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:
[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.
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).
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.)
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.
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 (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.
This column provides new evidence from 76,046 papers published during 1985-2004 in the top 202 economics journals. It shows that GDP per capita accounts for 75% of the variation in the country-focus of publications, suggesting the overrepresentation of the US is not an anomaly. Yet a closer look at top-five journals reveals a US bias that cannot be explained by data or researcher quality.
This topic will look familiar to loyal followers of the blog. The paper by Das and Do adds something new (at least for me) in that it looks at which areas are the subject of academic research in addition to studying where the authors of published papers are located. The (gated) full text can be accessed here.
At the “Thesis Whisperer” blog, David Alexander reflects on finishing his PhD thesis “by publication”, i.e., by putting out a number of (published) academic papers rather than working towards a single research monograph. That’s very common in many fields, but might be food for thought for our readers with a European political science background…
Last week, GDELT was suspended and three researchers left the project. This huge data set on media reports (not only) about conflicts got a lot of buzz (here and elsewhere). Now it seems that several parties are arguing about whether or not the underlying data was properly licensed. You can find some of the speculations in this thread on “Political Science Rumors”, page 3 and following.
Kalev Leetaru, the designer of the data set, now seems to have set up a new website and promises that everything will be fine:
While this whole situation would have been easily avoided with just a little communication and avoided a lot of unnecessary angst, the silver lining is that it has demonstrated just how widely-used and important GDELT has really become over the past year and we are tremendously excited to work with all of you in 2014 to really explore the future of “big data” study of human society.
Few noticed several years ago that France conducted the EU operation in Chad almost entirely on its own, and the same for the UN operation in the Ivory Coast (both were largely ignored in Washington). There was an unsuccessful raid of al-Shabbab conducted in Somalia in early 2013, but France intervened in the highly unstable Central African Republic at the end of 2013. In-between France demonstrated particular skill in conducting its Mali intervention, which has been heralded as a successful demonstration of an alternative way to intervene compared to the experience of U.S.-led allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The French operation was impressive at the outset in that it took only three months to go from a decision in Paris to achieve operational boots on the ground. French military sustainability was amply demonstrated, with its contingency force growing to 5000 deployed troops midway through the intervention (only 7 troop fatalities occurred). The French with Chadian support accomplished their military objectives with relative ease in harsh field conditions, beyond the gaze of any reporters and therefore less likely that France would suffer diplomatically from any images of its troops killing Islamic fighters (a brigade has remained in Mali after the successful election of a new president). All of this was accomplished with broad and deep support across elite and public opinion.
Still, I think Tim Hartford and Alex Tabarrok miss a couple of important points in the casual way they deal with inequality. (See the comment section at Marginal Revolution for a discussion on how phrasing matters.)
Again, from a moderate perspective, the point here is not ‘expropriate them all‘. But we need to ensure that everyone has a decent income and improve taxation in order to mitigate capitalism’s tendencies to reward capital more than labor. The Economist has a short discussion of Thomas Piketty’s new book on the issue. More here. I have a feeling there will be many heated discussions over the year.
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
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.
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:
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)…
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…
Unlike Jerusalem, Berlin has not had its share of snow so far. Nonetheless, we’re taking a short Christmas / winter break. Enjoy the holiday season!
My last links for the year:
At the Duck of Minerva, Jon Western replies to a Slate article heralding the “end of the college essay”. He rightly points out that longer papers should not just be a means of testing, but part of the teaching curriculum.
I am a strong believer in the benefits of a lengthy research paper and I regularly assign them for my advanced seminars in international human rights, American foreign policy, and international security. (…)
I assign the paper as part of the course as an exercise to help students develop critical reasoning and thinking skills as well as to help improve their writing. As a result, the research paper assignment must be integrated into the overall course learning objectives, the course content, and the course schedule.
In German political science, Hausarbeiten (long research papers or essays) are an important part of undergraduate and graduate education. It’s nice to read some reflection on why that might be a good idea — and the thought of abolishing this form of testing (and more importantly: learning) seems odd to me. Then again, I am not (yet) required to grade all of these papers…
I know. There has to be a cheaper deal out there. You can get Portuguese residency with €500,000 in your pocket – and you don’t even have to give the money away. You just have to buy a pad in Portugal.
No, it’s outrageous that Malta is selling passports.
