Summer term 2018
Trumping Hate on Twitter? Online Hate Speech and White Nationalist Rhetoric in the 2016 US Election Campaign and its Aftermath.
Speaker: Joshua A. Tucker, Professor of Politics (New York University)
Date: 17th May 2018
Abstract: To what extent did online hate speech and white nationalist rhetoric on Twitter increase over the course of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and following his election? The prevailing narrative suggests that Trump's political rise---and his unexpected victory---lent legitimacy to and popularized bigoted rhetoric that was once relegated to the dark corners of the Internet. However, analysis from NYU's Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab of over 750 million tweets related to the election, in addition to almost 400 million tweets from a random sample of American Twitter users, provides little systematic evidence of increased hate speech on Twitter over this time. Using both machine-learning-augmented dictionary-based methods and a novel classification approach leveraging data from alt-right subreddits, the authors observe no persistent increase in hate speech or white nationalist language either over the course of the campaign or in the aftermath of Trump's election. While key campaign events and policy announcements produced brief spikes in hateful language, these effects quickly dissipated. Overall, and with notable caveats, the authors find---at least on Twitter---little empirical support for the proposition that the Trump phenomenon has mainstreamed online hate.
Lent term 2018
Documenting atrocities: Using new technologies to uncover crimes against humanity in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
Speaker: Laura Haigh, Amnesty International
Date: 1st March 2018
Abstract: Since 25 August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces have engaged in an unlawful and disproportionate campaign of violence against the Rohingya community in the northern part of Rakhine State. The campaign came after a Rohingya armed group – the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked around 30 security posts in the region, killing 12 state officials. To date, more than 680,000 women, men and children have led to Bangladesh, where they have recounted appalling abuses by the security forces: killings, rape, arrest and disappearance and the widespread burning of Rohingya homes and villages. The Myanmar authorities, however, have largely dismissed or denied these accounts as “fake news”, accusing the Rohingya of burning their own homes and maintaining that security forces have not killed innocent civilians. Tightened restrictions on access to northern Rakhine State – regarded as an information black hole even before the latest violence – have made uncovering the truth even more difficult. For organizations like Amnesty International, documenting human rights violations in this context is difficult, but not impossible. However, it requires adopting new research methods which build on and expand beyond traditional interview-based approaches favoured by human rights organizations to integrate new tools and technologies. As this talk will demonstrate, widespread violations often happen in plain sight, visible through satellite imagery, environmental sensory data, and in photographs and videos. Using remote sensing, digital data verification and other new tools to document abuses in northern Rakhine State, Amnesty International has not only been able to corroborate victim testimonies, we have been able to establish with a high degree of accuracy the timeframe for attacks in different locations, assess the scale of the attack and destruction of Rohingya homes, and identify patterns of burning which point clearly to Myanmar’s security forces as the perpetrators. When combined with traditional human rights research methods, the conclusion becomes clear: the Myanmar security forces have committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
A Movement of Fragments: An ethnographic analysis of Indonesian Salafi Islam
Speaker: Chris Chaplin, Department of Methodology, LSE
Date: 8th February 2018
Abstract: The spread of Salafi Islam across Indonesia has accelerated apace ever since its introduction into the archipelagic nation during the mid-1980s. Propagating a ‘literalist’ interpretation of Islam that is closely affiliated to scholars and Islamic institutions in the Arabian Peninsula, Salafi activists place strong emphasis on the need to separate themselves from society by dividing the world into those who follow ‘true’ Islam and those who do not. This is not without controversy, as such religious boundary making has led Salafis to implement strict gender segregation, set up their own enclaves, and differentiate themselves through dress and practice from more established Islamic traditions within Indonesia. Yet, such boundary implementation is rarely clear-cut, but instead rife with disagreement, negotiation and tension. Drawing from his ethnographic experience with urban Salafi activists in Yogyakarta as well as the broader idea of ‘working epistemics’ (Voyer and Tondman 2017), Chris will examine how the inter-subjective encounters that are the core of fieldwork shed light onto the ways Islamic tenets are challenged, implemented and refined on a daily basis. Investigating how activists propagate the movement, conduct themselves in private as well as engage with their local surroundings, Chris argues that the implementation of socio-religious boundaries remain open to contextual considerations and negotiation. They are based as much, if not more, on horizontal relationships between activists as they are on any belief in a universal Salafi truth. This has significant implications as to how we must understand Salafism. Instead of being a coherent movement promoting a ‘timeless’ religious truth, Salafism is a multi-layered movement of disparate networks, prone to rupture, disagreement and contextual adaptation.
