Departmental and Data Science seminar series

Termly events held by the Department of Methodology and the Social and Economic Data Science (SEDS) research unit.


Leading social scientists consider cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative methodologies, analyse the logic underpinning an array of approaches to empirical enquiry, and discuss the practicalities of carrying out research in a variety of different contexts.



Departmental and SEDS seminars take place on alternating Thursdays during term time in COL 8.13. Please see LSE's campus map to find us. Our seminars are free and open to all.

Interested in our future seminars? Email if you wish to be signed up to the Department Seminar or Data Science Seminar mailing list.

Department of Methodology Seminar Series 2018/19

Department seminars take place in COL 8.13 from 12:30 - 14:00 (unless otherwise stated). A sandwich lunch will be provided from 12:15.


Towards a theory and methodology to quantify knowledge.

Speaker: Dr Daniele Fanelli, Fellow in Quantitative Methods, LSE
Date: 18 October 2018
Abstract: How much knowledge is attained by a research field? How rapidly is a discipline making progress? What is the expected reproducibility of a result? How much knowledge is lost from scientific bias and misconduct? What characterizes a “soft” science? What demarcates a pseudoscience?

This talk will suggest that these and other meta-scientific questions may be answered by means of a simple function, which quantifies knowledge as a system-specific property defined by a few information variables. Philosophical, statistical and physical arguments will be given to support the validity of this approach.

Applications of the resulting methodology will be illustrated with practical examples, including: measuring the half-life of astronomical predictions, understanding gender differences in personality, forecasting reproducibility in psychology, tracking progress in animal reproductive skew theory, and measuring the net knowledge yield of Astrology.

Lewis Elliott

Content analysis in health psychology research: principles, pitfalls, and progress.

Speaker: Dr Lewis Elliott, Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter
Date: 1 November 2018
Abstract: Content analysis is a vital research method for health psychologists. Materials used in behavioural interventions, as well as reports of interventions themselves, can be coded for the types and frequencies of psychological change processes that are purported to have occurred. Results of such content analyses also often inform the development of new interventions.

In this talk, Lewis will give examples from his own work of this two-stage process, commenting on the methodological stages involved in the development of a quantitative content analysis of recreational walking brochures, and how this was used to inform an experiment comparing the effectiveness of an archetypal brochure with a new “enhanced” brochure.

The talk will conclude by critiquing overarching taxonomic structures which are used for content analytic studies in health psychology, and provide comments on the future of the method in this discipline, including efforts to assimilate text mining and machine learning methods.


Conducting Fieldwork in Difficult Settings: From Research Design to Publication

Speaker: Dr Anastasia Shesterinina, Lecturer in Politics/International Politics, University of Sheffield
Date: 22 November 2018
Abstract: This seminar will focus on field research with human participants in war and post-war settings. Drawing on long-term, immersive fieldwork on Abkhaz mobilization in the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993, we will discuss:

1. issues of research design before fieldwork,
2. challenges of access, conducting interviews and participant observation on difficult topics of violent conflict and changes to research questions, methods and theoretical framework in the course of research and
3. data analysis and dissemination out of the field.

Particular attention will be paid to ethical dilemmas across the lifespan of research, researcher's reflexivity and protection of interlocutors – a key issue in light of recent transparency debates in political science. We will conclude with potential avenues for innovation in field-based research on political violence and war.


 Social and Economic Data Science Seminar Series 2018/19

Data Science seminars are run in conjunction with the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. These seminars take place in COL 8.13 from 16:15 - 17:45 (unless otherwise stated).

Tim Besley crpd

Tourism and Terrorism: The Impact of News Reporting
(joint work with Thiemo Fetzer (Warwick) and Hannes Mueller (Barcelona GSE)

Speaker: Professor Sir Tim Besley, School Professor of Economics of Political Science and W. Arthur Lewis Professor of Development Economics, Department of Economics, LSE
Date: 25 October 2018
Abstract: This project looks at the relationship between violence and tourism. We first show that hotel prices based on information from hotel booking web sites respond negatively to violent incidents in tourist destinations.

