IR Coffee Readings Archive

(April 3, 2017)
Colaresi-Mahmood-2017.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Colaresi, Michael, and Zuhaib Mahmood. (2017) "Do the robot: Lessons from machine learning to improve conflict forecasting." Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming.

Abstract: Increasingly, scholars interested in understanding conflict processes have turned to evaluating out-of-sample forecasts to judge and compare the usefulness of their models. Research in this vein has made significant progress in identifying and avoiding the problem of overfitting sample data. Yet there has been less research providing strategies and tools to practically improve the out-of-sample performance of existing models and connect forecasting improvement to the goal of theory development in conflict studies. In this article, we fill this void by building on lessons from machine learning research. We highlight a set of iterative tasks, which David Blei terms 'Box's loop', that can be summarized as build, compute, critique, and think. While the initial steps of Box's loop will be familiar to researchers, the underutilized process of model criticism allows researchers to iteratively learn more useful representations of the data generation process from the discrepancies between the trained model and held-out data. To benefit from iterative model criticism, we advise researchers not only to split their available data into separate training and test sets, but also sample from their training data to allow for iterative model development, as is common in machine learning applications. Since practical tools for model criticism in particular are underdeveloped, we also provide software for new visualizations that build upon already existing tools. We use models of civil war onset to provide an illustration of how our machine learning-inspired research design can simultaneously improve out-of-sample forecasting performance and identify useful theoretical contributions. We believe these research strategies can complement existing designs to accelerate innovations across conflict processes.
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(March 30, 2017)
Christian-2017.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Christian, Stephen Michael. (2017) "Autism in International Relations: A critical assessment of International Relations' autism metaphors." European Journal of International Relations, forthcoming.

Abstract: In this article, I explain how International Relations scholarship relates to ableism. Ableism is a sociopolitical system of narratives, institutions, and actions collectively reinforcing an ideology that benefits persons deemed able-bodied, able-minded, and normal by others, and devalues, limits, and discriminates against those deemed physically and/or mentally disabled and abnormal. International Relations scholars have been quick to utilize disability metaphors as rhetorical support for their arguments and analyses. This article discusses how metaphors in general---and disability metaphors in particular---get their meaning from various other discourses and narratives. International Relations scholars, in the case of disability metaphors, often draw from discourses and narratives that perpetuate ableism. I demonstrate how disability metaphors can be ableist by researching how several International Relations foreign policy analysts and theorists have applied autism metaphors. I argue that International Relations' uses of autism metaphors are ableist insomuch as they shape or reinforce understandings of autism that often oversimplify, overgeneralize, or otherwise misrepresent autism and Autistic people in ways that portray autism negatively. In the conclusion, I reflect on the importance of a disability studies program in International Relations and the broad set of topics that such a program should pursue.
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(March 21, 2017)
PNAS-2016-Yu-11726-31.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Yu, Yi et al. (2016) "System crash as dynamics of complex networks." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(42): 11726-11731.

Abstract: Complex systems, from animal herds to human nations, sometimes crash drastically. Although the growth and evolution of systems have been extensively studied, our understanding of how systems crash is still limited. It remains rather puzzling why some systems, appearing to be doomed to fail, manage to survive for a long time whereas some other systems, which seem to be too big or too strong to fail, crash rapidly. In this contribution, we propose a network-based system dynamics model, where individual actions based on the local information accessible in their respective system structures may lead to the "peculiar" dynamics of system crash mentioned above. Extensive simulations are carried out on synthetic and real-life networks, which further reveal the interesting system evolution leading to the final crash. Applications and possible extensions of the proposed model are discussed.
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(March 5, 2017)
Finlay_2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Finlay, Christopher J. (2016) "Bastards, brothers, and unjust warriors: Enmity and ethics in Just War Cinema." Review of International Studies 43 (1): 73–94. doi:10.1017/S0260210516000255.

Abstract: How do members of the general public come to regard some uses of violence as legitimate and others as illegitimate? And how do they learn to use widely recognised normative principles in doing so such as those encapsulated in the laws of war and debated by just war theorists? This article argues that popular cinema is likely to be a major source of influence especially through a subgenre that I call 'Just War Cinema'. Since the 1950s, many films have addressed the moral drama at the centre of contemporary Just War Theory through the figure of the enemy in the Second World War, offering often explicit and sophisticated treatments of the relationship between the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello that anticipate or echo the arguments of philosophers. But whereas Cold War-era films may have supported Just War Theory's ambitions to shape public understanding, a strongly revisionary tendency in Just War Cinema since the late 1990s is just as likely to thwart them. The potential of Just War Cinema to vitiate efforts to shape wider attitudes is a matter that both moral philosophers and those concerned with disseminating the law of war ought to pay close attention to.
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(March 5, 2017)
Gibler_Miller_Little_2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Gibler, Douglas M., Steven V. Miller, and Erin K. Little. (2016) "An Analysis of the Militarized Interstate Dispute (MID) Dataset, 1816–2001." International Studies Quarterly 60: 719–730. doi: 10.1093/isq/sqw045.

