Thursday, 25 September 2003

Adesnik responds; didn't know there was Kool-Aid

David Adesnik has a response to the critiques of his earlier posts at OxBlog and the Volokh Conspiracy. He first notes that he’s just as annoyed by new data sets as by old ones:

Actually, I’m far more frustrated by the new data sets than the rehashing of the old ones. Just three days ago I was at a presentation in which a colleague described the data set she assembled on over 120 civil wars that have taken place since 1945. Since Latin America is the region I know best, I pulled the Latin American cases out of the data to set look at them.

What I found was that a very large proportion of the cases were “coded” in a misleading or flat-out wrong manner. Why? Because no one can study 120 civil wars. But pressure to come up with data sets leads scholars to do this anyway and do it poorly. Of course, since their work is evaluated mostly by other scholars who lack the historical knowledge to criticize their work, they get away with it. And so the academic merry-go-round spins merrily along.

That’s a fair and reasonable critique—of that particular dataset. There’s always a tradeoff between parsimony on the one hand and depth on the other. You can collect data on 120 civil wars, and try to explain with parsimony why—in general—civil wars occur, or you can soak and poke in one civil war and try to figure out all the myriad causes for that particular one. Each has its pitfalls; figuring out why Cambodia had a civil war in 1970 (my years are probably off, me not being an IR scholar) through a “soak and poke” really doesn’t help explain why Pakistan had one in 1973. On the other hand, oversimplifying the causes can be problematic too.

But that strikes me as more of a coding problem in a particular dataset than a problem endemic to social science research; ultimately, you have to simplify the real world to make scientific explanations of it. And this isn’t a problem unique to “soft” sciences like political science: physicists don’t really think light is composed of photons that are both a particle and a wave (for example), but the only way for humans to currently understand light is to model it that way, and chemists don’t think that nuclei are indivisible (but, for their purposes 99.9% of the time, they might as well be).

David does take me to task for my admittedly flip remark that Hamas was comparable to the Sierra Club:

With apologies to Chris, his comment summarizes everything that is wrong with political science. Who but a political scientist could think that ideology is not a good explanation for the differences between the Sierra Club and Hamas?

Both groups have fairly revolutionary ideologies, yet they pursue their ends through different means. The Sierra Club operates in an environment where at least some of its goals can be accomplished from within the existing political system, while Hamas’ goal is the obliteration of the existing political system in Israel and the Palestinian territories. One need not resort to ideology to see that the Sierra Club doesn’t need to engage in violence to pursue its goals while it’s pretty clear that for Hamas to produce revolutionary change in the former Palestinian mandate, it does.

That the goal has something to do with Hamas’ ideology is rather beside the point; they can’t accomplish it without obliterating the Israeli state through violent action. The Sierra Club, on the other hand, has a sympathetic political party, a regulatory agency whose civil service employees (if not its politically-appointed overseers) share its goals, and other sources of active support that mean that they can achieve their goal of reducing pollution and other environmental impacts without resorting to violence. Ideology may define the goal, but the goal itself will be pursued through means that are shaped by the political environment.

Of course, in some cases, ideology may affect the means chosen. But a theory of how Osama Bin Laden operates isn’t very generalizable; it only explains how Bin Laden behaves, without explaining how ETA, the Tamil Tigers, or the Real IRA operate. That’s the tradeoff—you can spend a lot of time trying to explain how one actor will behave, and nail that, or you can spend a lot of time explaining how multiple actors will behave, and maybe get close. Maybe Bin Laden deserves case study attention. But most political actors don’t; they’re frankly not that interesting.

For example, in-depth case study of how my neighbor across the street makes his voting decisions tells me next to nothing about how my next-door neighbors vote, much less how people vote in general. My resources are probably better spent trying to explain how most people vote from large-scale survey data, and getting close, rather than studying one person so I can predict precisely how he’ll vote in 2032.

Around Harvard, all one hears is that incorporating statistics into one’s work significantly increases one’s marketability (and I don’t just mean at the p<.05 level—we’re talking p<.01 on a one-tailed test.)

I will grant that the use of statistics—or more accurately, the demonstrated ability to use statistics—helps the marketability of political scientists. For one thing, this is because of hiring practices in political science—your primary or major field defines the sort of job you will get. Unless you are looking for a job at a small liberal arts college, no school that is hiring in IR will care if your second (minor) field is comparative, theory, or American, since you’ll never teach or do research in those fields. The exception is in political methodology: you can get a job in methods with a substantive major and a minor in methods. The downside (if you don’t like methods) is that you will be expected to teach methods. The upside is that you aren’t tied to a particular substantive field.

More to the point, in some fields it is difficult to do meaningful research without statistics. In mass political behavior and political psychology—my areas of substantive research—at least a modicum of statistical knowledge is de rigeur. Which brings me to Dan’s point:

I’d argue that the greater danger is the proliferation of sophisticated regression analysis software like STATA to people who don’t have the faintest friggin’ clue whether their econometric model corresponds to their theoretical model.