We then use monthly data on credit card spending from accounts in 120 countries in five tourist destinations from 2010 to 2017 to study the impact of violence on spending.

To create a time-varying country-specific measure of reporting on violence, we use a machine-learning algorithm to explore a range of news sources in multiple languages to create a country-specific measure of reports of violence. 

We show that there is a strong relationship between news reporting and tourist spending in dyads.  Moreover, country-level news coverage in countries where the credit card accounts are based has an impact over and above that of the violent incidents themselves.

Gilat Levy crpd

Combining Forecasts in the Presence of Ambiguity over Correlation Structures

Speaker: Professor Gilat Levy (joint with Professor Ronny Razin), Department of Economics, LSE
Date: 15 November 2018
Abstract: We suggest a framework to analyse how sophisticated decision makers combine multiple sources of information to form predictions. In particular, we focus on situations in which:

(i) Decision makers understand each information source in isolation but are uncertain about the correlation between the sources;
(ii) Decision makers consider a range of bounded correlation scenarios to yield a set of possible predictions.
(iii) Decision makers face ambiguity in relation to the set of predictions they consider.

In our model the set of predictions the decision makers considers is completely characterised by two parameters: the naïve interpretation of forecasts which ignores correlation, and the bound on the correlation between information sources that the decision maker considers. The analysis yields two countervailing effects on behaviour.

First, when the naïve interpretation of information is relatively precise, it can induce risky behaviour, irrespective of what correlation scenario is chosen. Second, a higher correlation bound creates more uncertainty and therefore more conservative behaviour. We show how this trade-off affects behaviour in different applications, including financial investments and CDO ratings. We show that when faced with complex assets, decision makers are likely to behave in ways that are consistent with complete correlation neglect.

Chris Bail

Exposure to opposing views on social media can increase political polarization

Speaker: Chris Bail
Date: 28 November 2018
Abstract: There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues.

One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for 1 month that exposed them to messages from those with opposing political ideologies (e.g., elected officials, opinion leaders, media organizations, and nonprofit groups). Respondents were resurveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance.

We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative posttreatment. Democrats exhibited slight increases in liberal attitudes after following a conservative Twitter bot, although these effects are not statistically significant. Notwithstanding important limitations of our study, these findings have significant implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization and the emerging field of computational social science.

Viktoria Spaiser

Pursuing the UN Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

Speaker: Dr Viktoria Spaiser, University Academic Fellow in Political Science Informatics, University of Leeds
13 December 2018
In August 2014 the UN established an Independent Expert Advisory Group to make concrete recommendations on bringing about a data revolution in sustainable development. The hope has been that data analytics would help to deal with the enormous challenge of achieving a sustainable development globally. But what does existing data actually tell us about the challenge and potential solutions? And what other data do we need in order to understand the problem in all its dimensions?

Dr Viktoria Spaiser will focus on the global and the individual level of the sustainability challenge. She will discuss recent studies that she conducted with colleagues modelling the compatibility of the UN Sustainable Development Goals on the one hand and studying environmental behaviour in a field-experimental setup on the other hand. Looking globally into the empirically measurable conflict of various Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Spaiser will explain what cross-country time-series data tells us about the nature of the inconsistencies. In this context she will also discuss a recent extension of the original study, examining the different conclusions that can be drawn about the sustainability challenge depending on how the Sustainable Development Goals are operationalized.
Specifically, she will show why it does matter whether we look at production-based or consumption-based CO2 emissions when pursuing the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Dr Spaiser will then change the perspective and look at the sustainability challenge from an individual level angle. The core question here is: how can we encourage more pro-environmental behaviour? She will discuss a pilot study conducted recently, making use of smartphones to collect daily environmental behaviour data in a field-experimental setup. Dr Spaiser will conclude with a programmatic note on the road ahead in the sustainability research she is envisioning.