Category: Grad Life

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Learning Econometrics; Conflict Data; BITs and Corruption

A quick couple of links to start the week:

Ani Katchova offers free web-based materials to learn econometrics.  A lot of it looks to be relevant for political science applications. The Econometrics Academy also provides a good intro to different statistical software packages. If you’re interested in stats but have some gaps to fill, check it out! (via Phil Arena)

Speaking of large-n data analysis, I just saw this piece by Alex Hanna et al. in which they compare codings of conflict events from the GDELT project to another, hand-coded database:

After the recent controversy about GDELT, this seems to be another reason to avoid working with that source until we know more.

A great example of unintended consequences and the fascinating situations that can result from overlapping and conflicting bits of international law: “Do Investment Arbitration Treaty Rules Encourage Corruption?”

[S]tates in investment treaty arbitration can escape liability by proving that the aggrieved investor engaged in corrupt activities in connection to the investment under dispute–even if senior state officials were full participants in the corrupt transaction. That being the case, states that receive inbound foreign investment have a perverse incentive to tolerate corruption in the officials who deal with foreign investors, because that corruption may help shield states from legal liability should the state subsequently renege on its agreement with the investor.

Fluffy bonus link if you made it this far: I have a feeling that many grad students will recognize “The 5 Top Traits of the Worst Advisors” … (and make sure to scroll down, because there is a #6).

Mathis Lohaus

Impostor Syndrome as a PhD Student

When I talk to fellow PhD students, many express a rather negative outlook on their own work and/or future perspectives. Of course this is not the case for all people, and there’s a huge continuum between self-deprecatory humor and existential crisis. But still, I see a lot of self-criticism and skepticism, and it doesn’t necessarily get more light-hearted over the course of a night at the bar. (And of course I am writing about myself here, too. Who am I kidding.)

The reason, I think, might be that academics are particularly prone to the impostor syndrome. In case you haven’t heard of it, let me quote Wikipedia:

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Here is a great link list on dealing with the phenomenon in the context of grad school and academia. Again, I want to reiterate that not all PhD students show this behavior, and that I am not trying to make light of a serious psychological problem. So what I should probably say is this: I have the feeling that young academics, including my circle of friends, have a tendency to be very self-critical and at the same time easily impressed by others. Based on my own experience, that mindset is neither very productive nor good for your mood.

So, here’s my unsolicited piece of advice in case you, too, feel like a fraud from time to time (to some degree, and more or less self-ironically).

  1. Be arrogant. You’re pretty awesome! There is a reason you got into grad school while many others were rejected. And keep in mind, between what the top people in your field are doing and your work there is a difference of degree, not kind. (In fact, I bet that most aren’t doing much better than you are, at least not all of the time.)
  2. Be grateful. Maybe the last two days, weeks or months weren’t the most straightforward, successful ones on your way to the PhD. But you still got to be in grad school, which is a far to cool to take it for granted. Probably you get to be around interesting people  and are at least approximately doing what you like …  that’s more than many other people can say about their line of work.

I just stumbled upon this great blog post on “levels of excellence”. The author uses material on mathematicians and professional swimmers, but there are many interesting thoughts in that piece on reaching different levels of excellence at what you do. So, let me close my little advice column with the idea of the “mundanity of excellence”:

[A] dissertation is a mundane piece of work, nothing more than some words which one person writes and a few other people read. (…) [T]he real exams, the true tests (such as the dissertation requirement) in graduate school are really designed to discover whether at some point one is willing just to turn the damn thing in.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Dick Cheney; Press Freedom; Publication Bias; Thesis Writing

In the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner has a captivating article on Dick Cheney’s legacy: First, the “war on terror” has changed the United States; human rights are ignored and the “dark side” of military and intelligence operations has been vastly expanded. Second, the decisions after 9/11 have changed the face of the world, and not in a good way. Danner then goes on and paints a picture of the man himself that will send chills down your spine:

[T]here is a kind of stark amoral grandeur to this answer that takes one’s breath away. Just as he was likely the most important and influential American official in making the decision to withhold the protection of the Geneva Conventions from detainees, Cheney was likely the most important and influential American when it came to imposing an official government policy of torture. It is quite clear he simply cannot, or will not, acknowledge that such a policy raises any serious moral or legal questions at all.

