January 25, 2019

Evaluating Descriptive Claims

Plan for Today:

(1) Recap: Concepts

(2) Concepts and Dimensions

(3) Concepts, Variables, Measures

Recap

Concepts

We saw that concepts are:

• Abstractions from complex reality

• Have arbitrary labels

  • Recall: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

• Still Necessary

Scientific Concepts

To be scientifically useful, concepts must be transparent, systematic, predictive …

• must be ontological:

  • clear traits for what it is to be in this category. (transparent, systematic)

• must be observable:

  • defining traits of a concept must be rooted in some objective, empirical standard. (transparent, systematic)

• must be causal:

  • traits of concept related to behavior of cases of this type as causes of effects or effects of causes. (prediction)

Scientific Concepts: An Example

a (minimalist) definition of democracy:

A democracy is a government in which political decisions are made by people who acquire power through competitive elections, the results of which are respected (losers leave office).

  • Do you agree with this definition of democracy? Would Kim Jong-un?

Scientific Concepts: An Example

Whether we agree with the label or not, doesn't matter. Label could be arbitrary, but concept can still be scientific

a definition of regime type 1.a:

A regime type 1.a is a government in which political decisions are made by people who acquire power through competitive elections, the results of which are respected (losers leave office).

Scientific Concepts: An Example

A democracy is a government in which political decisions are made by people who acquire power through competitive elections, the results of which are respected (losers leave office).

Scientific concept:

  • clear, ontological definition, not based on a single case

  • based on observable traits

  • is tied to causal theories about democracy: democracies reduce civil conflict and violent instability

Scientific Concepts: An Example

Kim Jong-un would have to accept that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea does not meet this definition empirically:

"a government in which political decisions are made by people who acquire power through competitive elections, the results of which are respected (losers leave office)."

even if he rejected that this is the definition of "democracy"

Dimensions of Concepts

Motivation: minimalist democracy

A democracy is a government in which political decisions are made by people who acquire power through competitive elections, the results of which are respected (losers leave office).

There are "sub-concepts":

competitive elections:

  • direct elections, multiple parties, party in power could lose, not a one time event

political rule/power:

  • formal holding of government office and ability to make and enforce decisions

Motivation: "liberal democracy"/"polyarchy"

polyarchy

is a country in which political power is:

contested:

  • right to form parties
  • freedom of association
  • freedom of the press

and participation is high:

  • right to vote
  • fairness of elections
  • extent of suffrage

Dimensions of a concept:

These "sub-concepts" are dimensions

dimensions of a concept: phenomena that are

  1. traits that define the concept (ontological)

  2. but could exist, disappear, change independently of one another. They are not redundant

Why do dimensions matter?

  • Moving from concept to measurement
  • Linked to causal aspect of the concept

Dimensions matter (1):

Help move from concept to measurement

Dimensions help us use measurement to identify which cases match the concept:

minimalist democracy is all or nothing:

  • Countries must have: competitive elections, winners exercise power, losers leave office, must happen more than one time.
  • If any dimension is missing, case does not fit

polyarchy could be a continuum:

  • Some places might have more contestation, less participation; some might have more participation, less contestation, but still "fit" the polyarchy concept.

Dimensions matter (2):

Link to causal stories

minimalist democracy says little about the extent of suffrage

  • You ask, "are there more democracies now than in the past?"
  • You ask, because you are interested in theory about how democracy reduces conflict (tied to minimalist definition)

Measuring democracy as fraction of people who can vote

is an irrelevant dimension of democracy

Dimensions: practice

If we wanted to define democracy

Which of these could not be dimensions?

  1. Ruler chosen by election
  2. Voting rights for all adults
  3. Elections are fair, not fraudulent
  4. Elections are competitive
  5. No identity-based restrictions on voting
  6. Freedom of Speech
  7. Private sector investment in innovation

Dimensions: practice

If we wanted to define democracy

Which of these could not be dimensions?

  1. Ruler chosen by election
  2. Voting rights for all adults (redundant)
  3. Elections are fair, not fraudulent
  4. Elections are competitive
  5. No identity-based restrictions on voting (redundant)
  6. Freedom of Speech
  7. Private sector investment in innovation (consequence)

From Concepts to Measurement

Concepts to Measurement:

Concept (and dimensions)

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Variable(s)

  • measurable properties of cases that map onto a concept

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Measure(s)

  • procedure to find the values variables take for specific cases

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

"Answer"

Concepts to Measurement:

variable(s):

A measurable property of a case (phenomena, group, or individual) that corresponds to a concept or one of the concept's dimensions and can potentially take on different values across cases and time (it varies) across units.

  • Derived to capture a concept
  • Variables take on values for each case at a specific point in time
  • Variation across cases or over time.
  • General (e.g., "number of deaths in a civil war", not "number of deaths in the Syrian Civil War between 2011 and today")

Concepts to Measurement:

Measure(s)

A procedure for determining the value of a variable for specific cases based on observation.

  • Measures are proposed to determine the value a variable takes for some cases
  • They are always for some specific cases want to know about

Concepts to Measurement:

Concept (and dimensions)

\(\not\xrightarrow{}\) Concepts not scientific/irrelevant

Variable(s)

\(\not\xrightarrow{}\) Variable does not map onto concept

Measure(s)

\(\not\xrightarrow{}\) Procedure does not produce the true value

"Answer"

A Trivial Example:

A descriptive question:

"Is West Lion taller than Seymour?"

We need to:

  • define a the concept of "height"
  • create a variable that captures "height" and is measurable
  • develop a measure to obtain values of that variable for West Lion and Seymour

Concept to Measurement:

Concept: Height (of a mountain)

Prominence of peak from the earth's surface

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Variable: Vertical distance from sea level to the top of the peak

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Measure:

Use difference in barometric pressure to calculate difference in elevation

Concept to Measurement:

A descriptive question:

"Is democracy backsliding in the "West"?"

We need to:

  • define a the concept of "backsliding"
  • create a variable that captures "backsliding" and is measurable
  • develop a measure to obtain values of that variable for democracies in Western Europe and North America over time

Concept to Measurement: Democratic Backsliding

Concept: Democratic Backsliding

Political scientists have given three dimensions

  • Loss of cultural support for democracy
  • Loss of democratic institutions
  • Presence of organized opponents to democracy

Concept to Measurement:

Concept: Loss of cultural support for democracy

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Variable: (for cultural support)

fraction of people in a country who believe democracy is the best form of government for their country

\(\xrightarrow{}\)

Measure:

Survey people at random and ask: "Would you say having a democratic political system is… a very bad (1), fairly bad (2), fairly good (3), or very good (4) way of governing this country?