Study of Studies

Million-Dollar Titles: The Story of Clickbait

When you hear the word “clickbait,” the experiences that come to mind probably aren’t good ones. Whether it’s getting rick-rolled for the thousandth time or having been let down by a misleading title on Youtube, people often feel frustration and anger toward digital media outlets that design headlines and thumbnails for the purpose of maximizing clicks. But how malicious is clickbait, really, and could there be a reason why journalists and content creators continue to use it?

The answer has to do with how news organizations operate within the contemporary media environment. Nowadays, traditional news organizations and newer, metrics-based media outlets compete with each other for public readership and engagement – researchers have called this the era of “Clickbait Media” (Munger 2019). However, this is not a new phenomenon. Tabloid headlines have been a feature of news publications since the early 1900s, under the name of “yellow journalism.”

In both yellow journalism and clickbait media, content creators use language and images with emotional appeals to target a younger audience (Zannettou 2019). Compared to previous forms of tabloid reporting, clickbait is distinct in that it appeals to relatively positive responses, such as surprise (“She said yes!”) and intrigue (“… You won’t believe this happened next.”) (Chakraborty 2017). Social media also brings an interactive aspect to news publications, where creators would encourage viewers to share the work using tags, mentions, retweets and the like. People will attach value to articles based on population indicators, in what is known as the bandwagon effect (Jiang 2019). Whether people admit it or not, these strategies seem to work – clickbait articles can usually reach a wider audience than their non-clickbait counterparts (Chakraborty 2017).

Skeptics may be quick to suggest that overly widespread use of clickbait could exacerbate the effects of partisan media, driving people to look for sources that reinforce their opinions and separate themselves from those who don’t share their ideology. In the current moment, there is no empirical evidence for this. Although members of society may adopt more extreme ideologies due to other factors, researchers have found there to be no relationship between clickbait consumption and polarization (Munger 2019). Rather, the general consensus in contemporary media effects research is that an individual’s response to news is dependent upon preexisting beliefs and theoretical frameworks (Schefele and Tewksbury 2007). In other words, clickbait does not seem to be encouraging social divisions in and of itself, because we are less persuadable than we think.

But what if clickbait enables the spread of false information that is manipulative? In 2016, many became concerned by “fake news” when misinformation circulating on Facebook affected the results of the presidential election. To prevent further spread of misinformation, researchers are in the process of developing machine learning techniques for programs to automatically evaluate online content for credibility. Models that evaluate the overall argumentative structure of an article seem to be most effective, more so than models for authenticating users and analyzing content (Meel and Vishwakarma 2019).

Identifying clickbait is another story. Researchers have been able to systematically identify clickbait on Youtube by determining whether the content of a video matches its title, and by assessing chosen tags for the video (if one of them is “sexi”, there is a 95% chance it’s clickbait) (Zannettou 2018). Other researchers have detected clickbait through audience reactions: comments to clickbait videos are usually shorter, centered around singular threads, and discuss the content of the video itself less (Shang 2019).      

What clickbait will look like in the future isn’t clear, as social media platforms continue to define what is acceptable on their platforms and what isn’t. Upworthy, the clickbait-driven news outlet, had more site visits than the New York Times and the Washington Post at its peak in mid-2013 (Munger 2019). The company’s subsequent decline stemmed from a change in algorithms that downweighted its content. At the same time, mainstream news outlets have started to adopt clickbait strategies to expand the reach of their articles. Some academics are also hopeful that clickbait strategies of popularity and audience-building can lead to more people tuning into public affairs and increase political engagement among younger voters (Chakraborty 2017).

The next time you fall for clickbait, you might want to think about why the author took such lengths to hook you in. Perhaps that message is meant to be shared.

The Studies

Chakraborty, Abhijnan et. al. 2017. “Tabloids in the Era of Social Media? Understanding the Production and Consumption of Clickbaits in Twitter.” Proc. ACM Hum.- Interact.1(CSCW): Article 30.

Jiang, Tingting et. al. 2019. “What prompts users to click on news headlines? Evidence from

unobtrusive data analysis.” Aslib Journal of Information Management 72 (1): 49-66.

Meel, Priyanka, and Dinesh Kumar Vishwakarma. 2019. “Fake News, Rumor, Information Pollution in Social Media and Web: A Contemporary Survey of State-of-the-arts, Challenges and Opportunities.” Expert Systems with Applications 153 (1): Article 112986.

Munger, Kevin. 2019. “All the News That’s Fit to Click: The Economics of Clickbait Media.” Political Communication37: 376-397.

Munger, Kevin et. al. 2020. “The (Null) Effects of Clickbait Headlines on Polarization, Trust, and Learning.” Public Opinion Quarterly 84 (1): 49-73.

Scheufele, Dietram A. and Daivd Tewksbury. 2007. “Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models.” Journal of Communication 57: pp. 9-20.

Shang, Lanyu et. al. 2019. “Towards reliable online clickbait video detection: A content-agnostic approach.” Knowledge-Based Systems 182.

The Editors. 2015. “A Growth Spurt.” A Thing About Words. Retrieved from 2015/05/a-growth-spurt/.

Zannettou, Savvas et. al. 2018. “The Good, the Bad and the Bait: Detecting and Characterizing Clickbait on YouTube.” IEEE Security and Privacy Workshops (SPW): pp. 63-69.

Zannettou, Savvas et. al. 2019. “The Web of False Information: Rumors, Fake News, Hoaxes, Clickbait, and Various Other Shenanigans.” ACM Journal of Data and Information Quality 11(3): Article 10.

Study of Studies

What Research says about the Effects of Contact with Immigrants

People possess all kinds of stereotypes and false information about strangers, especially about those outside our “circles.” Until we make personal contact with these outsiders, misperceptions about them are likely to persist. For one, I remember when Americans were surprised when they first learned that not every Chinese person knows Kung Fu.

Just like you’d expect, social scientists have long found that contact with out-group members can reduce prejudices about them from in-group members. Contact generates new information that helps in-group members correct misperceptions, increase empathy, and develop emotional ties (Allport, 1954).

This idea leads to the question: could an increased contact with immigrants reduce xenophobia and stereotypes among Americans? We do have some evidence to support this hypothesis. If one can recall the whole stunt of the caravan “invasion” in 2018, Americans who meet more immigrants are less likely to believe in it (Murray, 2018). More rigorous academic research, however, presents mixed results even when we limit our scope to those studies conducted in the U.S. While some research suggests that contact with immigrants can reduce prejudice, increase the perceived value of immigrants, and yield more support for inclusionary policies, others claim contact actually leads to stronger exclusionary reactions and feelings of threat.

Let’s first consider a study that asks this question: if you commute by train from work to home and suddenly one day an unusually large number of immigrants showed up, would you expect to instantly feel warmer towards them? Enos (2014) conducted such an experiment where he randomly assigned pairs of Spanish-speaking confederates to visit train stations in Boston, a homogeneously Anglo community, for two weeks. Enos found that repeated intergroup contact led to more exclusionary attitudes toward immigrants. Why didn’t contact have positive effects here?

As it turns out, the effects of contact are not universal – who and how condition the effects. One such essential condition is the “friendship potential”: the contact process much present real opportunities for immigrants and natives to become friends, and that typically requires interactions across times and different social contexts (Pettigrew 1998).

In Enos’ study, the demographic change he created only represents a superficial form of contact – seeing more immigrants in the community. Without the potential to develop friendship, the mere presence of outgroups is more likely to induce threats than reducing prejudices. Enos even suspected that repeated exposure can mitigate the initial negative reactions. Surveys of natives sometimes only ask for “casual contact,” which is unlikely to reduce the perception of threat (Gravelle 2016).

Other research that uses a different method also confirmed the “friendship potential” as an essential condition to generate positive effects from contact. Ellison and his colleagues (2011) asked how different aspects of contact with Latinos affect attitudes toward the U.S. Latinos and immigration restrictions. They found that the most consistent predictor of positive views of Latino immigrants and immigration policies is having Latino friends, followed by relatives. 