For every political scientist that knows what the hell they’re doing with statistics, there are at least two who think typing logit depvar ind1 ind2 ind3 at a Stata prompt is the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis. Frankly, a lot of the stats you see in top-flight journals are flaming crap—among the sins: misspecified models, attempts to make inferences that aren’t supported by the actual econometric model, acceptance of key hypotheses based on marginally significant p values, use of absurdly small samples, failure to engage in any post-estimation diagnostics. And, of course, “people who don’t have the faintest friggin’ clue whether their econometric model corresponds to their theoretical model.” Several thousand political scientists receive Ph.D.’s a year in the United States, and I doubt 20% of them have more than two graduate courses in quantitative research methods—yet an appreciable percentage of the 80% will pass themselves off as being quantitatively competent, which unless they went to a Top 20 institution, they’re almost certainly not.

David then trots out the flawed “APSR is full of quant shit” study, which conflates empirical quantitative research with positive political theory (game theory and other “rat choice” pursuits), which, as I’ve pointed out here before, are completely different beasts. Of course, the study relies on statistics (apparently, they’re only valid when making inferences about our own discipline), but let’s put that aside for the moment. The result of all this posturing is our new journal, Perspectives on Politics. Just in case our discipline wasn’t generating enough landfill material…

He then turns back to the civil war dataset his colleague is assembling:

Take, for example, the flaws in the civil war data set mentioned above. I’m hardly a Latin America specialist, but even some knowledge of the region’s history made it apparent that the data set was flawed. If political scientists had greater expertise in a given region, they would appreciate just how often in-depth study is necessary to get even the basic facts right. Thus, when putting together a global data set, no political scientist would even consider coding the data before consulting colleagues who are experts in the relevant regional subfields.

Undoubtably, this particular political scientist should have consulted with colleagues. What David seems to fail to understand is that she did: that is why your colleague presented this research to you and your fellow graduate students, to get feedback! Everything political scientists do, outside of job talks and their actual publications, is an effort to get feedback on what they’re doing, so as to improve it. This isn’t undergraduate political science, where you are expected to sit still and soak in the brilliance of your betters while trying not to drool or snore. You’re now a grad student, expected to contribute to the body of knowledge that we’ve been assembling—that’s the entire point of the exercise, even if it gets lost in the shuffle of “publish or perish” and the conference circuit.

And one way to do that is to say, “Yo, I think you have some coding errors here!” If this political scientist is worth her salt, instead of treating you like a snot nosed twit, she’ll say, “Gee, thanks for pointing out that the Colombian civil war had N participants instead of M” or “Cuba’s civil war was a Soviet-supported insurgency, not a indigenous movement? Thanks!” (Again, these are hypotheticals; I’m not an expert on Latin American history.)

As for the lag time in Pape’s piece, well that’s the peril of how the publication process works. If it’s anything like any other academic paper, it’s been through various iterations over several years; you don’t simply wake up one morning, write a journal article, and send it off to Bill Jacoby or Jennifer Hochschild. At least, not if you don’t want them to say nasty things about you to your colleagues. Anyway, you can fault the publication process to a point, but I think it’s a safe bet that Pape’s thesis predates 9/11, and that people were aware of it before his APSR piece hit the presses.

Turf installation video

AstroPlay® vendor SRI Sports has a video of the installation of their artificial turf at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this summer. (Yes, this means I’m getting anxious for Saturday’s game…)

Right Said Dead

James Joyner reports that Edward Said, Palestinian apologist cum Middle Eastern Studies scholar, has passed away at the age of 67. Reports that Said was “too sexy for his coffin” have not been substantiated.

Continuing to get it wrong

Daniel Drezner notes that David Adesnik is digging himself into a hole of rather epic proportions. Quoth Adesnik:

The great flaw of modern political science is its desire to imitate microeconomists (and share in their prestige) by developing theorems that explain and predict the behavior of rational actors. Of course, that is exactly the wrong way to go about things. It is only when political scientists recognize that ideas and values are what drive politicians and voters that they will begin to produce something worthy of the name “science”.

Huh? To begin with, in general political scientists—with very few exceptions—don’t believe all actors are purely rational; in Herbert Simon’s terms, actors are boundedly rational. It isn’t just political scientists who believe this—contemporary psychologists and economists also use Simon’s conception of bounded rationality and satisficing (the idea that people don’t choose among all available options, but rather choose the first one that they encounter that is minimally satisfactory) to explain decison-making, as well as more modern ideas.

