Tagged: data

Mathis Lohaus

Predicting the Effects of TTIP, or: Whose Crystal Ball Can We Trust?

In a paper called “TTIP: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, economist Jeronim Capaldo argues that there are flaws in four prominent studies on the effects of the proposed TTIP agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. The problem is two-fold. First, all studies use similar models and data, which means that they all share the same set of assumptions and should thus not be treated as independently reaching similar conclusions:

Methodologically, the similarities among the four studies are striking. While all use World Bank-style Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) models, the first two studies also use exactly the same CGE. The specific CGE they use is called the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP), developed by researchers at Purdue University. All but Bertelsmann use a version of the same database (again from GTAP).

A detailed discussion of the shared heritage of the different CGE models can be found in a paper by Werner Raza and colleagues (pp. 37-49), which Capaldo cites.

He then goes one step further and alleges that the underlying econometric models are simply false, or at least inappropriate. According to him, CGE models rely on several flawed assumptions:

  • High labor mobility is supposed to allow workers in less competitive industries to switch to those that benefit from trade liberalization, which are assumed to grow enough to absorb the new workforce.
  • Overall, the gains for workers with the right skills are supposed to outweigh the losses for others.
  • The model assumes that new trade between countries/regions is created (rather than diverted from elsewhere, which would be a zero-sum result).

While I have no training in economics and don’t know the econometrics literature, I realize that all large-scale models of social science need to rely on simplified assumptions. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Capaldo has a point. If his account is correct, then European policymakers should look for more diverse academic input. More generally, if the most widely used models really are blind to potential downsides for labor, then that goes against the interest of European citizens. (As they ought to be very loss averse when it comes to employment as well as skeptical about the distribution of pay-offs from economic gains.)

So how do we come up with an estimate that pays more attention to potential negative effects? Capaldo uses the UN Global Policy Model (GPM), which models economic activity as demand-driven, explicitly models different regions, and includes an estimate of employment. (Again, I lack the knowledge to assess how this works and how much sense it makes.) In this model, unemployment and household income are projected to deteriorate in the long term (2025) for several European countries, as aggregate demand is lowered due to trade diversion (see pp. 10-19 for this and other findings).

Jeronim Capaldo, “The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability”, Global Development and Environment Institute Working Paper No. 14-03, October 2014, p. 14.

Capaldo is pretty transparent about the limitations of this approach:

  • the non-TTIP baseline scenario (which serves as a comparison) might be wrong
  • the chosen model might be as ill-specified as the ones he is criticizing
  • policy responses down the road are not included (and that’s hardly possible)
  • …and the paper completely ignores the investment dimension of TTIP (which is a weakness shared by the CGE models, according to Raza et al., p. 49)

So the headline “TTIP will lead to a loss of 600,000 jobs” does not really do the paper justice, although the author himself uses pretty strong language in the conclusion.

No matter which forecast turns out to be better in the end, this discussion shows that policy decisions should not rely on a single strand of academic analysis. There is a lot of uncertainty involved in these negotiations, and I don’t see how there can be a confident forecast of net effects.

One final note for the political debate in general: TTIP opponents should not forget that the status quo will not necessarily be maintained or improved just by inaction. The people likely to lose from TTIP are probably heading for difficult times anyway, leading to questions about how to compensate them. Whether European leaders will decide in favor or against TTIP, they are making high-stakes bets on how globalization will play out over the next decades.

Thanks to Zoe for pointing me to the study. And if anyone can add insight regarding the comparison between the different models, please let me know!

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Sex Work and Free Choice; ISA Conference 2014; Data Journalism

Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons
Roman fresco (Pompeii) via Wikimedia Commons

Sophia Gore discusses whether sex work can be an “expression of women’s  choice and agency”. She specifically focuses on prostitution and considers both liberal and radical feminist arguments.

I expect we will have more debates on the issue in the near future. Right now, policies in the European Union range from abolitionist (with Sweden’s policy of prosecuting customers but not prostitutes as best practice), to ignorant / dysfunctional / antiquated, to liberal as Germany, where prostitution is legal and (poorly) regulated. (As other researchers have pointed out, there is a lot of variation even within Scandinavia.)

Seeing how human trafficking and organized crime are increasingly discussed and fought across borders, I think at some point we will see international efforts to harmonize laws on sex work, in the EU and elsewhere.

On a lighter note, the folks at Duck of Minerva are getting ready for the 2014 ISA conference. Everyone, please go to the Blogger Reception on Thursday, March 27! To get you in conference mode, here’s Megan MacKenzie on how to improve the ISA experience, and then there is Amanda Murdie on how ISA resembles a family reunion:

Deviled eggs or no-bake cookies are my go-to dishes for a Kansas family reunion.  Half-baked empirical papers are typically what I present at ISA.  For either “dish,” I’m typically scrambling right until the last minute.