To become friends, ideally, there should be few cultural and language barriers. A 2012 mixed-method study (Newman, Hartman, and Taber 2012) showed that white Americans who came in contact with non-English speaking immigrants enhanced their perceptions of immigration as threats and expressed more support for exclusionary immigration policies. One interpretation is that natives and immigrants who have higher language skills and cultural exposures are more likely to develop positive viewpoints of one another.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, partisanship also plays a large role in conditioning the effect of contact in the United States. Survey studies found that contact only has threat-reducing effects among voters on the left (Homola and Tavits 2018). Democratic voters who are predisposed to political values like equality and tolerance are more likely to positively update their views of immigrants than Republican voters who tend to oppose social changes. In addition, for positive effects of contact to sustain, in-party members cannot provide contrary messages (Pearson-Merkowitz, Filindra, and Dyck 2016). When individuals are interpreting policy information, partisanship serves as a stronger heuristic that cancels out the positive effect of intergroup contact.

Besides partisanship, other personal traits also play a moderating role. People who have histories of positive contact with immigrants are more likely to report positive ones in the future. We also know prejudiced people less likely to engage in intergroup contact, though it’s unclear if they would report lower levels of both positive and negative contact (Kotzur, Tropp, and Wagner 2018).

The big lesson is that while more contact with immigrants can yield both more positive and negative effects, the positive ones are more common (Kotzur, Tropp, and Wagner 2018). Studies show that contact frequency consistently predicts a higher willingness for U.S.-born to welcome immigrants. Meta-analyses of over 500 studies concluded that intergroup contact typically reduces prejudice (Pettigrew and Tropp 2006; Pettigrew and Tropp 2008). In short, definitely reach out to immigrants around you, but remember that the effects depend on the quality of the interaction. 


Allport, G. W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Ellison, Christopher G, Heeju Shin, and David L. Leal. 2011. “The Contact Hypothesis and Attitudes Toward Latinos in the United States*.” Social Science Quarterly 92(4): 938–58.

Enos, Ryan D. 2014. “Causal Effect of Intergroup Contact on Exclusionary Attitudes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(10): 3699–3704.

Gravelle, Timothy B. 2016. “Party Identification, Contact, Contexts, and Public Attitudes toward Illegal Immigration.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80(1): 1–25.

Kotzur, Patrick F, Linda R. Tropp, and Ulrich Wagner. 2018. “Welcoming the Unwelcome: How Contact Shapes Contexts of Reception for New Immigrants in Germany and the United States.” Journal of Social Issues 74(4): 812–32.

Murray, Patrick. 2018. National: Public Divided on Whether Migrant Caravan Poses a Threat. Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Newman, Benjamin J, Todd K. Hartman, and Charles S. Taber. 2012. “Foreign Language Exposure, Cultural Threat, and Opposition to Immigration.” Political Psychology 33(5).

Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna, Alexandra Filindra, and Joshua J. Dyck. 2016. “When Partisans and Minorities Interact: Interpersonal Contact, Partisanship, and Public Opinion Preferences on Immigration Policy.” Social Science Quarterly 97(2): 311–24.

Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1998. “Intergroup Contact Theory.” Annual Reviews of Psychology 49: 65–85.

Pettigrew, Thomas F. 2006. “A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90(5): 751–83.

Pettigrew, Thomas F, and Linda R. Tropp. 2008. “How Does Intergroup Contact Reduce Prejudice? Meta-Analytic Tests of Three Mediators.” European Journal of Social Psychology 38: 922–34.

Tavits, Margit, and Jonathan Homola. 2018. “Contact Reduces Immigration-Related Fears for Leftist but Not for Rightist Voters.” Comparative Political Studies 51(13): 1789–1820.

Tropp, Linda R, Dina G. Okamoto, Helen B. Marrow, and Michael Jones-Correa. 2018. “How Contact Experiences Shape Welcoming: Perspectives from U.S.-Born and Immigrant Groups.” Social Psychology Quarterly 81(1): 23–47.

Data-Driven Analysis

Explaining Conflict in Estonia Through Ethnic and Political Polarization

In my last blog post, I detailed my interest in explaining ethnic conflict in Estonia through a predictive political framework, provided context on Estonia’s repressed Russian minority, and illustrated the importance of researching East Central European affairs. The research paper I discussed in the last post was instrumental in developing my research project. This paper, written by Jeffry Kopstein and Jason Wittenberg (2010), examined the extent to which ethnically mixed communities in interwar Poland were more prone to pogroms than other communities that shared similar ethnic makeups.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, pogroms were organized massacres that targeted specific groups of individuals, typically based on their religious and cultural background. Pogroms against Jewish people were physical manifestations of antisemitism, and occurred throughout East Central Europe and the Russian Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries[1]. They were a significant barrier impeding integration of ethnic minorities in interwar Poland, and resulted in ethnic polarization and partisanship that prevented meaningful communication and interaction between different groups.

Kopstein and Wittenberg crafted their theory using Stathis Kalyvas’s specific definition of polarization, which Kalyvas operationalizes “as the sum of antagonisms between individuals belonging to a small number of groups that simultaneously display high internal homogeneity and high external heterogeneity[2]” . Using this concrete definition, Kopstein and Wittenberg argued that higher rates of polarization —  specifically, political polarization — in a community were positively correlated with that community’s eventual likeliness to suffer a pogrom.

In testing this hypothesis, Kopstein and Wittenberg found that political polarization along ethnic lines had statistically significant impact on predicting pogroms. However, they also found that voting patterns of ethnic minorities in interwar Poland were far more accurate in foreshadowing conflict than voting patterns of the community’s ethnic majority.

In many Polish communities at the time, Catholic Poles were the majority; Jews from Poland and elsewhere in East Central Europe constituted a sizable minority in these communities. During interwar Poland’s brief flirtation with democracy, several political parties emerged to suit the ideologies of the country’s diverse population. Two of these groups were the Bloc of National Minorities (“the Bloc”), which catered primarily to minority citizens, and the Polish National Democrats, who embodied the nationalist views of predominantly Catholic ethnic Poles.

Kopstein and Wittenberg tracked two voting statistics for each community in Poland. First, they determined the percentage of the ethnic majority, Catholic Poles, in the community that voted for the Polish National Democrats. Similarly, they calculated the portion of the community’s minority — in many case, Jewish Poles — that cast ballots in favor of the Bloc. They found that minority voting patterns were more correlated with pogrom outcomes than majority voting patterns were, indicating that political activity among ethnic minorities was more highly correlated to whether or not a pogrom took place than the political activity among Catholic Poles. Whether ethnic Poles voted and who they voted for mattered far less in determining whether a community would suffer a pogrom; the behaviors of ethnic and cultural minorities, including Jews, were far more predictive.

Even more troubling was Kopstein and Wittenberg’s discovery that pogroms were more prevalent in communities where ethnic minorities voted for the Bloc at higher rates. These findings suggest that violence against minority citizens may have been instigated by a perceived threat by ethnic Poles that their minority counterparts were organizing politically.

This research indicates that the ideologies, perspectives, and voting patterns of a community’s ethnic majority are not terribly effective in predicting the likelihood of conflict. Instead, Kopstein and Wittenberg’s paper provides compelling evidence that the voting patterns of minority individuals matter much more and communities with higher degrees of activist voting behavior among ethnic minorities may be the same communities that eventually suffer from violent backlash against those minorities.

I find this paper’s approach intriguing and sought to mimic its research design within my own research. Like interwar Poland, modern Estonia has an indigenous ethnic majority and a sizable ethnic minority — could ethnically-driven conflict between Estonians and Russians be better understood by examining the rate of minority political activity?

First, in line with Kopstein and Wittenburg, I categorized Estonia’s political parties into three groups. One group consisted of parties with largely mixed constituencies where, according to my prior research, ethnicity does not play a primary role in party identification. This cluster of parties was excluded from further analysis, as I am primarily interested in parties that explicitly reference ethnic affiliation in their electoral platforms or consist of disproportionate ethnic membership compared to Estonia’s population as a whole. The second group consisted of Estonian ethno-nationalist parties, the group with support from the ethnic majority. My third cluster was comprised of minority rights parties, which are primarily supported by ethnic Russians — this group most closely resembles the Bloc, which ethnic minorities in Poland supported.

While Kopstein and Wittenberg had extensive data on pogroms throughout Poland, I lacked sufficient data on the prevalence of similar hate crimes against ethnic Russians. How could I hope to mimic this research without having a reliable dependent variable to test voting patterns against?

I eventually decided that using countywide crime rates would be an adequate proxy for this missing dependent variable. Counties with higher rates of civil strife are very likely to be the same ones that suffer most from poor social cohesion. Communities with limited cohesion and unideal safety conditions make it easier for hateful or divisive rhetoric to fester, so using county-level crime rates is an accurate gauge of conflict frequency between different community groups.

