jump to navigation

Deliberating or quarrelling? Final draft of my thesis. November 7, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Political Theory , add a comment

After a long and arduous process, the work on my master’s thesis is finally nearing the end. Here is a slightly adapted version of the introduction, and a link to the  print ready version (PDF).

Some of the inspiration for my thesis comes from an article in the student newspaper in Trondheim, Under Dusken, and similar comments over the following years. Political science professor Anders Todal Jenssen insisted that the student democracy in Trondheim lacked legitimacy because of the low voter turnout and that the introduction of political parties would be the solution to this problem. Binding platforms would make student politicians accountable to the voters and increase support for democracy. As a student representative myself at the time, I was provoked. We were proud of the lack of polarization within the student democracy and, although I didn’t know the term at the time, the level of deliberation. This started me on the quest for an alternative to Professor Todal Jenssen’s strong belief in the salience of political parties.

Democracy does of course seem unthinkable without political parties. Almost every democracy is dominated by a system of organized factions that structure, educate and drive the political process forwards. The necessity for such a system is no longer seriously questioned in political science. I do not believe, however, that any institution should be beyond question. Even if we have no intention to get rid of political parties, we should strive to understand the effect they have on democracy. As I will show in this thesis, one such effect may be reducing open and free deliberation among decision-makers. This may be a cost we are willing to pay, but not a cost we should pay without knowing its size. (more…)

Does lack of rhetorical skills make you less deliberative? November 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Uncategorized , 3comments

I’m working on a master thesis about political deliberation, and I’m interested in finding a good method for measuring and evaluating the level of deliberation in a discussion. Two current methods I’ve been looking into, the Discourse Quality Index and pragma-dialectics, both seem to share the same validity problem: They register low rhetorical or logical skills for a lack of deliberative attitude.

Put simply, deliberation is a term that is used about discussion when people engage in a rational dialogue about something in which they are dedicated to the “forceless force of the better argument”. According to Jürgen Habermas, its most famous theoretician, it should be characterized by sincerity, inclusiveness, equality, reasoned critique, reflexivity, respect and be free from the influence of money and coercive power1 . In the more realistic conceptions of the term, we are willing to consider a discussion as more or less deliberative, realizing that a few real world discussions are likely to be perfect.

As I mentioned, I’ve been looking for methods to analyse discussion in order to determine how deliberative it really is. I’ve been trying to find a method that satisfies the criteria of:

  1. Significance – Must be a method we can expect a large portion of empirically oriented political science to accept.
  2. Usefulness – Must be a method that is suitable for comparative study of cases, preferably on a large scale and with a multitude of institutional arrangements.
  3. Completeness – Must be a method that is theoretically consistent with established theory of deliberation, for example Habermas’ discourse ethics.


  1. My rewrite of the rules presented in his book discourse ethics []

How does Obama spend his time? September 30, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, United States , 1 comment so far

POTUS_trackerJust came across POTUS Tracker, an interesting little tool from The Washington Post that lets you track what Obama emphasizes by how he spends his time in meetings. Apparently foreign policy and the economy are what he spends most of his time on, with health care only clocking in at place no. 5.

(Hat tip to Pravda for finding this).

Experiment on election prediction markets August 5, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, Political behavior , add a comment

I’ve recently become involved (as a participant) in an interesting experiment performed by PhD student Sveinung Arnesen at the University of Bergen in which we are asked to predict the election result through a market model, buying and selling fictive “shares” in the outcome based on our own evaluations. This is based on prior experiments like Iowa Electronic Markets experiments by the University of Iowa in connection with American Presidential Elections, and the work of Robin Hanson.

Participants have been recruited through the political party organizations (at least I was), and appear to only have the option of buying or selling “stock” in our own party and/or government coalition. I assume part of the reason why we are restricted to our own party is the need for keeping the results secret to avoid incentives for strategic attempts at driving up the predicted value.


No Hawthorne effect at Hawthorne? June 9, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science , add a comment

Is nothing holy? Must I throw out my introduction textbook in methods now?  The guys over at the Freakonomics blog have dug up and reexamined the original Hawthorne data and concluded that there actually was no Hawthorne effect in the original Hawthorne study! I’m disappointed right to the very core of my post-graduate student soul. What should i believe in now?