For another thing, political scientists recognize that “ideas” and “values” have utility to rational actors. Quantifying these things is hard, and perhaps sometimes it is simpler to retreat to the realm of relative capabilities and force projection ability (to name two favorite variables of my friends that study international relations using data from the Correlates of War project), but to blanket the entire discipline with a critique that perhaps only applies to the most hardcore CoW junkie (and doesn’t even discuss the contributions of the political behavior field to the understanding of how citizens in democratic societies make voting and other political decisions or elite decision-making processes—not all political science goes on in the halls of ISA) seems awfully, and dangerously, simplistic.

Josh Chafetz, one of David’s partners in crime at OxBlog, has some good points (partially in David’s defense and partially critical) and usefully distinguishes between rational choice theorists and empiricists. But, honestly I’m not sure there are that many “universalist” rat choicers out there; I know a few, and they mostly lurk on the edge between political science and economics. Perhaps that perception reflects my training in the behaviorist (Michigan) tradition, though. But in general the ones I’ve met aren’t hostile to empirical testing of their ideas; it’s just not what they personally find interesting.

As for Josh’s snarky aside, “when The Clash of Civilizations is widely mistaken for a good work of political culture analysis, the field is in trouble,” all I can say is: Heh.

SEC Week 5 prognostications (and Week 4 recap)

Time for more shaming! The good news is, I can pick games that don't involve the AP Top 25. The bad news is… nobody cares about games that don't involve the Top 25. First the recap:

FLORIDA [2-1] 31, Tennessee [2-0] 21. [CBS]
Actual score: 10-24. Tennessee came to play, Florida didn't. Hence Tennessee is rewarded with sole possession of the SEC East lead and the first division head-to-head result in the league, putting Florida's SEC East hopes in serious jeopardy barring some self-destructive behavior on the part of the Vols.
Georgia [3-0/1-0] 24, LOUISIANA STATE [3-0] 17. [CBS]
10-17. A close game as expected, but LSU held off Georgia in the first half when Georgia had a good shot at making some scores. The legend of Death Valley lives!
Kentucky [1-2/0-1] 41, INDIANA [1-2] 10.
34-17. Well, Kentucky can win out-of-conference... let's see what happens this week.
ALABAMA [2-1/1-0] 35, Northern Illinois [2-0] 14.
16-19. For one thing, the team NIU beat was not Wisconsin. That was last year, except it wasn't, because Wisconsin won that one somehow. UNLV beat Wisconsin. NIU beat Maryland.

For another thing, Alabama is the Jeckyll and Hyde of the SEC. Actually, Jeckyll and Hyde seem to be operating on other teams as well (take Florida, who've demolished some of their opposition but can't hang with Big Six foes). Shula was supposed to win this one.

Turns out this one was on GamePlan. Woo hoo. (Some people in Alabama allegedly paid $30 to see this. They should demand a refund. For one thing, the clock was unreadable. For another, Tyler Watts was on color. He wasn't bad, but sheesh... you'd think Bama could do better for their home announce team than a 23-year-old kid fresh out of college.)

TEXAS CHRISTIAN [2-0] 35, Vanderbilt [1-2/0-2] 17.
30-14. This one was also on GamePlan. Dan Stricker was not on color. Vandy was again let down by their own miscues. The clock here was at least red, so it was semi-legible. CSS really needs to work on their graphics... the WAC game I saw between LaTech and Fresno had better overlays, and it was produced by an outfit I'd never heard of before.
SOUTH CAROLINA [2-1/0-1] 38, Alabama-Birmingham [1-2] 7.
42-10. They weren't booing, they were shouting "Lou".
HOUSTON [2-1] 38, Mississippi State [0-2] 31.
45-38. Sadly, I was right on this one, although State didn't blow the lead at least. (Yes, I am now feeling sorry for State. Don't worry, the emotion will pass.) Unfortunately, a TD-INT ratio of 3:5 will put you in a hole rather quickly.
NCAA Infractions Committee [∞-0] $12,000/player, AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 0.
No news is usually good news. Except in NCAA investigations.
OLE MISS [2-1/1-0]
No word yet on starting RB.
Texas Tech's game against NC State will be televised Saturday at 11 CDT on ESPN2. As NC State's offense is similar to that of Ole Miss, although perhaps even more pass-oriented, it may be a good preview of how the game in Oxford is likely to turn out.

NC State absolutely dominated Tech, despite an obscene 586 yards of passing by B.J. Symons. No more comments here... gotta wait for the Prognostication for the skinny!

Conference standings: UT's win over UF puts them in the SEC East lead, coupled with Georgia's loss. Everyone in the West is either 1-0 or 0-0 in conference at this point, with the first two divisional matchups coming this Saturday.

Time for the predictions. Thanks to my friends at the SEC office (who put this stuff on the web for anyone to read, including people like me), I have the actual, fact-filled "Week 5 Game Preview" in hand to help me predict the games. We'll see if this helps any. Surely at least I'll actually correctly name past opponents for teams.

