Hayley Stevenson talks about who decides to fix climate change

I’m not certain that it’s cause for sustained consternation, but a few of my students (it was more than three) referred to the University of Sheffield’s Hayley Stevenson as a he in their most recent assignments. You may listen to her in the clip below addressing the topic of climate change and democracy. Not surprisingly, Professor Stevenson implicitly rejects my proposal of a global benevolent dictator (take that USA, China, and Stephen Harper) tasked with creating the global climate regime necessary to combat the potential effects of climate change. Stevenson prefers more democracy to less.

Joseph Chan on Confucianism and Democracy

In IS210 today, we viewed a short clip from this interesting lecture by Professor Joseph Chan given at Cornell University. Professor Chan of the University of Hong Kong talks about the shared moral basis of contemporary Chinese society. With Leninism/Marxism/Maoism being discredited amongst most Chinese, the search begins for a new moral basis/foundation for society.

As Professor Dick Miller says in his introductory remarks:

In China, as in the United States, people feel a great need for an adequate, shared, ethical basis for public life. There, as here, people don’t think that freedom to get as rich as you can is an adequate basis.

So, what is that basis, if the official ruling ideology of the political regime no longer seems legitimate. Liberal democracy? Confucianism. There are adherents in China of both of these as the proper ethical foundation. What does Professor Chan have to say about the compatibility of Confucian ideals with democracy? Watch and find out. It’s a very informative lecture.

How many of the world’s inhabitants have become free since 1945?

One of the empirical facts of the post-WWII era has been the inexorable rise not only in the number of democratic states, but also in the number of the world’s denizens who reside in democracies. We’ve probably all seen the Freedom House world Maps of Freedom, which are published on an annual basis.

Freedom House World Map of Freedom 2014

That’s great for providing a quick visual idea of how many of the world’s states have democratic regimes. But, it doesn’t tell us how many of the world’s inhabitants live in democracies. This clever cartogram by Gleditsch and Ward does this. Cartograms bend and mis-shape world maps on the basis of the values of the underlying variable–in this case, population. What do you think? The map below shows a dramatic rise since 1945 in both the number of states and the number of the world’s citizens who live in democracies. You’ll note that this map is from 2002 data, and there have been some important changes, notably Russia’s slide back toward autocracy in the last decade or so. Also, look at how massive India and China are (population-wise)!


Obstacles to Democratization in North Africa and the Middle East

In conjunction with this week’s readings on democracy and democratization, here is an informative video of a lecture given by Ellen Lust of Yale University. In her lecture, Professor Lust discuses new research that comparative analyzes the respective obstacles to democratization of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. For those of you in my IS240 class, it will demonstrate to you how survey analysis can help scholars find answers to the questions they seek. For those in IS210, this is a useful demonstration in comparing across countries. [If the “start at” command wasn’t successful, you should forward the video to the 9:00 mark; that’s where Lust begins her lecture.]

Political Regimes

Those of you in my IS210 class may find the Polity IV data to be of use when writing your paper. Click on the image below to take you to the website, where (if you scroll down to the bottom) you can see the regime scores (between -10 and +10) for each country over many years. See the example at the bottom of this post.

Political Regime Types–Polity IV Dataset

Here’s an exampe of the history of movements in regime for El Salvador from 1946 until 2010. How many changes in regime does El Salvador seem to have experienced in the post-WWII period? What happened in the early 1980s?


Polity IV Score in El Salvador

More on Milgram’s Methods of Research

In a previous post, I introduced Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience and authority. We watched a short video clip in class and students responded to questions about Milgram’s research methods. Upon realizing that the unwitting test subjects were all males, one student wondered whether that would have biased the results in a particular direction. The students hypothesized that women may have been much less likely to defer to authority and continue to inflict increasing doses of pain on the test-takers. While there are good reasons to believe either that women would be more or less deferential than are men, what I wanted to emphasize is the broader point about evidence and theory as it relates to research method and research ethics.

