[Illinois] CSE 2013: Generating Rich Event Data on Civil Strife: A Progressive Supervised-Learning Approach Part 1

By Scott Althaus

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This paper examines the challenges and opportunities that "big data" poses to scholars advancing research frontiers in the social sciences. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of machine-based and human-centric approaches to information extraction and argues for use of a hybrid approach, one that employs tools developed by data scientists to leverage the relative strengths of both machines and humans. The notion of a progressive, supervised-learning approach is developed and illustrated using the Social, Political and Economic Event Database (SPEED) project's Societal Stability Protocol (SSP). The SSP generates rich event data on civil strife and illustrates the advantages of employing a supervised-learning approach in contrast to conventional approaches for generating civil strife data. We show that conventional event-count approaches miss a great deal of within-category variance (e.g., number of demonstrators, types of weapons used, number of people killed or injured). We also show that conventional efforts to categorize longer periods of civil war or societal instability have been systematically mis-specified. To demonstrate the capacity of rich event data to open new research frontiers, SSP data on event intensities and origins are used to trace the changing role of political, class-based and socio-cultural factors in generating civil strife over the post WWII era.


Prof. Scott Althaus, Political Science and Communication, University of Illinois

After completing his doctoral work in political science at Northwestern University, Professor Althaus joined the University of Illinois faculty in 1996 with a joint appointment in the Political Science and Communication departments. He is currently a professor in both departments, and also associate director of UIUC's Cline Center for Democracy, where he has been a faculty affiliate since 2004. Professor Althaus's research and teaching interests center on the communication processes by which ordinary citizens become (in theory, at least) empowered to exercise popular sovereignty in democratic societies, as well as on the communication processes by which the opinions of these citizens are conveyed to government officials, who (in theory, at least) must transform the will of the people into political action. His work therefore focuses on three areas of inquiry: (1) the processes and constraints that shape the journalistic construction of news about public affairs, (2) the processes and constraints that influence how news audiences receive and utilize public affairs information, and (3) the channels of communication that allow individual members of a polity to speak in a collective voice as a public. He has particular interests in the quantitative analysis of political discourse, opinion surveys as channels for mass communication and political representation, the impact of strategic communication activities on news coverage and public opinion, the psychology of information processing, and communication concepts in democratic theory.

Professor Althaus serves on the editorial boards of Critical Review, Human Communication Research, Journal of Communication, Political Communication, and Public Opinion Quarterly. His research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, Communication Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Communication. His book on the political uses of opinion surveys in democratic societies, Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics: Opinion Surveys and the Will of the People (Cambridge University Press, 2003) , was awarded a 2004 Goldsmith Book Prize by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and a 2004 David Easton Book Prize by the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association. He was named a Merriam Professorial Scholar by the UIUC Department of Political Science and the Cline Center for Democracy (2012-4, 2010-2), a 2004-5 Beckman Associate by the UIUC Center for Advanced Studies, and a 2003-4 Helen Corley Petit Scholar by the UIUC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Scott Althaus (2013), "[Illinois] CSE 2013: Generating Rich Event Data on Civil Strife: A Progressive Supervised-Learning Approach Part 1," http://nanohub.org/resources/18178.

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