Oh. Well, granted, there is an issue here. Given EU rules on freedom of movement, Malta is in effect selling EU citizenship but pocketing the cash. But this sort of problem is in the nature of the EU. Member states will either have to tolerate it or develop some sort of centralised regulator – just as the European Central Bank regulates the shared currency. That has been a tremendous success.
At the core of this story is an important point that doesn’t receive enough attention from many self-proclaimed economic liberals: “We wring our hands about inequality, but the biggest determinant of your income is your country of birth.”
In my view, all these arguments have some merit but the most important thing to focus on is the issue of extrajudicial killing, rather than the means used to do it, for two reasons. First, if the US ended its targeted killings policy this would effectively stop the use of weaponized drones in the war on terror, whereas the opposite is not the case; and it would effectively remove the CIA from involvement with drones. It would thus limit weaponized drones to use in regular armed conflicts that might arise in the future, and only at the hands of trained military personnel. If Holewinski and Lewis are right, this will drastically reduce civilian casualties from drones.
I’d like to recommend a couple of links on attempts to forecast political events. First, the always excellent Jay Ulfelder has put together some links on prediction markets, including a long story in the Pacific Standard on the now defunct platform Intrade. Ulfelder also comments on “why it is important to quantify our beliefs”.
Second (also via Ulfelder), I highly recommend the Predictive Heuristics blog, which is run by the Ward Lab at Duke University. Their most recent post covers a dataset on political conflict called ICEWS and its use in the Good Judgment Project, a forecasting tournament that I have covered here on the blog as well. (#4 of my series should follow soon-ish.)
Of course, economists are experts at decision-making under uncertainty, so we are uniquely well-placed to handle this. However, there is a roadblock that has been thrown up that makes that task a bit harder – the REF guidelines insist that the panel cannot make use of journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals as part of the assessment process. It seems perplexing that any information should be ignored in this process, especially when it seems so pertinent. Here I will argue that journal quality is important and should be used, but only in combination with other relevant data. Since we teach our own students a particular method (courtesy of the Reverend Thomas Bayes) for making such decisions, why not practise what we preach?
This resonates with earlier debates here and elsewhere on how to assess academic work. There’s a slippery slope if you rely on publications: in the end, are you just going to count the number of peer-reviewed articles in a CV without ever reading any of them? However, Sgroi is probably right to point out that it’s absurd to disregard entirely the most important mechanism of quality control this profession has to offer, despite all its flaws.
Next week, the Körber-Stiftung will hold the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. One of the panels deals with transatlantic relations. I’m wonder if any interesting news on the spying scandal will pop up in time. Meanwhile, this talk by Dan Geer on “tradeoffs in cyber security” illustrates the self-reinforcing logic of surveillance (via Bruce Schneier):
Unless you fully instrument your data handling, it is not possible for you to say what did not happen. With total surveillance, and total surveillance alone, it is possible to treat the absence of evidence as the evidence of absence. Only when you know everything that *did* happen with your data can you say what did *not* happen with your data.
First, a warning to all visiting researchers in Germany, who might entertain false hopes based on this year’s relatively friendly October:
OK, back to business… three links today, and all of them are about money:
Transparency International celebrates its 20th anniversary in Berlin. Tomorrow there will be a conference followed by the ceremony for this year’s “Integrity Awards”. The full program is here. As far as I know, the event is fully booked, but there will be a live stream. On Twitter, they use the hashtag #TIat20
The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows.
The ranking covers many of the usual suspects, but its design is geared to put pressure on countries that are not usually called “tax havens”. Germany and the U.S. get spots among the top-10 offenders because the FSI ranking reflects two factors: (1) how much secrecy a jurisdiction offers, and (2) how big the country’s share of global financial services is. This leads to lower ranks for very secretive, but tiny places. So if you have a lot of cash to hide, you should rely on the fourth column, not the third.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to help secure federal funding for research in the social sciences. Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage summarizes:
As Warren points out, people are prepared to pay for social science data. The problem is that the buyers aren’t interested in finding out what is true. They are interested in pushing results that will promote their economic interests.
Is there a middle ground between ivory-tower academics (who have a long record of producing practically irrelevant output) and politically motivated donors (who cherry-pick researchers and results in line with their agenda)?
As illustrated by the fact that I’m posting this directly after two reports about advocacy groups publishing social science research, this is an important debate!