Reporters Without Borders - World Press Freedom 2014
Reporters Without Borders – World Press Freedom 2014

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have published their 2014 World Press Freedom Index. As they have done in earlier years, the NGO called out the United States: “Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it.”

Traditionally, RSF rankings are more strongly influenced by individual cases and physical security than the report prepared by Freedom House (FH). Their “Freedom of the Press” is usually updated in May.

The 2014 version of FH’s “Freedom in the World” report (on political rights and civil liberties), however, has just been published.

Jishnu Das and Quy-Toan Do diagnose a geographical bias in top economics journals:

Mathis Lohaus

Links: New Blogs, New Crises, NSA Reform, Ethics in Academia


Our colleagues from the Center for Global Politics (CGP) at Freie Universität Berlin have set up a blog called “Global Matters”. The idea is promising:

every two weeks the CGP posts a question related to an important topic in current affairs – and presents short but profound comments from distinguished International Relations experts and practitioners from all over the world

Good luck and have fun! The current post is on conflict in South-East Asia. (Also, there seems to be a tendency at our university to pretty grandiose names for blogging projects…)

Speaking of new blogs: Dan Nexon, of Duck of Minerva fame, now runs a personal blog called Hylaean Flow. Much of it will probably deal with insights from his role as editor for ISQ and the publishing process in general (via the Duck, where they also posted the new Game of Thrones trailer, just in case you missed it)

Tyler Cowen presents opinions from different people on “Which countries will have the next financial crisis?” If you’re a citizen, resident or investor in one of the following, now might be the time to worry: Denmark, Sweden or Norway (high private household debt), Singapore (a lot of loans), Malaysia or the Philippines (economic bubble), Ukraine (although Russia helped), Canada (real estate bubble), Thailand, Turkey, Greece, India or Indonesia (Tyler’s picks).

One key question is the relative worry weights you assign to private debt vs. bad institutions.

What about the rest of the world?  The eurozone is seeing ongoing credit contraction and perhaps deflation too.  Japan just announced a surprisingly large and apparently persistent current account deficit.  And the United States?  Things look pretty good, but in fact by the standards of historical timing we are soon due for another recession.

I’ll put my money on Turkey.

On cyber security and surveillance: Bruce Schneier has an excellent piece on how the NSA and other agencies threaten national (U.S.) security. The text is a commentary on the reform debate in the United States; let’s wait and see what President Obama will announce on Friday. Meanwhile, the tone in Germany gets angrier. As the “no spy” treaty seems to be canceled, now some people make the case for retaliation through the TTIP and other transatlantic negotiations.

PS. At the Monkey Cage, there’s a short interview with Peter Singer, whose book on cyber security and cyber war looks very interesting.

Last but not least, two items reflecting on academic practice. First, Megan MacKenzie has written on the ethics of adjunct professors and other “casual” posts in (U.S.) departments. She presents four reasons to be careful about taking these jobs and four ways for permanent staff to improve the situation. A lot of this probably also holds for the European context.

Second, Burcu Bayram on how to tell MA students that pursuing a PhD might not be the best option for them: Should you be the blunt “dream-crusher” or try a more empathetic approach?

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Forecasts for 2014; How to Rank IR Journals

(CC) Sanjay Acharya
(CC) Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s your last chance to take part in New America’s Weekly Wonk 2014 Forecasting Contest. Most of the questions are brilliant, but my favorite is #4:

Which number will be highest in 2014?

  • Gold medals won by China in the Sochi Winter Olympics
  • Oscars won by American Hustle
  • Days the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, D.C.
  • Mentions of the word “progress” by Barack Obama at his State of the Union Address

I’ll pick my answers after finishing this blog post… (via Tobias Bunde)

A far more serious forecasting exercise was just published by Jay Ulfelder. He and Ben Valentino used a survey to plot the likelihood of “state-led mass killings” around the world:

Data & map by Jay Ulfelder and Ben Valentino (Dart-Throwing Chimp)

It is very important to understand that the scores being mapped and plotted here are not probabilities of mass-killing onset. Instead, they are model-based estimates of the probability that the country in question is at greater risk than any other country chosen at random. In other words, these scores tell us which countries our crowd thinks we should worry about more, not how likely our crowd thinks a mass-killing onset is.

