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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…)

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.

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My thesis and my blog June 24, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : My master thesis , 4comments

This blog hasn’t gotten the attention it did a few months ago. There are several reasons for this, but most of them boil down to the fact that I’ve been occupied with other things, among them my Norwegian language blog Det politiske dyr. Another thing that has gotten too little attention has been my master thesis. I’ll now be trying to kill two birds with one stone through using this blog as a tool for my master thesis work. Beginning with right now I am going to start posting bits and pieces from my thesis in temporary versions as I write them. My hope is that someone will actually read it and comment on any errors, weaknesses, disagreements or even encouragement. I don’t believe in hogging my secrets, arguments and data. If I open myself to continuous commentary, I might possibly have some insights I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I start off with posting the last rewrite of the outline of my thesis:

Thesis outline

I start out with a belief that deliberation is important to democracy and that our current systems of democracy are in several ways detrimental to good deliberation. I believe that this affects the quality and outcome of political decisions without actually empowering the people in the way supposed by much of current thought.

I do however realize that my beliefs are not very important to anyone but myself. My beliefs have no relevance to scientific debate if I cannot transform them from beliefs into complete scientific arguments. I am furthermore of the impression that current thought on deliberation, although far advanced, suffers a lack of credence in the social sciences because of weak empirical underpinnings.

This has led me to single out three research topics, each of which will be devoted a separate section of this thesis. The topics are separate and will be handled with different methodical approaches, but will hopefully constitute a meaningful totality. My main goal is to effectively argue that deliberation is important to democracy and to contribute in the search of effective ways to strengthen that idea through empirical research. (more…)

Podcast review: Thinking allowed April 14, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Reviews , 2comments

podcastIn my series of reviews of political science podcasts, I’ve arrived at the BBC Channel 4 program “Thinking Allowed”, that is podcasted through the BBC web pages.

This radio program about research in social science really interested me. It features interesting topics and interviews with leading social scientists and thinkers. Political science seems to have a pretty good presence among them. I’ve listened to the broadcasts for the past three weeks – of particular interest in those were a discussion with Michail Rykin on Russian democracy and the rehabilitation of Stalin, with Anthony Giddens on the politics of climate change and with Kevin Doogan on “New Capitalism”. A pretty impressive lineup.

As a program from perhaps the most established public broacasting institution in the world, we expect the technical quality and the host to be of top notch quality, and they are. There isn’t anything to put my finger on there. The host, Laurie Taylor, isn’t a scientist himself, but he seems to have enough insight paired with being a good radio host. It all makes for interesting radio. (more…)

An EU-US trade war in the making? March 31, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Political economy, World politics , 2comments

I was listening to an LSE podcast of a lecture by French Minister of State for European Affairs Bruno Le Maire, when I heard some surprising statements made. He was talking about how it was important for European nations not to resort to protectionism in the face of the current crisis when he happened to make some interesting, possibly disturbing, statements. He talks about the difference between protecting your industries and protectionism. I can’t spot the difference, can you?  (from approiximate 1h10min into the speech):

[…]so I am not in favour of protectionism, as I just said, I am just in favour of European measures – measures decided at the European level – that would prove to our citizens that we are taking into account their fears and worries and that we are trying to protect our European economy, that we are trying to protect our industries. This is a very difficult balance we have to find, but this is not protectionism. Protectionism means today that the UK would take some very concrete measures just to protect one of its plants, in New Hampshire for example, or London. Or that France would take some very national measures just to protect one of its industries or one of its plants in Normandie or the south of France without taking into account the interest of the UK and Germany and Spain and Italy. That’s the difference between the two ways of protectin industries and protecting our economies[…] (more…)

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…)

Trade protectionism rising March 18, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Political economy , add a comment

The World Bank reports today that protectionism in the world is rising as a result of the current crisis. 17 of the G20 nations have enacted protectionist policies despite their pledge in the Washington action plan as recently as November 15 last year. Article 13 of the action plan states:

We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward in times of financial uncertainty. In this regard, within the next 12 months, we will refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions, or implementing World Trade Organization (WTO) inconsistent measures to stimulate exports.

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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.

EU fails to help its eastern members? March 3, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Political economy, World politics , add a comment

Eastern Europe has been hit hard by the financial crisis, and were hoping that the EU would be able to help them over the worst of it. Figures presented by Eastern European government claimed that 5 million jobs were in imminent danger of being lost, something that would seriously hit the entire EU and potentially drop a new iron curtaion over Europe. At a summit this Sunday, the EU rejected a bailout plan designed to help Eastern European nations, mostly outside the Euro area. Was it a sign that Western Europe doesn’t want to help their eastern neighbours, or was it just the rejection of a bad plan? If the former, the entire EU project might be about to fail one of its toughest tests yet. (more…)

Racism paving the way to government? March 1, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political behavior , add a comment

The so called “long campaign” before the Norwegian parliamentary election is well under way, and once again it appears that immigration will be a central topic. In the aftermath of a controversy over whether or not to allow islamic headdress (hijab) with Norwegian police uniforms, the populist right-wing party Fremskrittspartiet has started campaigning about the so called secret “Islamization” of Norwegian society. If they succeed in keeping this a hot topic throughout the campaign, previous experience shows they might gain  much in terms of votes. (more…)