I won’t be in Toronto, but if anyone wants to meet up at MPSA in Chicago the weekend after that, please let me know.

New York Magazine has an interview with Nate Silver, who has taken his FiveThirtyEight brand from the NY Times to ESPN, where the new site will launch on Monday.

He criticizes pundits and columnists for their anecdotal, ideology-driven style, and at the same time promises that his new venture will rely on lots of data and stay clear from advocacy. (If you haven’t heard of the fox and the hedgehog by now, don’t worry, they explain it again in that interview.) Tyler Cowen is skeptical because Silver implicitly shows a bias against principled opinions and seemingly obvious claims, both of which aren’t necessarily bad journalism or policy.

I say: Silver should make sure to hire as many political scientists as he can. That should lead to lots of data points (of varying quality) and ensure that clear opinions are nowhere to be found…

Edit: I just found this piece by Brendan Nyhan, who shows how a number of political scientists have recently been hired to do journalism. (Brendan is part of that group, and also proof that my cynical comment above should not be taken at face value.)

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

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: Data Drama, Coups, France, Cyber Security, Wealth Distribution

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.

Speaking of big data projects: Jay Ulfelder’s 2014 coup forecasts are up:

Coup forecast 2014 by Jay Ulfelder
Coup forecasts 2014 by Jay Ulfelder. Each shade represents a fifth of the distribution. Historically, you can expect 80% of coups to occur in the dark red countries…

Please read the full post for Jay’s caveat regarding interpretation and information on how the probabilities are calculated.

Somehow I had missed Jeffrey Stacey’s post on France’s “re-emergence as a major power”:

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.

At the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell has announced a series of posts on cyber security. The first posts discusses “why people fight so hard over cybersecurity”.

Oxfam: "Working for the Few"
Oxfam: “Working for the Few”

Finally, you will probably have noticed Oxfam’s campaign about how 85 people are as rich as the bottom half of the world’s wealth distribution. This is from a report called “Working for the Few”.

Long-term followers of the IR Blog might remember my skepticism regarding cleverly phrased claims about wealth distribution: As long as you don’t oppose all kinds of capital accumulation, there will always be some small group owning much more than some bigger group.

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.

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…

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Cyber Attacks, Trade Negotiations, Combat Drones

A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (via Wikimedia commons)
A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (by “Ulli1105” via Wikimedia commons)

Small anniversary: Link post #25. By the way, do you find these useful?

On cyber attacks, I would like to recommend three pieces that might not be for everyone, but are interesting to get a more technical understanding of what is going:

  • Ralph Langner has written a fascinating account of “Stuxnet”. It turns out that the U.S./Israeli (?) attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges consisted not of one, but two separate types of computer virus, with trade-offs between effectiveness, predictability and stealth. The newer version used a less sophisticated way to damage centrifuges, but a much more sophisticated way to gain access in the first place and then spread across systems.
  • Nicholas Weaver summarizes the steps taken by U.S. intelligence agencies to access/hijack communications through the Internet’s backbone. This discussion of the NSA QUANTUM program is not too technical, but introduces a couple of phrases you might hear more often in the future. (via Bruce Schneier)
  • Jim Cowie discusses a different form of attack, in which internet traffic is redirected to get access to sensitive information. Fascinating for laypeople: Since we’re talking about milliseconds, “[t]he recipient, perhaps sitting at home in a pleasant Virginia suburb drinking his morning coffee, has no idea that someone in Minsk has the ability to watch him surf the web”. (But keep in mind that this comes form a private IT security company and is phrased to maximize PR effects.)

Two items on free trade negotiations:

First, Philip Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is very confident that President Obama will manage to get approval from Congress for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP (via AICGS / Tobias Bunde).

Second, regarding the other U.S. free trade effort currently under negotiation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP – you’ve probably heard that the part dealing with intellectual property rights was leaked last week. GWU PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael has analyzed the way in which different countries proposed changes to the document (which is visible in the leaked text) and offers the following summary:

  1. The U.S. and Japan are relatively isolated in their negotiating positions.
  2. There appears to be a strong negotiating network between Singapore, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand.
  3. Canada is up to something!

Some commentators pointed out that he might be neglecting an alternative explanation: that the U.S. and Japan are simply happy with the current document, as they have had a bigger say in creating the draft.

Irrespective of the arguments about causality, Michael’s blog post is a great example of what can be done with leaked documents and visualization! (via The Monkey Cage, where you can find more comments).