Also note that less than 150 people took part in the survey. Still, the method is neat.

In another post, Jay sheds some light on how and when he is going to post his 2014 forecasts for coups. Again, it turns out that attaching probabilities to very rare events is extremely tough. The post also illustrates that choosing a data source can be driven more by administrative reasons (who publishes when, how often, and how transparently) than by trust in its quality (or: optimal fit for the purpose)…

At the Duck of Minerva, Brian J. Phillips explores how to rank IR journals:

What are the best International Relations journals? How do we know if one journal is better than another? And how should this affect your decision about where to send a manuscript?

Phillips considers surveys (TRIP) and citation indexes (Thomson-Reuters, Google, etc.) that might be relevant to come up with a ranking. You won’t be surprised by the top 10. But the data, the discussion and follow-up questions, and the (critical) comments are well worth reading…

Wiebke Wemheuer-Vogelaar

IR Journals Off the Beaten Track


Whenever you write an acacemic paper – no matter whether it is for school, for a journal or as part of your thesis – you are in need of literature. You need to find other papers or books to read and to cite to show that you know what you and others are talking about. But where do you look for this literature? No matter whether you start your search at Google Scholar, your local university library or the Web of Knowledge (WoK), you often end up following a beaten track. And that track most oftenly leads through US publishing houses, authors, and journals.

If your are interested in some alternative views, here are some links to journals that might help you leave that path at least once in a while:

Some of these journals are actually listed in the Social Science Citation Index and you might want (or have) to access it through the Web of Knowledge (given that your institution has access to the WoK).

This list is probably not exaustive and it ignores non-US journals from Europe and Canada. But it introduces publications of IR communuties that are probably farest off the beaten  track and it represents what I have collected over the years as part of my own research on post-Western IR. If you know of other journals or good alternative databases, please share these with us!

Sören Stapel

Links: German elections, grad student advice, IL/IR symposium, O’Bagy

Election Day in Germany is on Sunday. Yesterday was the information event for my tasks as a poll worker on Sunday. As we all know, Germans are said to be very organized and efficient, but can be harsh. This event proved the rule. And I feel like making fun about one specific disadvantage of being German:

German elections and forecasting

Back to serious issues. A few weeks ago I somehow lamented about the state of forecasting Germany’s federal elections in 2013. Sadly, I wasn’t aware of Kai Arzheimer’s work. In the mid of August, he has launched a series of blog posts on forecasting the German elections and some follow-ups here, here, here, and here. But you could also have a glance at his code and data for replication or just visit his blog in general which is very entertaining.

He also has a piece in the online edition of Al Jazeera on Germany’s elections, the EU, and the future of the Euro.

The European Council on Foreign Relations is currently running a great series looking at how the German elections being viewed from by other EU partners. So far, the series covered Poland, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Britain, and Spain.

Scholars from the Social Science Research Center in Berlin (WZB) have looked at party manifestos of all German federal elections. Their data is now available and they have published some at the Democracy & Democratization blog. See also their introduction to the Manifesto project. The online edition of the newspaper Die Zeit also presented some of their findings (in German). The base line is: political parties differ on many issues in their party manifestos and there is a general turn to the left regarding both economic and socio-political dimensions (less market-oriented and more progressive). But, of course, exceptions prove the rule. Continue reading

Sören Stapel

Links: Open Access, Teaching, Painful PhD Problems, Quantitative Methods, Maps, and Movies

With the summer break still going on and some more substantive blog posts in the pipeline and waiting to be written, here again some links that I found interesting over the last two weeks – all of them more or less related to the profession.

Publishing and open access. Over at the Disorder of Things, two related articles take up the open access problematique / discussion. The first article has a list presenting seven propositions on open access. This article is followed by an interview with Eva Erman, chief editor of Ethics & Global Politics, a fully open journal. As we all have a more or less clear idea of how running a polsci / IR journal looks like, this interview nicely shows what it means to edit an open access journal.

