Did Data Kill Theory?

Thanks to Geoff McGovern for pointing us toward a fascinating essay in Wired.  Chris Anderson posits that the accessibility of information has vaulted us into what he calls the Petrabyte Age, in which information is not a matter of simple three- and four-dimensional taxonomy and order but of dimensionally agnostic statistics. It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later. Given how much data is readily available, Anderson Continue reading Did Data Kill Theory?

Conferences go digital and explore the World of Warcraft

I have actively played video games since before I could actively recall solid memories of my childhood.*  Some of my earliest memories do include an Atari system set up by my father and primitive graphics.  A lifetime of video games has lead to my current past time of World of Warcraft which I have since spent countless hours (some readers are already aware of this).**  This has even lead to primordial discussions of a unique situation, ripe for academic exploration, in which particular raw goods are more valuable than the "value added" goods produced from them in the game.  This Continue reading Conferences go digital and explore the World of Warcraft

Political Science Fortune Cookies

Whenever people open fortune cookies, they always expect to find a small piece of paper inside that has words of wisdom written on it. Last week, I opened a fortune cookie and much to my surprise, there were words of political wisdom written on the slip: "The will of the people is the best law." The next day, I showed my colleagues the fortune and we briefly discussed how hard it is to determine what the will of the people actually is. Then, after some "serious" collaboration, we came up with a new idea: Political Science Fortune Cookies. So we’re Continue reading Political Science Fortune Cookies

What are you reading this summer?

Summers are a good time to catch up on some literature that has taken a back seat to the work that needs to get done during the semester. A colleague (Paola Fajardo) and I are planning on a summer reading group starting in July.  The goal is to become more familiar with human rights or repression literature from a comparative institutional perspective.  We both have background in the literature that tackles this subject matter with global analysis, so we’d like to turn our attention this summer to the nuts and bolts of repressive policy outcomes and the decision-making processes that Continue reading What are you reading this summer?

The Poor Tyrant!

Why do dictators win elections?  The answer to this is relatively straightforward–they hold fixed elections.  Everyone knows they’re fixed and everyone knows who will win before the balloting even begins.  If the actual numerical results aren’t fixed, then the rules regarding who may contest the elections and who may vote in them certainly are.  Dictatorial regimes hold elections to demonstrate to the world that, not only are they giving their citizens a choice in their leadership, but also that their citizens resoundingly love them and wouldn’t prefer a more representative, and perhaps less repressive, government. If all of that is Continue reading The Poor Tyrant!

A cup of coffee, a blow up doll, and some functionally unpleasant commuters

Die hard rational choice social scientists are often puzzled when they see people making less than optimal decisions. For example, it is hard to explain why people choose to pay the cost of punishment and make themselves worse off just so that they can punish someone who acted unfair or against the rules. I came across an example of this in yesterday’s Washington Post when a reporter published a story about a little known short cut near the Dulles Airport. According to the reporter, drivers normally sit in traffic, moving slowly, on a toll road as they drove passed the Continue reading A cup of coffee, a blow up doll, and some functionally unpleasant commuters

The Quantitative Peace has been “Freaked”

Since it is possible for a low-traffic website to be Slashdotted, and Farked (that is, sent a  large amount of traffic from a highly visited site), I think the term "freaked" or "Freak(onomics)ed out" may be apt here: Graph generated and borrowed from statcounter.com. The unique visitors are still climbing! The spike in traffic resulted from the Freakonomic’s winner list for the Prisoner’s Dilemma contest including a gracious link to a previous discussion of their contest found here.  Our former visitor numbers were not overly flattering, but we were content with our current reader base given that a) we attempt Continue reading The Quantitative Peace has been “Freaked”

Something to keep an eye out for: Google Data

Wired reports that Google plans to release, soon, a framework for hosting, storing, and distributing large or frequently used data.  The Project, Palimpsest, will pay the fees to both ship the data (by sending users a 3TB hard drive to download the data) and for hosting.  This, if applicable for political science scholars, not only is a good way to reduce the cost of hosting our work, but also to facilitate some sort of centralization that is currently lacking and can often encouraging data seeking via Google anyways. Link to a slide show about the project (middle of the page). Continue reading Something to keep an eye out for: Google Data

When Form can Overwhelm Content

I am not a visually oriented person or, more appropriately, I am less than stellar at design.  This may not be a surprise to anyone that has seen my attempts to assemble a wardrobe, but this is also true in the sense of organizing information – whether it is in a paper, on a poster, or for a conference presentation.  As such, I am compelling myself to learn two programs/languages this summer that will both allow me to overcome my shortcomings ~ LaTeX and R.  Yes, my devotion to wysiwyg interfaces and minimal .do files might be crumbling a bit.  Continue reading When Form can Overwhelm Content

Bridging the Gap between the Hard Sciences and the Humanities

NY Times Article References New BU Program Two professors at Binghamton University, Dr. David Sloan Wilson of the Biology department and Dr. Leslie Heywood of the English department, are currently developing a joint Science and Humanitities program called the "New Humanities Initiative". This program will add a rubric to BU courses which expose students to "basic scientific tools like statistics and experimental design and to liberal arts staples like the importance of analyzing specific texts or documents closely, identifying their animating ideas and comparing them with the texts of other times or other immortal minds". The goal of the program Continue reading Bridging the Gap between the Hard Sciences and the Humanities