Finally, a quick follow-up on last week’s post on combat drones, again by Charli Carpenter at the Duck:

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots secured an important victory last week when delegates of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) voted unanimously to take up the issue (…).


While this is an important and promising moment, the shape and trajectory of norm-building efforts will depend a great deal on the tenor and outcome of next May’s CCW meeting. And one thing is sure: if that meeting results in weaker norms that hoped for my human security advocates, NGOs may simply take their cause elsewhere.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Drones; Forecasting; Ranking Researchers; Surveillance Logic

A combat drone, via Wikimedia commons
A combat drone, because that’s the most photogenic of all topics covered here today… (Wikimedia commons)

I hope you’re having a great week so far! My fellow bloggers have other obligations, so you’ll have to tolerate my incoherent link lists for the time being…

At the Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter makes a crucial point regarding the debate on military drones (emphasis added):

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.)

A post by Daniel Sgroi at VoxEU suggests a way for panelists in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) to judge the quality of research output. Apparently, there is a huge effort underway to rank scholars based on their output (i.e., publications) — and the judges have been explicitly told not to consider the journals in which articles were published. Sgroi doesn’t think that’s a good idea:

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.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Good Abstracts, News from the Blogs, Misunderstood Data

Abstract "check list" from the LSE's Impact blog
Abstracts “check list” from the LSE’s Impact blog

Tips & tricks for academics

How to write a good abstract, with some interesting advice on how to manage search keywords. This is part of a bigger series of “how-to” guides by the LSE Impact Blog.

New blogs & new affiliations

“Democracy & Democratization” is a brand new blog by our colleagues at the WZB. So far, all posts have been in German, but I guess it’s going to be bilingual!?

– Dan Nexon will leave the Duck of Minerva (to focus on his new role as ISQ editor), which makes me wonder a bit about the new ideas he had floated earlier…?

– Even bigger news: The Monkey Cage has struck a deal with the Washington Post. Interestingly, the blog will be placed completely outside of the Post’s paywall for the first year. After that readers with US government or education IP addresses will be exempt. And us poor Europeans? Well, if you land on the page after clicking a Facebook or Twitter link, you’ll still be fine.

– Some reflections on that: (1) That’s quite a leaky paywall, isn’t it? I’m curious to see how they will handle advertising. (2) The only ones who are truly screwed are people like me, who are relying on RSS/feed readers. It’s a pity that this great technology is being abandoned in favor of “walled gardens”. (R.I.P. Google Reader!)

Interpreting & Representing Data

– Jay Ulfelder did a post last week on how a data set on the media treatment of mass protest has been misinterpreted, despite the authors’ best efforts to include all relevant caveats:

So now we get a version that ignores both the caveat about GDELT’s coverage not being exhaustive or perfect and the related one about the apparent increase in protest volume over time being at least in part an artifact of “changes in reporting and the digital recording of news stories.” What started out as a simple proof-of-concept exercise —”The areas that are ‘bright’ are those that would generally be expected to be so,” John wrote in his initial post— had been twisted into a definitive visual record of protest activity around the world in the past 35 years.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Big data, Climate policy, Filibuster, Germany

Texas Senate (Public domain via Wikimedia)
“The Senate Chamber of the Texas Capitol” Source: Wikimedia (public domain)

Today’s links somehow focus on U.S. politics. But all of the topics matter globally, so please bear with me. Also, we’re pleased to announce that the Economist is as unhappy about the lack of German strategic thinking as we are.

  • Evgeny Morozov on the perils of Big Data: “there is an immense—but mostly invisible—cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomized by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions and jump straight to dealing with their consequences.
  • Obama didn’t really talk about climate policy in his Brandenburg Gate speech, but he did so yesterday. The excellent Duck of Minerva covers the main points and adds interesting links with further information.
  • By now everyone must have heard of the filibuster in Texas, right? For a nice summary and an appreciation of the crowd in the Senate building, check out The Monkey Cage.
  • Fun fact: Did you know that all U.S. states except Nebraska have upper houses?
  • Bonus fun fact: In Nebraska, the unicameral state legislature is called Legislature, but the representatives call themselves … Senators! (Wikipedia)

In line with our negative assessments of German strategy and leadership in the last weeks (ex. 1, ex. 2), please make sure to check out the Economist’s recent special report on Germany, the “reluctant hegemon”:

“On the euro, Germany’s competitiveness agenda is insufficient, and based on a distorted reading of the country’s own history. And Germany’s energy policy is less an example of bold leadership than of an ill-planned unilateralism that illustrates the country’s deep reluctance to think strategically about international challenges.”

Don’t worry, there are some more positive bits in there. The whole thing is available through the navigation on the right hand side of their website.