The 'sophisticated' machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

The ‘sophisticated’ machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

In the video clip, Milgram states candidly that his inspiration for his famous experiments was the Nazi regime’s treatment of Europe’s Jews, both before and during World War II. He wanted to understand (explain) why seemingly decent people in their everyday lives could have committed and/or allowed such atrocities to occur. Are we all capable of being perpetrators of, or passive accomplices to, severe brutality towards our fellow human beings?

Milgram’s answer to this question is obviously “yes!” But Milgram’s methods of research, his way of collecting the evidence to test his hypothesis, was biased in favour of confirming his predetermined position on the matter. His choice of lab participants is but one example. This is not good social science, however. The philosopher of science, Carl Hempel, long ago (1966) laid out the correct approach to  producing good (social) science:

  1. Have a clear model (of the phenomenon under study), or process, that one hypothesizes to be at work.
  2. Test out the deductive implications of that model, looking at particularly the implications that seem to be least plausible,
  3. Test these least plausible implications against empirical reality.

If even these least plausible implications turn out to be confirmed by the model, then you have srong evidence to suggest that you’ve got a good model of the phenomenon/phenomena of interest. As the physicist Richard Feynman (1965) once wrote,

…[through our experiments] we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.

Did the manner in which Milgram set up his experiment give him the best chance to “prove himself wrong as quickly as possible” or did he stack the deck in favour of finding evidence that would confirm his hypothesis?

Research Methods and the Milgram Experiment(s)

I have intentionally titled this post as above because there is the sense (amongst those who are aware of Stanley Milgram’s work) that the “obediance” experiment was just that–a single experiment. However, as Gina Perry at Discover Magazine informs us, Milgram actually performed a series of a couple of dozen experiments, varying the conditions from experiment to experiment. Let’s have a quick look at the specifics of the experiment by watching the video below..

Here are a few questions that we’ll discuss in class today that are prompted by this video:

  1. What practical considerations did Milgram overlook when conducting his research
  2. From what ontological perspective was Milgram working?
  3. What did we learn about obedience from the Milgram experiment?
  4. What political ramifications with regard to war and soldiers come out of Milgram’s experiment?
  5. How do the lessons learned from the Milgram experiment help us to design better research methods?


Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.


Reporters without Borders is an important international NGO

We read about the importance of international NGOs in Chapter 7 of Mingst and Arreguin-Toft this past week. Prompted by this blog post of a student of mine in POLI 1140, I have decided to highlight the work of Reporters without Borders. If you are interested in learning more about the challenges that journalists and “netizens” (after all, with the advent of the Internet we are all potential budding citizen-journalists), their website can be accessed here.

Below is a screen-shot of the front page where we see that as of this point in 2012, 11 journalists have been killed, an additional 153 journalists have been imprisoned, while 120 netizens have also been imprisoned. Clicking on the links to the graphic on their website will take you to more detailed information regarding the individuals behind these numbers. Of the 120 netizens who have been imprisoned, 68 are from China, 20 from Iran, and 18 from Vietnam.

Comparing My Political Ideology to that of an Elderly Couple

I recently blogged about research that does not support the conventional wisdom that individuals get more conservative as they age. What kind of research design would help us determine, with a high degree of certainty, whether individuals do, in fact, become more conservative (politically) as they age? The best would be a panel study, which interviews the same individuals over time. Ideally, it would be great if we had data on an individual’s political ideology at various stages of her lifetime.

What about comparing young people today to old people today? That, unfortunately, is not ideal since  we would have to know the average political ideology of today’s elderly against their young selves. Nonetheless, I found it interesting to compare my political ideology–using the political compass test–to an individual who is a generation older than am I.

What were the results? Well, first here’s an informative chart produced by Political Compass.org.

Which one of these political leaders is the closes to you in political ideology? For me, it is the Dalai Lama. Here is my personal political ideology:

Here is the political ideology of somebody who is one generation older than I am.