Beyond academia: communicating research to broader audiences
Speaker: Stephen Khan, Editor of The Conversation, UK
Date: 1st February 2018
Abstract: In a time of massive flows of data and information, making new academic research relevant and useful has become a more tangled task. It is no longer a matter of only publishing and disseminating findings in the "top" journal or academic conference. It is also a matter of finding alternative "avenues" or streams of information that intersect with the individuals and communities who have a word in the phenomenon or problem in question. Reaching these audiences is critical to secure that the rigorous work done by researchers meets with the political and social mechanisms that enable knowledge to transform reality.
Identifying and navigating these alternative streams of information pose new challenges to the modern researcher. To discuss and address some of them, the Research and Methods Society at LSE has invited Stephen Khan –editor of The Conversation in the UK– to share their experience on communicating academic research through online journalism. The talk will focus on how to reach non-specialized audiences, as well as on the difficulties of rebuilding the public's trust in research. Stephen Khan is The Conversation’s Editor in the UK. He was a news editor at The Guardian and previously Deputy Foreign Editor of The Independent, Scotland Editor of The Observer and also worked for The Sunday Herald in Scotland.
Estimating regression models with latent variables: One, three, or two steps?
Speaker: Jouni Kuha, Department of Methodology/Department of Statistics, LSE
Date: 25th January 2018
Abstract: We consider statistical models which combine measurement models for latent variables with regression models (“structural models”) where the latent variables are explanatory or response variables. Such models can be estimated in a number of different ways. One-step estimation estimates all parts of the model at the same time. This has the disadvantage that changes in the specification of the structural model also change the estimated measurement model and thus in effect change the definition of the latent variables. Stepwise methods avoid this problem by separating the estimation of the measurement and structural models. In three-step estimation, the first step is to estimate the measurement model alone, the second to use this model to assign values for the latent variables, and the third to use these assigned values to estimate the structural model. We propose instead a two-step approach which carries only the estimated parameters forward from the first step and thus avoids the ultimately unnecessary step of assigning values for the latent variables. We present applied examples to illustrate the methods, and simulation studies to demonstrate the behaviour of the estimators.
Beyond the Field: Ethics after Fieldwork in Politically Dynamic Contexts
Speaker: Dr Eleanor Knott, Department of Methodology, LSE
Date: 11 January 2018
Abstract: As researchers, when do our ethical obligations end? How should our ethical obligations respond to dynamic and unstable political contexts? Political scientists frequently work in dynamic political situations which can pose new ethical questions beyond those existing at the point of fieldwork. Yet, research ethics are often conceived in terms of a static, if not hermetically sealed, field that remains frozen in time at the point we conduct fieldwork and collect data. In this talk, Eleanor will draw on her field research in Crimea, as a field which changed rapidly and unpredictably after I concluded field research in 2013 given that in 2014, with Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, the lives of the participants I had worked with altered, most likely forever. I will argue, first, that we need to consider more systematically how a dynamic field intersects with ethical obligations. Second, I will argue that new, and unexpected, ethical questions can emerge after exiting the field, including responsibilities to research participants, dissemination, and publication, and returning to the field, which should be a part of how we conceive of ethical obligations
Michaelmas term 2017
Does online activism affect legislative behaviour?
Speaker: Jack Blumenau, UCL
Date: 30 November 2017
Abstract: Are legislators responsive to the issue priorities of their constituents? Voters in the UK are able to sign government e-petitions which provide information regarding the salience of different issues across constituencies. E-petitions constitute an explicit mechanism to try to gauge public interest but we know little about their effects on the parliamentary behaviour of MPs. In this paper, I provide quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of the UK government e-petition system. I examine whether varying levels of support for different e-petitions in a given constituency affect an MP's propensity to participate in parliamentary debates relating to those petitions, and their propensity to speak in favour of the proposals contained in the petitions. The results suggest that while local support for an e-petition can affect an MP's behaviour in parliament, these effects are conditional. MPs are more likely to turn up to debate a petition, and speak in favour of it in the debate, when the petition is not strongly linked to the main dimension of partisan competition. When the petition addresses a pre-exiting and politically-salient issue, signature rates have no effect on MP behaviour. Finally, these effects are stronger for MPs in electorally competitive constituencies, and weaker for MPs who hold government positions.