Obtaining countywide crime rates was easily done through Estonia’s online statistical records — calculating vote percentages was also a simple process, and soon enough I had developed an Excel spreadsheet with requisite information to run a regression comparing minority voting patterns (denoted here as Percent_EthMinorityParties), majority voting patterns (Percent_EthMajorityParties) and my dependent variable, Crime_Rate. I used a broad crime rate statistic that merely encapsulated the number of recorded legal infractions and incidents per capita in each county in order to prevent incorporating any extraneous information into the calculations.

County Percent_EthMinorityParties Percent_EthMajorityParties Crime_Rate
Harju 30.5 7 0.028379
Hiiu 13.2 12.1 0.010604
Ida-Viru 59.2 3.3 0.042995
Jogeva 27.3 12.2 0.028144
Jarva 21.2 9.2 0.020957
Laane 17.2 15 0.021728
Laane-Viru 24.2 9.9 0.032809
Polva 26.6 8.9 0.029813
Parnu 23.6 19.7 0.029897
Rapla 16.5 10.8 0.022418
Saare 17.8 10.9 0.016464
Tartu 18.55 8.1 0.028155
Valga 26 10.2 0.029822
Viljandi 18.9 8.3 0.020294
Voru 20 11.6 0.027463

The regression output is below. Note that there are two regressions being completed, one for the 2011 Estonian parliamentary elections and another for the 2015 elections):

A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated

Stata output for the 2011 parliamentary elections. Note that percent_russianparties — denoted as Per_EthMinorityParties on the previous table to signify its representation of minority voting patterns —  has a positive influence (and a statistically significant one at that) on crime rates. The positive slope of the coef. and a p-value below 0.05 suggests this result. It is also worth noting that the voting patterns of Estonia’s ethnic majority, encapsulated in percent_estonianparties, does not appear to have a statistically significant impact on crime rates.

Stata output for the 2015 parliamentary elections. Like the 2011 elections, voting patterns of Estonia’s ethnic minority — expressed as percent_russianparties in the Stata regression and as Per_EthMinorityParties in the county data spreadsheet —  appears to have a statistically significant impact on crime rates, whereas the voting patterns of Estonia’s ethnic majority do not.

Preliminary findings from these regression analyses support Kopstein and Wittenberg’s theory that the voting behaviors of ethnic minority citizens are better determinants of crimes against minorities than the civic patterns of a community’s ethnic majority. In my next blog post, I will include statistical analysis of Estonia’s recent 2019 parliamentary elections that occurred earlier this month, while also continuing to investigate how ethnic conflict can best be explained and predicted within this post-Soviet state.

[1]Holocaust Encyclopedia: Pogroms”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

[2] Kalyvas, Stathis. (2006). The logic of violence in civil war. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Aha Moment

Conceputalizing a Russian Minority: A Case Study of Ethnic Conflict in Post-Soviet Estonia

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the international community’s watchful gaze has turned away from Eastern Europe and its Soviet environs. Instead, debacles in the Middle East and South China Sea are among the most highly publicized and hotly contested issues in the world, and Eastern European states are relegated to global obscurity and internal insecurity.

For a region of such geopolitical importance, this relegation is unfair and unproductive. Eastern Europe, physically and culturally, is the crossroads of the East and West. Since dialogue on American-Russian relations is ubiquitous both in the Ivory Tower and at the kitchen table, it is nonsensical that the region placed squarely in between these two global powers is rarely discussed in international discourse. Studying Eastern Europe would aid scholars and laymen alike in understanding Russia, one of the key players on today’s global stage.

Whenever the region does manage to break into international coverage, it’s usually reserved for negative portrayals of its faltering post-socialist regimes. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula made waves in the West, as did Viktor Orbán’s repressive and xenophobic rise to power in Hungary. The international community only appear to care about investigating events in Eastern Europe when the events pose severe and external threats to the region’s stability — it is purely logical for scholars to take time researching, reflecting, and learning about Eastern Europe before conflict erupts, in order to mitigate the costs of conflict once they materialize.

This drive sparked my passion for researching the Baltic states, specifically Estonia. The three states have been comparatively successful since the USSR’s demise in terms of political and economic development, especially when compared to countries in the Balkans that underwent similar transitions in the post-socialist era. But Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia still face an endemic lingering issue in these states on how to properly integrate a sizable Russian ethnic minority into their respective civic societies.

The concept of a Russian minority intrigues me. As someone who grew up entirely in the United States, it is a common cultural motif that the Russians are strong and powerful, and their nation is something to be weary or suspicious of. Take the depictions of Russian President Vladimir Putin that frequent American media outlets: they portray Putin as masculine, strong-willed and exceptionally powerful. It is extremely difficult to conceptualize of Russians as a minority given their seemingly irrepressible dominance, yet the status of ethnic Russians in the Baltics resembles that of a subjugated class much more so than a powerful one.

Images like these show President Vladimir Putin projecting strength and assertive dominance. While clearly staged, their ubiquitous appearances on US media outlets make it difficult to conceptualize a society where Russians are weak or disadvantaged. (Courtesy photo – ABC News)

The fate of ethnic Russians in post-Soviet Baltic states is diametrically opposed to this Western phenomenon of Russian dominance. Once all three states restored their independence in the early 1990s, all made swift moves to re-solidify the superiority of ethnic Balts and disenfranchise Russian ‘occupiers’ who had emigrated to the Baltic states during the Cold War[1]. [MG1] Baltic politicians implemented a series of stringent anti-Russian policies, ranging from the passage of so-called ‘language laws’[2] — which limited the usage of foreign, non-Baltic tongues in civic life and employment — as well as the elimination of citizenship for thousands of ethnic Russians, which remains a severe problem for over 80,000 individuals in Estonia[3].

It is difficult to reconcile the miserable experiences of ethnic Russians in Baltic society with the narratives of dominance portrayed in Western media. Nevertheless, it is imperative that observers recognize the failure of Baltic states to sufficiently integrate Russians into civic society, and that we strive to understand the relationships between poor integration and various societal outcomes.

The aim of understanding this failure drew my attention most closely to Estonia. Estonia is prone to ethnic tension due to the presence of a sizable Russian minority, which consists of about a quarter of its national population. The harsh treatment of ethnic Russians has occasionally led to violent outbursts, most notably in the 2007 Bronze Night Protests that erupted over disagreements regarding a controversial Soviet-era statue in Tallinn. 

This river marks the border between Narva, Estonia and Ivangorod, Russia. The two countries have had a tumultuous relationship since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the treatment of ethnic Russians has only exacerbated tensions. (Courtesy photo – James Hill for The New York Times)

I am interested in determining what structural factors are responsible for driving conflict between ethnic Balts and ethnic Russians. I determined that linguistic differences were a major contributor to tension as the lack of a lingua franca between the two groups prevented meaningful integration, an argument suggested by both ethnic Russians and ethnic Estonians alike[4]. However, I failed to see how this difference could be the primary way of understanding the conflict, as ethnic Russians with little knowledge of the Estonian language express a willingness and desire to learn the language in many research studies — if unique linguistic heritage was the driving force of conflict, I’d expect to see a fierce reluctance to learn Estonian, which does not appear to exist among ethnic Russians.

I developed a hypothesis for what drives ethnic conflict in Estonia. This hypothesis rests on the assumption that ‘ethnic conflict’ can be most effectively condensed into ‘hate crimes’ as a means of statistical observation as it is difficult to gauge an abstract concept like conflict without first determining a concrete measurement.

This determination allowed me to mirror my research off a similar paper that attempted to link ethnic conflict (in the form of hate crimes) and political polarization among ethnic groups in interwar Poland[5]. Using this paper for inspiration, I developed the following research question, which I will discuss more in my next blog post: Does political support for pro-Russian parties among ethnic Russians in Estonia predict higher crime rates on a county-by-county basis?

[1] Kadri Leetmaa, Tiit Tammaru and Daniel Baldwin Hess (2015), “Preferences Toward Neighbor Ethnicity and Affluence: Evidence from an Inherited Dual Ethnic Context in Post-Soviet Tartu, Estonia”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105:1, 162-182.

[2] Jennie Schulze (2009), “Estonia caught between East and West: EU conditionality, Russia’s activism and minority integration,” Nationalities Papers – The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity.

[3] Tacita Vero (2007), “Many ethnic Russians in Estonia have gray passports, live in legal limbo,” Slate Magazine.

[4]  Gerli Nimmerfeldt (2009), “Identificational Integration of Second Generation Russians in Estonia”, Studies of Transition States and Societies.

[5] Jeffry Kopstein and Jason Wittenberg, “Deadly Communities: Local Political Milieus and the Persecution of Jews in Occupied Poland” Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 44, No. 3, March 2011, pp. 259-83.

Aha Moment

Making Identity Count with Popular Media and Culture


Almost a year and a half ago, I began my research with the Political Psychology and International Relations (PPIR) Lab. I started by looking at Japan and East Asian relations and political apologies, and my project eventually morphed into examining national identity. The path of my research project can be read here on the Social Science Research Methods Center website.[1]

Using the ideas and methods from Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s book, Making Identity Count, I expanded their demographic survey of extant literature to include popular media and culture so that there is more representation of the common people in the analysis of national identity. Although national identity is something that is represented in all aspects of life, where it is represented in the demographic survey can change the interpretation of national identity categories.[2]

Literature Review

My research is based off of a proof of Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s book, Making Identity Count. Professor Holmes and I received a proof of their book earlier this spring, and the book discusses how to create a quantitative method of measuring national identity as well as a brief process on coding national identity. National identity is critical in understanding Constructivism. Constructivism is one of the three mainstream International Relations theories. Constructivist theory is the idea that states act according to their perceived identity, instead of their relation to power. The problem with Constructivism, however, is that it relies heavily on a subjective sense of self. The lack of reliability and validity of Constructivism has been one of the main critiques of the theory. To address this issue, Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley believe that by measuring national identity quantitatively can help produce reliable information to better understand interstate integrations through national identity.

National identity is a network of categories that help creates a definition of what it means to be a member of a nation. This “network of categories” before representing the state, begins on an individual level. However as humans, a part of how we understand ourselves in relation to others is through our identification with a group. Group habits and social norms are strong forces in our day-to-day lives that restrict our range of intentional actions. How an individual feels and decides are reflections of “social stocks of knowledge,” which are the norms they receive and reproduce everyday. These norms are also reflected in institutions, and also can be applied more broadly on the state.

From the norms and social stocks of knowledge groups develop national identity categories, unintentionally, through extant literatures. Demographic surveys create categories that are found in everything that is said or written, because they are deeply integrated in our perception of self. The book is based off of the assumption that because states are ideationally integrated and represent national identity, political leaders act on the socially constructed stocks of knowledge in the society that they represent. The goal for Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research was to survey as many types of texts and create a list of categories that are most representative common stock of knowledge on national identity. By better understanding national identity categories, we can see them as constraints on political leaders and their policies, because represent the state. Their decisions become the actions of the state, which in theory reflects the people and their ideas about the state. By quantitatively understanding national identity, Dr. Allan and Bentley hope build a more comprehensive theory of Constructivism.

In Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research they used public speeches, newspapers, textbooks, novels, and movies as their base texts to gather common knowledge on national identity. This research is heavily interested in interstate interactions within the framework of Constructivism. In other words, how diplomats and state officials interact on their understanding of what the state should do. However, if we are examining national identity we must go beyond how the country’s top officials views of the state and go into more mainstream sources as well. I agree with Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s assumptions that national identity is ideationally integrated within a whole nation and that it is near impossible to extract one’s self from the social constructed categories. However, I find the choice of texts from their research to lack sufficient representation of the common people. Only movies and novels can be interpreted as popular media and culture. But how many people read these books and watch these movies? Do they fully represent the Japanese people? I examined popular media and culture as an extension on the existing demographic survey conducted by Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley to helps better identify how the people view their state.


Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s method of conducting demographic surveys to reflect national identity is a simple yet complicated process. Instead of having a list of pre-theorized categories and notions, identity categories are created by an analyst based off of three concepts. The three concepts are valence, aspirational versus aversive, and significant others. Valence assess whether or not the identity is a good or bad feature. Aspiration versus aversive is a comparative measure in whether or not the feature is something to strive for or avoid. Lastly, significant other is another comparative assessment in who or what they are measuring up with. Taking these concepts into consideration, an analyst examines the extant literatures, and then decides whether or not certain ideas are significant identity categories. This process can produce a list of fifty to a hundred categories. The top twenty categories are then examined to construct a dominant discourse that later can be used to describe the unique identity of the state. Although the purpose of this method is to create a reliable and objective source of national identity, the book emphasizes on the equifinal product of the research. Variation in may exist during the coding process, but in the end the top categories should remain consistent regardless of who the analyst is.

As a part of my research, I chose to examine popular media and culture as an additional source of material to examine national identity. Specifically I will be examining Japan’s popular media and culture, because I began my research questioning whether Japanese national identity influenced Japan’s foreign policy with East Asian countries. I am fluent in Japanese, and well acquainted with Japan’s popular trends and media. I know from experience that not a lot of my friends and family members read the most popular books or watch movies regularly (which are a part of the extant literature used in demographic survey by Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s study as a source of popular voice). But does that mean they are any less Japanese than people who do? Of course not! I want to examine alternative source of social common knowledge that resonates with the broader Japanese population. If something is popular, that means a wide range of individuals commonly shares these ideas. Why would popular media and culture not have information pertaining national identity?

I examined two TV drama series, two celebrity blogs, two music artists, and an article on trending topics and people from 2010. Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research is based off of information present in 2010, and I wanted to stay consistent with their time frame with my extant literature. The TV series I chose held the highest average viewing rates in Japan.[3] They were “Freeter, Ie wo Kau” and “Rinjō,” which roughly translates to “Part-time worker, buys a house” and “Presence.” The first series a is family drama about a socially withdrawn son’s attempt to buy a house for his depressed mother by finding a stable job. The second series is a mystery drama where a team of coroners works with the police to solve murders. I only watched the season finale for both series, due to time restraints. I looked into celebrity blogs, because blog popularity often comes from of the relatedness of the posts. I examined the most popular celebrity blogs from April of 2010, because I was unable to find a list of top ranking blogs for the year. April was chose arbitrarily.[4] A former reality show participant writes the first place blog, usually on her day-to-day activities and promoting various products. The second place blog is no longer available to view. A former professional wrestler, and television entertainer, writes the third place blog. She often writes about her day-to-day activities with her family. From the blogs I chose, I read the posts on the fifteenth of every other month. If a post for the fifteenth did not exist, I read the next available post of that month.[5] The two music artists I examined, AKB48 and Arashi, sold the top four selling singles in 2010. I examined their music videos and lyrics for theses singles as a part of my analysis.[6] Lastly, I read an article on the top trending people and topics as interpreted by Oricon Chart. Oricon Chart is a trend-collecting site that is often used in Japanese media as a reliable source.[7] The article broadly discusses the trends of 2010, and I read made notes base on these trends.


The raw identity categories are on the table below. Due to the small scale of my research, any category with more than four raw identity counts is presented in the table. Eighteen identity categories were identified. The data presented here is small sample of popular media and culture from 2010, to match the data year presented in Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s book.

Categories Total TV Dramas Blogs Music Trends
Finding a Job 6 6 0 0 0
Family 11 5 3 0 1
Parental love 6 5 1 0 0
Goals 6 4 0 1 1
Starting over 4 3 0 1 0
Letting go of the past 4 2 0 2 0
Positive anthem 4 0 1 3 0
Working hard 4 3 0 1 0
Feeling close to others 7 5 1 1 0
Moving forward 4 3 0 1 0
Going to help someone 4 0 4 0 0
Promotional 6 0 5 0 1
Food interests 6 0 5 0 1
Looking up to 6 6 0 0 0
Job purpose 4 4 0 0 0
Kawaii 4 0 1 2 1


Family is the most prominent category presented in my research. Interestingly, this category is also present in Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research as “family-orientation” in the chapter on Japan. However in their book, the category is seen as a negative aspect of Japanese identity. In the book they explanation this may be due to the difficulty of raising a child. Families are no longer multi-generational and often isolated. Although government programs, such as cash child allowances, have been implemented to ease some of the burden of raising children, the effectiveness is yet to be determined. On the other hand, in popular media and culture family is portrayed positively, almost as an ideal to be achieved. Celebrities post photos of their children and husbands in a loving environment. TV series depict the dedication of a socially withdrawn son finding a job to support his depressed mother. Whether it is repairing existing relations or building a new family, the Japanese people closely relate to the concept of family. Although the Japanese acknowledge the difficulties of building families, the aspiration of good family relations is still present.

Japanese popular media and culture differs from the data presented in Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research through the presence of positive messages. Prominent categories in their research discuss aging, welfare, self-sacrificial, along with other phrases that are typically negatively associated. However, in my research I found phrases such as goals, starting over, moving forward, and going to help someone as prominent themes that express confidence towards the future. Perhaps it is only in popular media where positivity for the future, whether it is immediate or long term, is expressed explicitly. Something is popular because a demand exists, and if the Japanese people are demanding positive messages I believe it is telling us that they are forward looking nation ready to take on the future.


There are many shortcomings in my findings, especially when compared to that of Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s. For one, the analysts for Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research consisted of graduate students and junior faculty members trained in qualitative methods. Undergraduate students also participated in their research, but received a two-week of training on how to analyze information to increase reliable results and decrease over-reading of information. Although I kept in mind the three concepts (valence, aspirational versus aversive, and significant other) as I went through my materials, I lack the specific training that the analysts had for this project. As a result my data may be different than I if I had received the same training as the analysts for this project.

In addition, Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s study examines text that is central to the identity of the Japanese people. This means using information well circulated throughout Japan, and works to limit political action through their understanding of Japanese identity. Of the extant literature used by Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley textbooks, public speeches, and newspapers are managed under the supervision of the government. It is understandable that they have the power to limit political actions and represent the state. Popular books and movies, however, are more reflective of the common people who vote for the politicians. Although my choice of extant literature is not related to the government directly, it is an extension of public views on national identity that cannot be fulfilled simply by books and movies.


National identity is how a state understands itself in relation to other states. This understanding is rooted within each individual and manifests in the culture and extant literature of the state. Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s book, Making Identity Count, examines how to quantitatively analyze national identity to build reliability in Constructivist theories. Their methods appear to be replicable, and it provides a quantitative analysis of national identity. In their research they conduct of demographic survey on textbooks, newspapers, public speeches, and popular movies and books. As an extension of the literature used, I examined popular media and culture to examine more of Japan’s grassroots understanding of national identity. Despite the fact that national identity is integrated within the psyche of the nation, depending on the choice of extant literature differences in national identity categories emerge. In my research on popular media and culture, I saw Japanese people responding to positive family relations. Despite of the struggles depicted in the book on “family-orientation,” Japanese people appear to want to achieve good familial relations. Similarly, a general trend of positive views towards the future can be seen in my identity categories. Although I lack the proper training as the analysts for Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s research, I believe that general population based demographic surveys can provide a more nuanced understanding of national identity. The extent in which my categories influence political leaders for state actions is debatable at best. However, including more popular extant literature in addition to that used by Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley may provide a holistic understanding of national identity.

[1] Link:

[2] Ted Hopf and Bentley B. Allan, eds., Making Identity Count: Building a National Identity Database, 1 edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[3] Link:

[4] Link:

[5] Link:


[6] Link:

[7] Link:

Data-Driven Analysis

Trends and Limits Regarding Research on Gender and International Relations


Research on gender and international relations has become more positivist since 2000.[1] That is, scholars in the field have become more likely to test hypotheses using rigorous procedures and empirical data rather than using their research to explore gendered international relations phenomena from a less standardized, more partial point of view. Still, the growing prevalence of positivism in gender-related IR research has received criticism. For example, J. Ann Tickner (2005) argues that while feminist IR scholars have not limited their work to a singular positivist or non-positivist research method; rather, they are united by a fundamental goal—questioning “androcentric or masculine biases in the way that knowledge has traditionally been constructed in all disciplines.”[2] While she does not outright reject all quantitative or positivist approaches to gender and IR, she posits that attempting to make generalizations using large data sets and conventional social science methods risks overlooking hidden gendered hierarchies and “the everyday lived experiences of women.”[3] Likewise, despite his support for positivist approaches to gender and IR, Reiter (2015) adds that nonpositivist research allows for the development of new theories and questions that can be tested and explored by positivist scholars.

This debate within the field merits scholarship. Politicians, the international community, and popular media outlets often oversimplify and essentialize women’s experiences, especially

those related to war and conflict. [4] Consequently, addressing this tension within the field and developing appropriate methodologies for studying topics such as female terrorists, the unique impact of intra- and interstate violence on women and girls, the diffusion of international norms such as gender mainstreaming, and the use of sexual and gender-based violence as weapons of war are all the more important. As such, this blog post will consider emerging trends and obstacles in recent research on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), Women, Peace and Security (2000), as well as the gendered consequences of post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping.

The Lack of Data on Gender, Post-Conflict Resolution, and Peacekeeping

One common complaint of those who focus on gender and peacekeeping is the lack of data related to their field. This data has both academic and practical uses: Not only does it allow researchers to test hypotheses and make generalizations using positivist methods, but it also improves peacekeeping strategies. By increasing the ratio of female to male peacekeepers in certain conflict-affected areas, peace may become more viable: Women are often seen as less threatening and are able to communicate with and search women for weapons in regions where conservative gender norms dominate.[5]

The general absence of data concerning the gender balance of peace talks and peacekeeping operations could arise from two causes. The first could simply be that UNSCR 1325 was not signed until 2000, and the pro-positivism wave in gender and IR theory did not arise until around the same time. As a result, international organizations and scholars have been collecting data on the topic for a relatively short period of time.

A second—and perhaps more likely—explanation for the absence of data on the subject is the masculine-oriented norms that drive post-conflict peace negotiations and the international community’s response to conflict. For instance, in her qualitative study of 10 Secretary-General Reports on peacekeeping operations in various war-torn countries, Puechguirbal (2010) finds that the UN provides little gender-disaggregated data on peacekeeping operations.[6] While some reports offered gender breakdowns of the ex-combatant population and new recruits to national police forces, these useful statistics were not provided for other categories of data, such as the number of internally displaced persons (IDP) and those receiving humanitarian assistance.[7]

Thus, Puechguirbal contests, the “strong masculine norm of reference” that has historically dominated peacekeeping operations continues to drive the absence of gender-disaggregated data.[8] Between 2000 and the publication of her article in 2010, the UN has adopted numerous resolutions addressing the importance of understanding the relationship between gender and conflict, two of which specifically call for increased data collection. The first, UNSCR 1325, “[notes] the need to consolidate data on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls (emphasis in original).”[9] The second, UNSCR 1889 (2009) “[requests] the Secretary-General to ensure that relevant United Nations bodies, in cooperation with Member States and civil society, collect data on, analyze and systematically assess particular needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations” and “[requests] the Secretary-General… to deliver… data on women’s participation in United Nations missions.”[10] Yet, Puechguirbal argues, decision-makers continue to deliberately disobey these calls for the collection of gender-disaggregated data in order to preserve the status quo. In other words, by refusing to evaluate the distinct effects of conflict or traditional structures and institutions on women, policymakers are able to avoid accountability for how their policies negatively impact their countries’ female populations.

Two other pertinent resolutions, Resolutions 1820 (2008) and 1888 (2009), were passed between 2000 and 2010. While they do not explicitly request any sort of data collection, they urge UN member states to recognize and address the use of sexual violence during wartime and its destabilizing effects on international peace and security. In fact, UNSCR 1820 calls for protection of women and girls from sexual violence “in and around UN managed refugee and internally displaced persons camps.”[11] However, as Puechguirbal demonstrates, UN peacekeeping reports often do not report the gender breakdown of IDPs, likely making it difficult for peacekeepers and aid workers to create and implement strategies to fulfill this goal. Together, these resolutions indicate that the international community has recognized the importance of empirical data collection in mainstreaming gender into peacekeeping. However, provisions for data collection are not followed by peacekeeping forces nor consistently included in all relevant resolutions.

The Need for Mixed Methods Approaches

Tickner (2005) argues that IR feminists prefer to study “individuals and the hierarchical social relations in which their lives are situated” in order to uncover details that would have been hidden by more traditional social science methodologies.[12] Research on gender and post-conflict resolution and peacekeeping often combines this innovative approach with other positivist and quantitative methods, applying a feminist point of view not only to the study of individuals but also to peace agreements and processes.[13]

One illustrative example of a mixed-methods approach is Ellerby’s (2013) study, “(En)gendered Security? The Complexities of Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes,” where she evaluates 48 peace processes from 1990 to 2010 on the extent to which they adhere to UNSCR 1325.[14] She finds that while the number of peace processes that include provisions related to women has increased since the early 1990s, only five displayed “high levels of (en)gendered security.”[15] After completing her broader content analysis of the entire dataset, she focuses on comparing two similar Sudanese peace processes–the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). The first, she argues, has a low level of (en)gendered security because it lacked a “women’s agenda,” “political space” for women at negotiations, and a “gender-conscious process,” or the notion that negotiators viewed gender equality as a means to bolster their own goals.[16] In contrast, the DPA included far more provisions for women since female negotiators had observed the mistakes made during the CPA process. These women, supported by the African Union and UNIFEM, were able to both lobby male mediators and enter the negotiation processes themselves as mediators. Thus, by combining a content analysis with a comparative case study, Ellerby is able to highlight both general trends concerning the mainstreaming of gender into peacekeeping and post-conflict reconciliation as well as the causal mechanisms that explain why some peace processes are more gender-inclusive than others.

A comparable example of the utility of combining qualitative and quantitative methods appears in Anderson and Swiss’ (2014) article, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas for Women in the Developing World, 1990-2006.” While their methodology is largely quantitative, they include a discussion of two case studies—Burundi’s and Guatemala’s peace processes—to demonstrate how the mobilization of women’s groups during peace processes can leave lasting impacts on post-conflict governments. In the Burundian example, the authors note that although female negotiators at the formal peace talks called for a 30% gender electoral quota, only a 20% quota was included in the final peace agreement.[17] However, due to continued lobbying by women’s groups, 30% of ministerial positions and seats in the National Assembly were reserved for women in the 2004 interim constitution.

The Guatemalan example demonstrates a similar trend, as women participated in both formal and informal peace negotiations between 1990 and 1996 and pushed for gender equality provisions in the peace accords. Consequently, not only were “extensive provisions” included in the final peace agreements, but several parties later voluntarily adopted gender quotas as a result of activism by women’s groups.[18] As in Ellerby’s (2013) article, Anderson and Swiss’ inclusion of qualitative case studies allows for greater focus on women’s individual experiences within in patriarchal structures—in the Burundi case, women were initially barred from peace talks and had to protest for negotiating positions, and in the Guatemalan case, only two women were allowed into formal peace talks. At the same time, the qualitative aspects of the methodology bolster the quantitative portions of the article by illustrating the causal link between the level of activism by women’s groups and the likelihood that a post-conflict government will adopt a gender quota.


Qualitative research on gender, post-conflict resolution, and peacekeeping, both on its own and combined with quantitative analyses, is highly useful for understanding women’s experiences during post-conflict peace negotiations. Still, drawbacks to qualitative work exist. For instance, since qualitative methods are more difficult to replicate, it would be helpful for qualitative researchers in the feminist IR field to clearly explain their methodologies. Gumru and Fritz’s content analysis of eleven countries’ national action plans (NAPs) on gender exemplify this predicament. In their article, they identify 20 criteria for assessing and comparing NAPs adopted in response to UNSCR 1325, but do not specify how they created these criteria. Given that feminist IR theorists tend to use “methods not typical of IR,” it would be helpful for them to explain their approaches so that others in the general IR field could better understand them and perhaps even incorporate them into their own work.[19]

Ultimately, qualitative work provides starting points for positivist research and is useful in elucidating the relationship between independent and dependent variables. It also provides an alternative to data-driven, positivist work, which may be constrained by the general lack of data on the subject. Finally, it highlights women’s active roles as agents for peace, undermining gender-essentialist stereotypes of women as victims and mothers.



[1] Dan Reiter. “The Positivist Study of Gender and International Relations,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 7 (2015): 1301-1326. doi: 10.1177/0022002714560351

[2] J. Ann Tickner, “What is Your Research Program? Some Feminist Answers to IR’s Methodological Questions,” International Studies Quarterly 49 (2004), 3.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Laura J. Shepherd, Gender, violence and security: Discourse as practice (London: Zed Books Ltd., 2008); In my blog entitled, “Women, Peace, Security, and a Research Question” (August, 3, 2016), I discussed a CNN report arguing that ISIS was enticing women to join its ranks with images of kittens, Nutella, and emojis on social media sites.

[5] Sahana Dharmapuri, “Just Add Women and Stir?” Parameters (Spring 2011): 56-70.

[6] She studies reports from UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Timor-Leste, Darfur, Sudan, Nepal, Chad, Côte D’Ivoire, and Kosovo.

[7] Nadine Puerchguirbal, “Discourses on Gender, Patriarchy and Resolution 1325: A Textual Analysis of UN Documents,” International Peacekeeping 17, no. 2 (2010), 173.

[8] Ibid., 174.

[9] UNSCR 1325, 2.

[10] UNSCR 1889, 3, 5.


[11] UNSCR 1820, 4.

[12] Tickner, “What is Your Research Program?” 7.

[13] Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, “Peace Agreements or Pieces of Paper? The Impact of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Peace Processes and Their Agreements,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly no. 59(2010): 941-980; Kara Ellerby, “(En)gendered Security? The Complexities of Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes,” International Interactions no. 39(2013): 435–460; Lori Perkovich, “Empowering Women or Hollow Words? Gender References in Peace Agreements,” Journal of Political Inquiry at New York University, Spring 2015:111-123; Miriam J. Anderson and Liam Swiss, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas for Women in the Developing World, 1990–2006,” Politics & Gender 10(2014): 33-61; R. Charli Carpenter, “‘Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups’”: Gender, Strategic Frames and the Protection of Civilians as a Transnational Issue,” International Studies Quarterly 49, no. 2(2005): 295-334.

[14] For an explanation of the criteria Ellerby (2013) uses to assess her dataset, see page 443 of her article.

[15] Ellerby, “(En)gendered Security?” 436.

[16] Ibid., 453

[17] Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement Agreement for Burundi 2000, Protocol II, Chapter II, Article 20.8

[18] Anderon and Swiss, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas,” 56.

[19] Tickner, “What is Your Research Program?” 7

Aha Moment

Developing a Research Question: Political Polarization in Europe

What on Earth is going on? While my official research project was about the roots and causes of polarization in Europe, it’s best summarized by this overarching question. Following American politics, I had noticed that in the last few years, anecdotally, the country had become more divided. Watching the 2016 Presidential primary season, it felt like the two parties were at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

I knew that the data already somewhat supported this belief. In the Summer of 2015, I took a two-week summer course titled “Polarization and the Electorate” in Washington, D.C. I learned about how intensely polarized the United States had become in the last 10 years. I specifically remember reading about a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center that quantified polarization among the American public. They found that Democrats and Republicans were much more ideologically divided than in the 1990s. The course involved meeting with many different people related to politics (academics, fundraisers, legislators, interest groups), to discuss political polarization in the United States and its causes.

I learned a lot about the role polarization played in the United States, and people pointed to various causes, including the media, the growth of money in politics, and demographic changes. Towards the end of 2015, another news story caught my attention. The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party fulfilled one of their campaign promises if elected: they passed a law to establish a referendum on membership in the European Union. I found that much of the rhetoric behind the “Leave” campaign mirrored what I saw in the United States. A common refrain behind the campaign was to stop immigration and focus on the UK instead. If you replace “UK” with “US,” you have Donald Trump’s campaign. In France, the “National Front” party and in Germany the “Alternative for Germany” were also movements in their nations that almost exactly mirrored this rhetoric.

This moment of realization, that these movements are so similar, is what prompted my research question. While many people pointed to many different factors in the United States, I wondered if there was a common theme among the European countries, since each nation had different media environments, campaign finance laws, and demographic trends. Additionally, I noticed that while there were similar movements in all the countries, they encountered different levels of political success. During my studies in the US, some people pointed to the “first past the post” electoral system as a cause for polarization. I wondered if the different electoral systems were the reasons that polarization was controlled in some of these countries.

Looking back, I realize that “intense confusion” is probably not the best way to describe how I came to my research question, but in some ways, it truly was – I was intensely confused by how politics around the world were changing so rapidly. Thanks to a research grant from the Charles Center, I had the opportunity to go to Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to explore political polarization in Europe. My focus was on exploring the cause of polarization and which institutional factors controlled or enabled the polarization.

I think it goes to show how just following the news and reading more about what you find interesting can help provide some great research questions and lead to projects you never knew you would be doing!

Study of Studies

Coercion-Resistant Passwords: The End of Compelled Decryption?

2016 was a year of massive data security breaches. Targets included Yahoo, Verizon, and the Clinton campaign, among others. Amid the alarm, cybersecurity professionals are declaring the simple numerical password — well, passé. A survey of 600 security experts sponsored by mobile ID provider Telesign revealed that 69% of the respondents did not think passwords provide enough security.

Data Breaches
Source: Information is Beautiful

In response to the mounting concern over data protection, 72% of businesses plan to phase out passwords entirely by 2025, foregoing them in favor of more secure alternatives such as biometric scanners and two-factor authentication.

But while biometrics and 2FA are certainly more difficult to crack than simple numerical combinations they are still not secure enough for some. They still possess a lingering vulnerability: they cannot detect when a user is being coerced to authenticate, either by typing in a code or placing their finger on a biometric scanner.

To address this vulnerability, researchers have started proposing designs for coercion-resistant passwords. A team from Stanford University has devised a proof-of-concept model for a system that issues subliminal passwords to users based on an individual 30-40 minute “training session” resembling a video game. Users of the system can never reveal their passwords — even under threat of coercion — because they simply do not know them. Additionally, researchers at California State Polytechnic University Pomona have developed an authentication system that authenticates based on user’s subconscious physiological responses to music samples. If the system detects duress, possibly resulting from the threat of coercion, during the sample designed to induce subconscious relaxation, it refuses to grant access.

So far, experts intend these coercion-resistant password systems for government or commercial use — to restrict access to top-secret government data or sensitive aggregate financial information, for example. In this respect, they might serve to considerably enhance government and corporate data security protocols.

But there is little reason to assume that these emerging technologies, once introduced, will not be subject to function creep, particularly amid the growing public demand for more secure personal data protection. Much like encryption technology, coercion-resistant password systems may eventually become available to citizens to incorporate into their personal data protection protocols.

The proliferation of coercion-resistant password systems would pose a significant challenge for law enforcement as well as for the courts that has thus far been overlooked: the coercion-resistant password would effectively nullify government-requested compelled decryption.

Courts at the district, state and federal levels, are encountering compelled decryption cases with increasing frequency, because private citizens have been using encryption technology to protect their personal electronic devices more frequently. As of now, encrypted devices are virtually impossible to access without knowing the encryption password. As a result, when law enforcement now seizes an electronic device during an investigation and finds itself unable to access the device’s contents because of an encryption lock, they typically appeal to the courts to compel the suspect to unlock the device.

The courts do not always compel decryption. Some courts have sided with the government and compelled the suspect to decrypt, while others have held that compelled decryption violates the suspect’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. But nonetheless, law enforcement has thus far had the recourse of appealing to the courts to compel a suspect to decrypt a device when they have been unable to access the device’s contents through independent investigative means. Coercion-resistant password systems, however, would void court-ordered compelled decryption. With the Stanford design, the user could not consciously recall the password required to unlock the device. With the Cal Poly system, the user would not be able control his or her subconscious physiological response under the duress of being compelled to decrypt, and the system would deny access because of detected coercion.

What is the proper balance between law enforcement’s investigatory privilege and the individual’s right to privacy and privilege against self-incrimination? How will novel technologies, such as next-generation encryption technology and coercion-resistant password systems, shift that balance?



“Beyond the Password: The Future of Account Security,” Lawless Research Report, sponsored by Telesign, 2016.

Gareth Morgan, “Scientists Mimic Guitar Hero to Create Subliminal Passwords for Coercion-Proof Security”, 2012.

Max Wolotsky, Mohammad Husain, and Elisha Choe. “Chill-Pass: Using Neuro-Physiological Responses to Chill Music to Defeat Coercion Attacks.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1605.01072 (2016).

Val Van Brocklin, “4 Court Cases on Decryption and the Fifth Amendment,”

Data-Driven Analysis

“Technology is Neither Good, Nor Bad; Nor is it Neutral:” The Case of Algorithmic Biasing

This post is one of two in a series about algorithmic biasing.

In his 1985 address as president of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), Melvin Kranzberg outlined “Kranzberg’s Laws,” a series of six truisms about the role of technology in society. Kranzberg’s First Law states: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”[1] The first clause of this proclamation challenges the tendency towards technological determinism, and Kranzberg rejected his colleagues’ reductionist assumption that technology determines cultural values and societal outcomes. The second clause acknowledges that technology can propagate disparate outcomes. When combined, the two clauses suggest that machines and programs are simply as impartial as the humans who create them.

Now, 30 years after Kranzberg’s address, technology commentators and social theorists are rediscovering Kranzberg’s First Law, particularly as it relates to the problem of algorithmic bias (a phenomenon that occurs when an algorithm reflects the biases of its creator). The Urban Institute recently released a report accusing the augmented-reality game Pokémon Go of inadvertent “Pokéstop redlining.”[2] Because the algorithm that the game uses to locate Pokéstops draws from a crowdsourced database of historical markers that are contributed disproportionately by young, white males, Pokéstops are overwhelmingly concentrated in majority-white neighborhoods.

Ingress Portals

Pokémon Go players living in majority-black neighborhoods took to Twitter to highlight this disparity:

Pokemon Go 1
Pokemon Go 2

Pokémon’s Go’s virtual place-making algorithm is just one example of purported algorithmic bias. For example, criminal justice scholars have begun to evaluate risk assessment scores, which algorithmically forecast defendants’ probability of repeat offense with increasing scrutiny. While states now allow judges to factor risk assessment scores into their sentencing decisions, there is a debate about whether or not the algorithms that generate these scores decrease or increase racial disparities in sentencing, compared to judges’ subjective decision-making. Arecent ProPublica report suggested that black defendants were 77 percent more likely to be assigned higher risk scores than white defendants by the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) algorithm, one of the most widely used risk assessment algorithms on the market, even after controlling for prior crimes, future recidivism, age, and gender.[3]follow-up Brookings commentary, however, rejects ProPublica’s conclusions on methodological grounds, indicating the necessity for further discussion.[4]

Proponents of algorithmic risk assessments argue that they serve as a useful tool to combat the implicit biases that factor into judges’ subjective decision-making. But that claim hold true only if the algorithms underlying risk assessment scores are not racially biased. If these algorithms are indeed biased against black defendants, the use of risk assessment scores in sentencing decisions could amplify racial disparities in sentencing black and white defendants.


[1] Melvin Kranzberg, “Technology and History: Kranzberg’s Laws,” Technology and Culture 27.3 (1986): 547.

[2] Shiva Kooragayala and Tanaya Srini,” Pokémon GO is changing how cities use public space, but could it be more inclusive?,”, August 2, 2016,

[3] Jeff Larson et al., “How We Analyzed the COMPAS Recidivism Algorithm,”, May 23, 2006,

[4] Jennifer L. Doleac and Megan Stevenson, “Are Criminal Risk Assessment Scores Racist?,”, August 22, 2016,  

The Cutting Edge

Algeria, Ecuador, and OPEC

Algeria and Ecuador – OPEC Membership Motivation

Following the Baghdad Conference in September 1960, the governments of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela came together to form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 1969, Algeria joined the organization, a move made after OPEC had spelled out a “more ambitious oil policy.”[1] In turn, Algeria has remained a member of OPEC to this day. Conversely, though Ecuador joined the organization only a short time later in 1973. it left the organization in 1992, only to rejoin in 2007. In recent years, Ecuadorian officials have clashed with OPEC on production quotas, with the recent oil glut being a major driver.[2] On the other hand, both Algeria and Ecuador rank among OPEC’s lowest producers of oil. The focus of our blog will be a critical examination of Algeria and Ecuador’s motivations for OPEC membership;  specifically, we will examine why Ecuador departed and returned while Algeria has remained a member since joining over forty years ago.


Although both Algeria and Ecuador have relatively low oil-production compared to their OPEC counterparts, they differ both geographically and demographically. Algeria is almost nine times larger in area than Ecuador, but Algeria has only twice the population of the much smaller country.[3] Algeria is also an overwhelmingly Muslim state of Arabic speakers, while Ecuador is predominantly a Christian, Spanish-speaking state. On the other hand, Algeria and Ecuador are both presidential republics, although each has struggled with questions of whether their leadership is truly democratic.[4]

Algeria and Ecuador are most similar in their over-dependence on hydrocarbon reserves, with Ecuador drawing more than half of its export earnings from oil and Algeria drawing almost 95% of its export earnings from oil and natural gas.[5] Along the same lines, both have failed to diversify their economy, leading to an overreliance on oil reserves for government spending. In turn, these dependencies forced both states to cut social services when oil prices have dropped. Although Algeria and Ecuador have similar levels of GDP per capita ($14,500 and $11,300 respectively), their governments differ drastically in their levels of financial stability.[6] Whereas hand Algeria amassed large foreign currency reserves by tapping its hydrocarbon reserves, Ecuador has struggled with large amounts of external debt.

Why Ecuador Exited

Ecuador’s exit in 1992 was the first in OPEC’s history, but it was not altogether surprising; instead, economic and political conditions within Ecuador precipitated its exit. An oil glut that began in the 1980s caused a severe economic decline within Ecuador that sank government revenues.[7] Additionally, in 1987, an earthquake that damaged major oil pipelines caused Ecuador’s president, Leon Cordero, to suspend interest payments on the state’s $8.3 billion dollar foreign debt.[8] Leading up to 1992, Ecuador clashed with OPEC over its production quotas amid a period of low oil prices, thereby solidifying this increasingly contentious relationship. Upon announcing its exit in September of 1992, Ecuador’s new president, Sixto Duran-Ballen, blamed the $2 million dollar membership fee and the cartel’s refusal to lift Ecuador’s production quotas for the exit.[9]

Their motivations for leaving OPEC were simple; the organization had become a barrier to the economy that Ecuador’s new political leadership wanted to remove. Unlike Indonesia, Ecuador’s leadership plainly stated their qualms with the cartel. Ecuador felt that it had lost control over the main component of its export market, oil. OPEC-imposed quotas had forced them to limit production of oil that its leadership wanted to expand. Furthermore, they were paying roughly $2 million for a situation they were unhappy with. Thus, with the election of a new president, the opportunity and motives came together for Ecuador’s exit from OPEC. In this way, Ecuador’s motivations for exiting mirrored that of Gabon and later Indonesia. For these countries, paying fees to an organization over which they had little control was no longer politically expedient. However, Ecuador maintained contact with OPEC as an “associate,”[10] an important distinction as Ecuador left the door open for future engagement and potential re-engagement with OPEC.

Ecuador’s Reentry

Although Ecuador was the first OPEC member to leave the cartel, it was also the first to reenter the group, thanks in part to its continued engagement with OPEC. Similar to its exit, Ecuador’s reentry was a result of economic and political conditions, both within Ecuador and internationally. Beginning in 2002, oil prices climbed steeply, quadrupling in price to $100 a barrel in 2007.[11] As a result, Ecuador had a great deal to gain from rejoining OPEC, namely greater influence over production decisions and attempts to control oil prices. Within Ecuador, domestic politics also played a role. Ecuador’s then-president, Rafael Correa, had made pursuing OPEC membership an important component of his foreign-policy plan. At the same time, Correa was also making strong moves to further nationalize Ecuador’s supply of oil. As Reuters reported, there were concerns that Correa “might take away all the extra profit foreign oil companies have been raking in as a result of surging prices [in 2007].”[12] This aggressive maneuvering within Ecuador went hand-in-hand with seeking more influence of global oil prices. Accordingly, if Ecuador sought to control more of its own oil, it would be in its best interests to raise global oil prices as well.

Algeria within OPEC

In stark contrast with Ecuador, Algeria’s membership in OPEC has been relatively stable. There are several ways to explain Algeria’s stability in OPEC, namely strict state-control of oil and a series of authoritarian regimes. Algeria also produces large amounts of natural gas, creating a stabilizing effect in times of unpredictable oil prices. Furthermore, Algeria nationalized its oil supply in 1971, at first seizing a 51% stake of French companies and later 100% of other companies.[13] In controlling this supply, Algeria has been able to amass large reserves of foreign currency that, in turn, have enabled them to weather periods of low oil prices. Since joining OPEC in 1969, Algeria has been under the control of a series of authoritarian regimes, except for a brief period of civil war in the 1990s.[14] This strict political control has meant that OPEC membership has not become a politicized issue in Algeria as it was in Ecuador. Moreover, Algeria also exerts more political control within OPEC, working closely with other OPEC producers in a recent deal.[15] In addition, though Algeria produces relatively less oil than most other OPEC producers do, it is also the world’s sixth largest exporter of natural gas.[16] Thus, in spite of the highly coupled nature of oil and natural gas prices, Algeria was able to reap additional profits that Ecuador had not, leading to greater stability within OPEC.  

Contrasting Algeria and Ecuador

While Algeria and Ecuador share similarities as OPEC’s lowest producers of oil, their differences highlight membership motivations within OPEC. In leaving OPEC, Ecuador expressed its frustrations with the cartel’s inability to maintain consistently high oil prices that Ecuador’s economy relied upon. The question for Ecuador was simple, why maintain OPEC membership, at a cost of $2 million a year, when the organization does nothing to control prices? Thus, for Ecuador in 1992, the costs of maintaining membership in OPEC began to outweigh its benefits as an ‘honor society’. For Algeria, on the other hand, long-term benefits in OPEC outweighed problems with the cartel. In this way, the utility of OPEC as an honor society is demonstrated; Algeria’s membership benefits are a seat at the negotiating table and a certain amount of influence as a member. Ecuador’s reentry in 2007 demonstrates how changing conditions can influence membership in OPEC. Similarly, an honor society may see rises and declines in its membership in correspondence to its level of importance or connections it can yield on the job market.


Although OPEC’s importance on the global stage has fluctuated over time, it remains a central force in controlling nearly half of the world’s oil. Although it does not always exercise control, the very idea of membership is enough to compel states to continue or rejoin as members. Similarly, membership in honor societies is not necessarily reflective of tangible benefits one might receive as a member. Instead, it is the unmentioned benefits (prestige, networking opportunities, etc.) that lead to membership in honor societies. In most cases, students undergo a cost benefit analysis to decide if membership is worth the cost. For Algeria and Ecuador, membership in OPEC, as of late, had been worth the fees to join. Namely, they enjoy the prestige of membership as well as tangible benefits like a voice in negotiations.


[1] “OPEC’s Algeria”

[2] “Ecuador president says he’s tired of fighting with OPEC”

[3] “World Factbook: Algeria”

[4] “Ecuador: Trials with Democracy”, “The lesson of Algeria”

[5] “World Factbook: Algeria,” “World Factbook: Ecuador”

[6] “World Factbook: Algeria,” “World Factbook: Ecuador”

[7]  “World Factbook: Ecuador”

[8]  “World Factbook: Ecuador”

[9] “Ecuador Set to Leave OPEC”

[10] “Ecuador Set to Leave OPEC”

[11] “Ecuador rejoins OPEC, bolsters producer power”

[12]  “Ecuador rejoins OPEC, bolsters producer power”

[13] “Diffusion as an Explanation of Oil Nationalization: Or the Domino Effect Rides Again”

[14] “World Factbook: Algeria”

[15]  “Algeria oil minister sends OPEC mixed signals”

[16]  “World Factbook: Algeria”


Works Cited:

Aissaoui, Ali. “OPEC’s Algeria: In Search of Lost Influence.” MEES. October 25, 2010.

“Ecuador Set to Leave OPEC.” The New York Times. September 18, 1992.

“Ecuador: Trials with Democracy.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. January 28, 2010.

Kobrin, Stephen. “Diffusion as an Explanation of Oil Nationalization: Or the Domino Effect Rides Again.” March 1985.

McAuley, Anthony. “Algeria oil minister sends OPEC mixed signals.” September 11, 2016.

“The lesson of Algeria.” The Economist. April 19, 2014.

“The World Factbook: Algeria.” Central Intelligence Agency. 2016.

“The World Factbook: Ecuador.” Central Intelligence Agency. 2016.

Valencia, Alexandra. “Ecuador president says he’s tired of fighting with OPEC.” Reuters. January 20, 2016.

Webb, Simon and Alex Lawler. “Ecuador rejoins OPEC, bolsters producer power.” