Refuting an Expert

Bacon Skepticism On The Rise
Bacon Skepticism On The Rise

I’m going to guess that Simon’s reference to Serbian pig-farming in his last post means that one of the books he read in 2014 was From Voting to Violence by Jack Snyder (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000). For several years I used this book for an assignment in comparative politics that I called Refuting an Expert.

The student’s job in this assignment was to select one of the forty-two different claims Snyder makes in the book and analyze why the claim was incorrect. I’ve put the complete list of claims here. A few highlights:

  • Serbia gained its independence in the early 1800s because of the interests of Serbian pig merchants.
  • Russian president Boris Yeltsin launched the war in Chechnya to save his administration.
  • Israeli Arabs tolerate discrimination because of the economic opportunities that Israel affords them.

To help students do a credible job of challenging Snyder, a supposed expert on the subject of the book, I gave students these instructions:

Cats Fear Cow Chauvinism
Cats Fear Cow Chauvinism

All quality scholarship is based upon the creation and analysis of arguments. A person asks a question, gathers information, and proposes an answer to the question that is based on that information. The quality of the answer depends on both the accuracy of the information gathered and how well that information has been organized into an argument. In more technical terms, the validity of any truth claim rests upon empirical evidence and logical consistency.

When analyzing the quality of your and others’ research:

  • The first step is to identify what question is being investigated. What is the puzzle that the author is trying to explain?
  • The second step is to identify what the author claims is the cause and effect of this puzzle.
  • The third step is to identify how the author links cause to effect. What does the author claim is the relationship between the two?
  • The fourth step is to identify how the author measures changes in whatever is being used to indicate cause and effect. Are numerical data being used? Do the data actually signify what the author says they signify? Should the author be using some other kind of data?

Authors often use certain words that provide clues that will help you find all of this information. These words are:

  • Main, primary, only
  • Not, cannot, no, never, seldom, rarely
  • None, neither, nor
  • All, any, entire, most, each
  • Must, always, generally, often, will
  • But (especially if combined with “only” or “must”)
  • However, although, in contrast, contrary, instead, unless, despite
  • False, incorrect, contradict, fail
  • True, correct
  • Should, ought, shall
  • Cause, effect, reason, depends, because, imply
  • Assumes, assumption
  • Claim, argument, argue, contend
  • Proof, prove, evidence, empirical
  • In fact, thus, therefore, of course, thereby, similarly
  • Tend, tendency
  • Conclude, conclusion, result

The Terrible Twos

TantrumTwo brief items in honor of the second anniversary of MOOCs.

First, David Caputo at Pace University has created a MOOC on the 2014 Congressional elections, which started on March 3 but for which people can still enroll. Additional information can be found at the link above or at the Blackboard Coursesites catalog (just look for the title of the MOOC).

Second, MOOCs.com has an interesting post about how MOOCs are doing in five dimensions that were proposed by John McArthur of the Brookings Institution: motivationexplanationtutorshipinteraction, and feedback. Of particular interest to me:

  • Evaluations of MOOCs that focused on low retention rates lacked validity because they didn’t account for the varying intentions of MOOC participants.
  • MOOCs have made the traditional practice of classroom lecturing — one-way instructor to student content delivery — obsolete. If you don’t want to flip your classroom, someone else does.

Enjoy.

The Redistricting Game

This one is so well known that I was surprised when I realized that we had yet to feature it.  The Redistricting Game (at redistrictinggame.org) is a great online tool for learning about districts, redistricting, and gerrymandering.  Players work on behalf of one of the political parties and are tasked with redrawing district lines on several different missions, from simply making population size equal and districts compact and contiguous to partisan gerrymandering or ensuring minority representation.  The gameplay is a map with small dots representing the people according to their party affiliation and ethnicity, and cities are noted with little house icons and high population density (i.e., lots of dots). As you redraw the lines, elected officials give you feedback through their animated expressions as well as written comments–happy if their reelection is ensured, concerned if the divide is a toss up between parties, and outraged if their district will flip to the other party.  Once you meet the mission’s objectives, you submit the plan for a vote and eventually the Governor’s signature.

Its a great game to assign students either before or after learning about redistricting.  It takes what can be a bit dry of a lesson–the rules and regulations of district sizes and shapes–and makes it concrete and active.  Its also quite user-friendly and is entirely free.  As a supplement to traditional class readings and lectures, it works really well in teaching the basics of the subject and you may find that students will play it for far longer than assigned.

Colbert on Redistricting and Gerrymandering

If you are planning on covering redistricting, gerrymandering, incumbency advantage, or electoral college reform, think about including the Word from Tuesday night’s (1-22-13) Colbert Report–‘Win, Lose, or Redraw’–where he attempts to explain how House Republicans could get over a million fewer votes than Democrats but win 33 more seats.  It would make a great intro to a lesson on Congress in introductory classes.

Includes the classic lines: “Instead of voters getting to pick their leaders, leaders get to pick their voters!” and “you must listen to these voters…and then make sure they cannot be heard on election day.”

Interactive Learning and the 2012 Presidential Debates

The following comes from Rebecca Glazier at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock:

It’s election season again and, as always, an exciting time to be teaching political science. This election year we have an addition tool to use in our efforts to get students actively engaged in learning about politics: a new app that tracks real time reactions to the presidential debates. React Labs: Educate was developed through collaboration between political scientists and computer scientists. It runs on smartphones and allows participants to register their moment-by-moment responses to what candidates are saying during a debate. Instructors who register their classes to participate will be provided with data showing which of your students used the app (handy for providing assignment credit or extra credit), presentation-ready figures of the data from each debate (to facilitate post-debate discussion), and additional educational resources. Not only will you be engaging your students in the debates, you will be helping the political scientists on this project–Amber Boydstun (University of California, Davis), Rebecca Glazier (University of Arkansas at Little Rock), and Matthew Pietryka (University of California, Davis)—collect data on  debate responses. You can find out more about React Lab: Educate and register your classes at the project website: http://reactlabseducate.wordpress.com/.