Hyperlinked data – Tim Berners’ vision for the new internet March 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science , add a comment

TED talks are very often great videos to watch, but this one should be a particular wet dream for every empirically oriented scientist:

Anti-naturalism – the truth about social science? March 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science , 2comments

Discussing the philosophy of science of the social sciences is always interesting, at least for those of us that are academically nerdy enough. LFC, the author of Howl at Pluto has highlighted the article “Concept Formation in Political Science: An Anti-Naturalist Critique of Qualitative Methodology” by Mark Bevir and Asaf Kedar in which the authors go against the naturalist focus on causal relationships in the social sciences. LFC’s analysis of their work is summed up in the following paragraph:

This all points to a more basic issue: Is there only one correct, philosophically defensible way to do social science? Some scholars believe that only an approach aimed at causal explanation is valid. B&K take the opposite side but adhere to an equivalent exclusiveness. The implication of their position seems quite clear: only one kind of social science will pass muster.

If I interpret LFC correctly, we both agree that both major philosophical ideas of social science has their merit and have contributed to social science as a whole. His post made me interested in reading the entire piece, which in a way surprised me and made me think even if I for the most part disagree with it. (more…)

NYT polling standards March 17, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science , add a comment

I recently found out that the NYT actually have published standards for what polls they are willing to publish. It doesn’t appear to be an entirely new thing (the article is from september 2008), but I found it to be an encouraging surprise. I wish more media were as quality conscious.

The standards document seems to be very basic, but still lay down some important ground rules for minimum requirements for the credibility of a poll. I’d like to see it go into some more detail also on what is required of the questions, but that would of course have to be less concrete and authorative.

10 points to the NYT for a good start.

A tip of the hat to Bård Vegard Solhjell for bringing this to my attention.

Pollster biases revealed November 3, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, US Presidential election , add a comment

The Monkey Cage led me to a paper by Len Adleman and Mark Schiling that compares the election polls made by American networks. They’ve compared them to the polls made by Gallup And Rasmussen, and show that the political inclination of the networks seem to influence the polls. Fox’s polls show a trend of predicting more to the right, and CBS/NYT more to the left. This is really interesting.

I agree with Andrew Gelman who comments that this surprises him. I would expect their coverage of the polls to show some bias, but had expected the polls themselves to be done in a professional way eliminating personal biases. This apparently goes to show that being completely neutral is difficult if not impossible, even in quantitative analysis.

What if the whole world could vote? October 30, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, US Presidential election , 12comments

asks the Economist and tests it. They’ve asked their online readers to vote and constructed a worldwide electoral college. Lo and behold! the world electorate map is shockingly enough painted bright blue. It appears most nations in the world have a distribution in excess of 80-20 in Obama’s favour. Some people (no serious political scientists I hope) take this as evidence that the world supports Obama.

Economist.com voter map screenshot

Economist.com voter map screenshot

The world at large probably prefers Obama, but this “survey” does in no way confirm that. Why not? It’s really quite simple. The survey is conducted at the Economist.com website. And who are going to claim that worldwide readers of the Economist represent a fair approximation to a random distribution of the population? None, I hope. For example, I would expect the Economists’ readers to have vastly higher than average levels of education. This is further accentuated by the fact that not every visitor to the website can vote, just registered Economist.com members. This ensures that even those casual visitors not normally reading the Economist are even less likely to vote.

There is no easier way to prove the bias of the survey than just looking at the scores for the US in this survey. In this survey the US supports Obama by 81-19.

This isn’t even very original. I have seen several such maps made on the basis of different surveys already, and must have read a dozen different online articles on it.

So has the Economist suddenly gone naive and stupid? Of course not. This was never intended as a survey by the Economist, so just don’t make the mistake of treating it like one. What the Economist wanted was more hits to their website, and more registered members on their website. I’d guess this got them hundreds, if not thousands. It worked on me. 😉 (more…)