Abstract: This research note discusses a five-year examination of the original coding work of the Militarized Interstate Dispute (MID) project. After strictly applying MID coding rules, we recommend dropping 251 cases (or over 10% of the dataset), as either we were unable to find a militarized incident in the historical record or the dispute appeared elsewhere in the data. We found evidence linking 75 disputes to other cases, and we could not identify 19 cases in the historical record. Among the remaining disputes, we recommend major changes (changes in dispute year, fatality level, and participants) in 234 disputes and minor changes in 1,009 disputes. We use this article to examine the potential impact of our suggestions on existing studies. Though we identified several systematic problems with the original coding effort, we also find that these problems do not affect current understandings of what predicts the onset of interstate conflict. However, estimates in our replications of three recent studies of dispute escalation, dispute duration, and dispute reciprocation all witness substantial changes when using corrected data—to the point of reversing previous conclusions in some cases.

Revised datasets:
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(February 7, 2017)
Science-Prediction.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Jasny, Barbara R., et al. (2017) "Special Section: Prediction and Its Limits." Science 355(6324): 469-489. Abstract: A special section on prediction in the social sciences, with essays by John Bohannon on online data and polling; Lars-Erik Cederman and Nils B. Weidmann on the prediction of conflict; Philip E. Tetlock, Barbara A. Mellers, and J. Peter Scoblic on forecasting tournaments; and more.
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(February 4, 2017)
Abramson_Carter_2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Abramson, Scott F., and David B. Carter. (2016) "The Historical Origins of Territorial Disputes." APSR 110(4):675-698, doi:10.1017/S0003055416000381.

Abstract: Given the abundance of evidence that disputed territory matters, we know remarkably little about the origins of territorial claims. We argue that the presence of competing historical border precedents is central to the emergence of territorial claims. We outline why precedents provide opportunity to make claims and provide two possible explanations for why leaders have incentive to claim along precedents. One possibility is consistent with the conventional wisdom that incentive derives from territorial characteristics such as natural resources or strategic significance. A second and more novel explanation is that the persistent coordination effects of historical boundaries provide the incentive to draw claims along them. We use new data on the location of historical boundaries from the peace of Westphalia until the start of the French Revolution to show that historical border precedents drive the emergence of territorial claims after the Congress of Vienna and that persistent coordination effects provide incentive to dispute historical precedents.
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(February 3, 2017)
Samii-2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Samii, Cyrus. (2016) "Causal Empiricism in Quantitative Research." JOP 78(3):941-955.

Abstract: Quantitative analysis of causal effects in political science has trended toward the adoption of "causal empiricist" approaches. Such approaches place heavy emphasis on causal identification through experimental and natural experimental designs and on characterizing the specific subpopulations for which effects are identified. This trend is eroding the position of traditional regression studies as the prevailing convention for quantitative causal research in political science. This essay clarifies what is at stake. I provide a causal empiricist critique of conventional regression studies, a statement of core pillars of causal empiricism, and a discussion of how causal empiricism and theory interact. I propose that the trend toward causal empiricism should be welcomed by a broad array of political scientists. The trend fits into a broader push to reimagine our discipline in terms of collective research programs with high standards for evidence and a research division of labor.

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(January 23, 2017)
Agents-without-Agency.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Côté, Adam. (2016) "Agents without agency: Assessing the role of the audience in securitization theory." Security Dialogue 47(6):541-558.

Abstract: This article assesses the role of the audience in securitization theory. The main argument is that in order to accurately capture the role of the securitization audience, it must be theorized as an active agent, capable of having a meaningful effect on the intersubjective construction of security values. Through a meta-synthesis of 32 empirical studies of securitization, this article focuses on two central questions: (1) Who is the audience? (2) How does the audience engage in the construction of security? When assessed against the theoretical works on securitization, this analysis reveals that the manner in which the audience is defined and characterized within securitization theory differs with the empirical literature that investigates securitization processes. Where the empirical literature suggests securitization is a highly intersubjective process involving active audiences, securitization theory characterizes audiences as agents without agency, thereby marginalizing the theory's intersubjective nature. This article sketches a new characterization of the securitization audience and outlines a framework for securitizing actor–audience interaction that better accounts for securitization theory's linguistic and intersubjective character, addresses this theoretical/empirical conflict, and improves our understanding of how groups select and justify security priorities and costly security policies.

Categories: IR Coffee Archives
(January 16, 2017)
Mao_2017.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Mao, Andrew, Lili Dworkin, Siddharth Suri, and Duncan J. Watts. (2017) "Resilient cooperators stabilize long-run cooperation in the finitely repeated Prisoner's Dilemma." Nature Communications 8, article 13800, doi: 10.1038/ncomms13800.

Abstract: Learning in finitely repeated games of cooperation remains poorly understood in part because their dynamics play out over a timescale exceeding that of traditional lab experiments. Here, we report results of a virtual lab experiment in which 94 subjects play up to 400 ten-round games of Prisoner's Dilemma over the course of twenty consecutive weekdays. Consistent with previous work, the typical round of first defection moves earlier for several days; however, this unravelling process stabilizes after roughly one week. Analysing individual strategies, we find that approximately 40% of players behave as resilient cooperators who avoid unravelling even at significant cost to themselves. Finally, using a standard learning model we predict that a sufficiently large minority of resilient cooperators can permanently stabilize unravelling among a majority of rational players. These results shed hopeful light on the long-term dynamics of cooperation, and demonstrate the importance of long-run experiments.

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