Teaching. On Inside Higher Ed, Andrew Pegoda has a great essay on lessons learned in college teaching and what he has experienced over the last couple of years. (h/t to DuckPM; in early July, he also published is own thoughts on teaching introduction to international relations)

Methods. After Phil Schrodt revealed he would soon retire, my twitter feed literally exploded. That’s how I noticed a very great article he presented at APSA 2010 proposing the Seven Deadly Sins of Contemporary Quantitative Political Analysis. His seven points are:

1. Greed: Kitchen sink models that ignore the e ffects of collinearity;
2. Pride: Pre-scienti c explanation in the absence of prediction;
3. Sloth: Reanalyzing the same data sets until they scream;
4. Lust: Using complex methods without understanding the underlying assumptions;
5. Wrath: Interpreting frequentist statistics as if they were Bayesian;
6. Gluttony: Linear statistical monoculture at the expense of alternative structures;
7. Envy: Confusing statistical controls and experimental controls

The APSA paper is more fun to read since he provides lots of pop culture allusions and is way more sarcastic than the more polished version he will publish in the Journal of Peace Research, but the latter one is a bit shorter (here). Apparantly, he also plans to expand it into a book.

Fun facts and trivia – it still summer and the more fun stuff should not come off too short:

In case someone is going to ask me once again how / whether my PhD project over the last year, I will just forward this list of 25 deeply painful problems of a PhD student. (h/t to Tobias)

You’re more of the visual learner? You want to know more about the world? Here is a great collection of comparisons portrayed in maps, i.e. countries invaded by Britain or global internet usage based on time of day. (h/t to Zoe)

And, finally, over at Marginal Revolution, two movies have been promoted because they approach the brutality and personal consequences of killing from two highly interesting, but very different point of views. Check out this very succinct review. (h/t to Mathis)

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Taking Kids on Field Trips; Forecasting; Cyber Security; Syria’s Future; Football and Violence; New UN Blog; Honest Acknowledgments

Temperatures in Berlin are falling. Let’s wait and see what this means for the blog…

A great match to our little series on parenting:  Kim Yi Dionne writes about “taking children to an African country while you conduct research” (via the Duck)

Jay Ulfelder has two great posts on forecasting. One deals with common “screw-ups” in predictive models. The other is about the ethics of statistical forecasting, and the responsibility of researchers to be honest about their limits:

The fact that we use mathematical equations to generate our forecasts and we can quantify our uncertainty doesn’t always mean that our forecasts are more accurate or more precise than what pundits offer, and it’s incumbent on us to convey those limitations. It’s easy to model things. It’s hard to model them well, and sometimes hard to spot the difference.

Brandon Valeriano offers a comprehensive reading list on cyber security, nicely balancing intro stuff and very specialized articles.

Jeffrey Stacey writes about Syria’s future (“intervening not now but later”), with a big potential role for the EU:

It is difficult to predict which way the current conflict in Syria will end up, as even some sort of stalemate could be the result.  But if opposition forces were ultimately successful in defeating Assad’s forces then it would be difficult for Western governments to ignore their shared security interests in the assurance of post-conflict stability in Syria.

Andrew Bertoli has a paper about nationalism and aggression, arguing that countries that qualify for the football/soccer World Cup behave more aggressively. German weekly Zeit has an interview with him (h/t Tobias Bunde).

Instead of lamenting the state of the German twitter- and blogosphere, let’s try and improve networking! So far, I had completely overlooked the blog “Junge UN Forschung”, written by members of the German junior researcher’s working group for UN studies (h/t Christian Kreuder-Sonnen).

Finally, Dan Drezner offers 15 examples of a world where book acknowledgments are really honest, such as:

I’m grateful to Peter Klugman, a Big Shot in my field who made a useful offhand comment to me once. People reading this will hopefully think I really know him and therefore be impressed.

Mathis Lohaus

PhD Pitch #4: Anti-Corruption, using only 1000 basic words


My dissertation project (on international efforts to fight corruption) in 5 questions & answers… but to make things interesting, I’ve used a text editor that limits you to the 1000 most-used English words. The idea is based on a comic by xkcd, and please check out “ten hundred words of science” for many great examples.

So, what is this thing about?

What do states do if they want to stop people who pay or accept money or presents although they should not? That is my question, and I look at many places in the world where states make plans with each other. In the end I want to explain why they decide the way they do.

Why should we care?

Continue reading