Police in Sheffield were able to catch a teenage burglar in the act using methods derived from optimal foraging theory – exactly where mathematical modelling predicted he would strike next.
Optimal foraging theory suggests that organisms forage in such a way that their food intake per unit time is maximised – for example, by exploiting all possible resources in one food patch before moving on to the next, thereby getting as much food as possible in the shortest time. This saves energy, making the net value of their food intake higher because they have expended less to get it.
Using this theory, the South Yorkshire police force could predict that the burglar, who had already notched up twelve successful burglaries in the area, would stay within the same neighbourhood. Science was proved right; the burglar was apprehended last month, and has since pleaded guilty to twelve counts of burglary, confessing to stealing and selling on laptops, electrical equipment, jewellery and cash.
American series “Numb3rs” depicts a team of brothers in the US Police Force cracking cases by using scientific theory and mathematical modelling to predict the movements of criminals – who would have predicted that it would be the bobbies of South Yorkshire who would prove it to be not so far-fetched…
And if we can catch criminals using science, then surely listening to the advice of scientists to do something as vital as saving Britain’s bees shouldn’t be too much of a stretch? Let’s hope so – a picture article in the Guardian today (with research from the University of Reading) suggests that our rarest bees are in steep decline. The UK opposed the recent ban on nicotinoid pesticides on crops attractive to bees that was passed through at a vote in Brussels. Critics of the legislation said that more research needed to be done to ensure that this wouldn’t have knock-on effects, for example, farmers reverting back to more harmful chemical pesticides. Many scientists and campaigners are saying that it’s time to use what we know. Time is running out for species like the Great Yellow Bumblebee, which is now restricted to the north west of Scotland. By the time further, more speculative research is done, it might be too late.