Beyond the transitional justice paradigm: researching wartime violence and post-war justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Speaker: Daniela Lai, LSE
Date: 16 November 2017
Abstract: Whether socioeconomic justice belongs within the transitional justice framework is still a matter of contention among scholars. One of the major hurdles to be overcome is our limited understanding of how conflict-affected communities experience socioeconomic violence and injustice, and how socioeconomic issues become part of post-war justice processes. Addressing these questions poses significant methodological challenges due to the predominant focus of the literature on physical, direct violence and legalistic approaches to transitional justice, and to the prevalence of research conducted in places where physical violence was particularly severe. In this project, Daniela used in-depth interviews to reconstruct the participants’ experiences of socioeconomic violence and injustice, and show how these experiences informed understandings of justice and post-war justice claims. The research relied on a within-case comparison of two smaller cities, with the aim of redressing invalid part-to-whole inferences about the Bosnian case that are often based on the study of few, over-researched sites. Working in these cities also highlighted the importance of contextual knowledge and language skills in qualitative research, and prompted ethical questions on the role of researchers in post-war countries.
Who benefits from expediting drug approvals? An evaluation of the US FDA Accelerated Approval pathway
Date: 9 November 2017
Abstract: The US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Accelerated Approval pathway allows drugs treating serious illnesses to be approved on the basis of surrogate endpoints reasonably likely to predict patient benefit. Approximately 10% of drugs approved by the FDA are in the Accelerated Approval pathway. Once a drug receives Accelerated Approval, the FDA legally requires the pharmaceutical sponsor to complete one or more confirmatory trials to demonstrate clinical efficacy on the basis of established clinical outcomes such as overall survival. In this seminar, I will present the findings of our research describing the characteristics and findings of pre-approval and post-approval studies of drugs granted FDA Accelerated Approval between 2009 and 2013. We found that approximately half of required confirmatory studies were completed during the first 3 years on the market. Although many drugs recently granted Accelerated Approval have their efficacy “confirmed” in these post-approval trials, completed trials often evaluate disease progression rather than clinical outcomes. Remarkably, clinical trials conducted before and after Accelerated Approval have similar design features, including reliance on surrogate endpoints
Access trouble: Ethnography and the study of power and violence
Speaker: Ruben Anderson, Department of International Development, University of Oxford
Date: 12 October 2017
Abstract: In this paper, Ruben will discuss practical, ethical and analytical implications of conducting what may be termed ‘ethnographies of systems’, drawing on his research on European border security and on international intervention in conflict zones. The forte of ethnography, and more specifically participant-observation as practiced in his home discipline of anthropology, has usually been seen to be the study of communities or specific life-worlds over a long span of time – a preference carried over into much ‘multi-sited’ research today. However, what are the obstacles and opportunities of applying ethnographic approaches to the study of powerful systems and ‘systemic’ actors? Considering this, Ruben will focus in particular on how researchers may use obstacles – not least access problems – as a tool for reframing their object of study. Problems of access abound in fieldwork, and especially so when studying sensitive topics such as irregular migration, counterterrorism, humanitarianism and peacekeeping, all topics I have dealt with his my own research. As Ruben will discuss, a major initial hurdle for his work on the mapping and management of global ‘danger zones’ was lack of access to conflict-hit areas in northern Mali because of security risks. As he rethought his project via this obstacle, he used participant observation as a tool for ‘testing the waters’ – how far does it reach, and what does this limit tell us? In other words, while discussing the practical implications of fieldwork on powerful and secretive systems, the paper also explores more broadly the analytical purchase of methodological impasses.
Micro-simulation with socio-demographic data
Speaker: Peter Davis, University of Auckland
Date: 5 October 2017
Abstract: For those involved in applied social science and policy analysis, the potential outcomes (counterfactual) paradigm of causality has contributed a helpful conceptual framing for their work. In this presentation, Peter will first outline the problems faced by social scientists wishing to draw causally-plausible conclusions for policy analysis and advice. In so doing, he will draw on his review of the area in Data Inference in Observational Settings (Sage). Despite all the design and analytical features available to investigators, however, this approach still has its limitations, particularly in tackling "bigger picture" issues at the societal level. With climate change as a motivating example and an upcoming book as a detailed application, Peter will then suggest that simulation is one tool that has the potential to usefully tackle analytical questions that are not readily susceptible to traditional design solutions.