that the risk of huge wars (including much-larger-than-WWII-wars) has declined much. And this risk accumulates catastrophically over time. 

One of my favourite sentences from Bear is his darkly-humorous conclusion to a chapter on war severity (p. 130):

When I sat down to write this conclusion, I briefly considered typing, “We’re all going to die,” and leaving it at that. I chose to write more, not because that conclusion is too alarmist, but because it’s not specific enough.

Bear combined expertise in both statistical analysis and the theory of what causes war to great effect. He pushed forward our understanding of  how the likelihood of major conflict has changed over time and why. His work was interesting not just to political scientists but to anyone seeking to understand and reduce global risks.

I’d corresponded with Bear frequently over the last two years while researching catastrophic conflict risks. He was generous and cared deeply about the social impact of his work. Despite my utter lack of credentials and experience, Bear gave me a lot of his time, advice, and connections to other researchers. In my experience academics rarely engage so meaningfully with outsiders. I was grateful.

Bear’s interest in EA had been piqued and as far as I know he was planning to do more work on catastrophic risks. Last year his lab received a grant from the Future Fund for follow-up research on the themes he wrote about in Only the Dead.

He is gone far too soon and will be missed.

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It's sad to think how much this will set back the research agenda he was a part of. Sometimes one researcher really can move forward a field.

Bear will be missed by many including me.

This is really sad and shocking. His family, colleagues, and students have my sincere condolences.

For people that didn't know him, one thing that stood out about him was his extreme generosity in helping students and junior colleagues. If you want to read some of their small tributes, the replies and quote tweets here are full of political scientists and others sharing stories. He will be deeply missed.

     Bear was a close friend of my brother (Dave) from high school or before and they remained in touch.  He was a joyful, warm person from the start.   His open friendliness made me feel I knew him well, disproportionate, to the time actually spent with him (which was quite little, my being 6 years older than my brother, and it has been quite some time).   

      I teach history in a public university.  Some 18 years ago or so, Dave relayed that Bear saw a dramatic decrease in students’ plagiarism after he announced he was using a plagiarism detector.  I've used one ever since, but never passed back my thanks to Bear for its benefits. 

      I imagine most people finding this page join me in never having known another Bear.  But my second child struck me at 3 days old as needing a fitting nickname for her evidently outsized (and beguiling) personality.  I'm sure I wouldn't have called my daughter, now 23, "Stella-Bear" from that day to this if Bear B had not been so cherished. 

    It seems terribly unfair that his family has lost him, and, as has been said, the world has lost an extremely important voice.

I noticed that the book and article you recommended were both less recent than the 80k appearance. Do you have any information about a recent project, paper, or appearance?