About Ben Farrer

Ben is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Knox College. He received his PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2014. Ben was previously a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and previously held a research position in the Department of Political Science at Fordham University. His research and teaching interests are centered around parties and interest groups, particularly those from under-represented constituencies. A great deal of his work deals with the political organizations of the environmental movement. He studies both American and Comparative politics.

Ways To Make Your Voice Heard After An Election

Since the surprising results of the US presidential election, a lot of websites and blogs have asked how ordinary citizens should react. What is the best way to allocate your participation, if you want to have an actual impact? One of my favourite examples was here, but other examples were here, here, and here. So – what does political science say is the best way to get involved?

Why Don’t We See Party Organizations In Faculty Senates?

What kinds of features would a legislative or pseudo-legislative situation need to have before would we expect the emergence of parties (or pseudo-parties)? The organization of political parties is usually argued to be a response to the collective action problem inside legislatures (Aldrich 1995) or outside legislatures (Cox and McCubbins 1997). But is the mere presence of one or both of these problems enough to trigger the development of organizations that look like parties? I’m thinking particularly of a setting that many of us are probably familiar with – faculty governance. Different colleges and universities have different institutions, but are Continue reading Why Don’t We See Party Organizations In Faculty Senates?

What Can Dollar-Store Candy Teach Us About Voting? A Rational Choice Argument For Casting A Wasted Vote

You’re probably familiar with the idea that voting is ‘irrational’. Your one vote doesn’t matter. Sure, there’s some tiny probability that after you vote, your preferred candidate will end up winning by one vote – and in that scenario your vote truly did matter. But outside of that Hollywood script, your vote probably won’t decide the outcome. So why bother with the whole rigmarole of voting? Worse still, imagine that your preferred candidate isn’t even one of the frontrunners. If you support the Greens or the Libertarians, then your tiny probability of deciding the election just got a whole lot Continue reading What Can Dollar-Store Candy Teach Us About Voting? A Rational Choice Argument For Casting A Wasted Vote

Data Collection Project: Songs that Mention Being a Specific Age

This complicated and strange project began innocently enough when I decided to make a mix CD for my friend’s birthday and went searching for relevant songs. But ‘songs about being xx’ turns out not to be a very straightforward thing to search for and so after burning the CD I was left with a burning question: why had I found so few songs? In this blog post, I look at which ages get sung about and which don’t, and I present a comprehensive list of 189 songs that mention being a specific age. You can download the list here, and Continue reading Data Collection Project: Songs that Mention Being a Specific Age

Explaining A Party System by Looking at the Alternatives to Parties

The most recent issue of Party Politics (July 2014) includes my article on why political activists choose to form different types of political organizations (you can find the version of record and abstract here). This work was a core part of my dissertation, and so I’d like to take this opportunity to give an informal overview of it, and particularly some of the more general implications. I think this work is most relevant to people interested in party system size, emerging issues such as environmentalism, and activist behaviour. The basic idea is about how different political organizations can substitute for each Continue reading Explaining A Party System by Looking at the Alternatives to Parties

What Role Does Age Play In Presidential Elections?

Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH

Marc Nozell via Compfight With Hilary Clinton seemingly poised to run for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, a fair amount has been written on her age (see, for example, http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/21/opinion/frum-hillary-clinton-double-standard/ ). She’s been in the public eye for a long time, which probably explains part of this commentary, and it also seems likely that there’s also a gendered element to it. As a female candidate, she can probably expect increased negative attention on relatively superficial factors like her appearance, tone, and age. But is some of this discussion also rooted in the contrast between Clinton’s experience and Obama’s Continue reading What Role Does Age Play In Presidential Elections?

Evolutionary Pscyhology in Political Science

I’ve been thinking about the role of evolutionary psychology in political science, after it was used in a couple of recent presentations. My concern is that political scientists are borrowing a method or paradigm from another discipline without borrowing the critiques that need to go with it. Discussion of some of the normative issues around evolutionary psychology, particularly the naturalistic fallacy, are ongoing in evolutionary psychology (see here for instance http://evolution.binghamton.edu/dswilson/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/DSW14.pdf) but are often neglected when causal mechanisms from that discipline make their way into other work. This is particularly important when evolutionary psychology is used to study some of Continue reading Evolutionary Pscyhology in Political Science

Teaching Introductory Graduate Methods: Some Ideas About Understanding Sampling Distributions

Everyone has their own way of teaching methods, but in this entry I thought I’d share a brief exercise that I thought worked well. This code was developed when I was the teaching assistant for a second-semester methods class focusing on regression. Specifically, this was a section of the class from the first few weeks that dealt with two things: first, showing/repeating the idea of a sampling distribution, and second, showing some introductory code on loops and graphics. The code uses the ggplot2 package for R. This software, and this package, have (in my experience) a somewhat steep learning curve Continue reading Teaching Introductory Graduate Methods: Some Ideas About Understanding Sampling Distributions

Taking Surveys Seriously? (II)

            In the previous post, I looked at whether it’s possible to code the answers to open-ended survey questions in such a way as to flag respondents who perhaps weren’t taking the survey seriously. My primary concerns were whether these outbursts of respondent hostility can affect our inferences, but also whether we can use characteristics of respondents or of particular questions to predict when these outbursts will occur. I think looking at these hostile responses is an important reminder of just how many different stories there are within a single survey. If social scientists want to generalise about these stories, then Continue reading Taking Surveys Seriously? (II)