As always, starting with JP's "heat death" game and working forward. Home team in CAPS, record [W-L/CW-CL], and TV...

KENTUCKY [2-2/0-1] 24, Florida [2-2/0-1] 17 [JP].
Florida comes into Commonwealth Stadium looking to get back on-track after imploding against UT. UK is 0-16 in the past 16 meetings between these squads, and if they were playing at the Swamp I'd probably give the edge to Zook's crew. But, to paraphrase Janet Jackson, they're not, so I can't. This same Kentucky squad has given Florida serious scares in its last two meetings, and "QB by committee" doesn't quite have the ring of "Rex Grossman." So, without the Swamp mystique, I have to go with the 'Cats.

Since I originally wrote this, Ron Zook has decided to go with Chris Leak as his sole starting QB. However, the prediction stands.

ALABAMA [2-2/1-0] 27, Arkansas [3-0/0-0] 14 [CBS].
You've got to figure CBS thought this game was much more attractive last Monday; now they'd probably want to swap with JP. Arkansas has looked pretty good, particularly in its win over Texas, but Bama probably isn't in the mood to be embarrassed at home for the third time in four games. Look for the Tide to stomp the Razorbacks in this one as they try to prove they are the rightful SEC West champions. [Aside: Am I the only one who finds Verne Lundquist and Todd Blackledge annoying?]
AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 35, Western Kentucky [3-0] 17.
The Tigers catch Western Kentucky looking ahead to their October 4 road date with I-AA powerhouse Western Illinois and pull off the upset.

Ok, maybe not. But I can't think of any other obvious reason why Auburn should win, since WKU has held its last three opponents to three points each and is ranked third in the I-AA rankings, and their kicker scored half of their points last week against EKU. Plus one of their players is obviously a military brat ("Heidelburg, Germany" is not your typical American high school), so I have to give them sentimental props. So what if they play in the "Gateway" conference (is this a new name for the OVC?). I have yet to figure out what Auburn's doing this season, but nonetheless I pick them to win simply because of SEC pride. Or something. But not-so-secretly I want the Hilltoppers to win.

Other interesting note: Tubby is a 1976 graduate of Southern Arkansas. If I didn't read the press release, I -would not know that- (spoken in Phil Hartman channeling Ed McMahon voice). Ok, enough silliness. Back to predictions.

Oh, we're saving that one for last. Never mind.
VANDERBILT [1-3/0-1] 17, Georgia Tech [1-3/0-2] 14 [PPV].
Yes, you read that right... PPV. Anyway, before I choke to death laughing hysterically, I guess I'd better justify why I'm picking Vanderbilt. Yes, Georgia Tech spanked Auburn, who in turn spanked Vanderbilt. And, as a firm believer in the transitive property, I should therefore believe that Georgia Tech will spank Vanderbilt. However, fundamentally I think Vandy is "due" and Ga Tech is probably looking forward to NC State.
TENNESSEE [3-0/1-0] 31, South Carolina [3-1/0-1] 17 [ESPN].
A UT win puts them in a pretty commanding position in the SEC East, all but eliminating USC from contention — in September. Ouch. Lou's done good work in Columbia, but ultimately the Gamecocks are no match for the Vols at home in Knoxcille.
Louisiana State [4-0/1-0] 45, MISSISSIPPI STATE [0-3/0-0] 7 [ESPN2].
Set your VCRs, folks, because this may be the last time you get to see Jackie Sherill on the sidelines of a football game on national television. This one could get ugly, particularly if the artificial noisemakers rule has to be enforced against State fans heckling their own team. And, last but not least…
OLE MISS [2-1/1-0] 38, Texas Tech [2-1] 21 [Webcast only].
The Red Raiders come into Oxford as the first Big XII foe to ever visit Vaught-Hemingway (which tells you something about Ole Miss's typical NonCon schedule). Despite piling up gaudy numbers, Tech's offense was quite ineffective last week against NC State's defense (and probably wasn't helped by absolutely horrible special teams play). On the other hand, Ole Miss's offense has shown signs of figuring out how to get the running game to work, and the defense has been more effective than in years past (despite some weakness in the secondary early on).

I'd definitely expect to see a shootout, perhaps reminicent of the Memphis game, with both Manning and Symons putting up obscene passing numbers. But Tech has a porus defense, giving up nearly 200 yards on the ground per game (and nearly 450 ypg total)--a weakness even the mediocre Ole Miss running backs can exploit, particularly when you consider Cutcliffe's penchant for the short passing game. That, home field, a team with essentially the same personnel motivated by its tough 42-28 loss in Lubbock last year, and the Rebels' quality special teams play (led by reliable PK Johnathan Nichols) should translate into a Rebel win. However, I also expect the Rebels to be lethargic early, which could open the doors for the Red Raiders to open a decent lead.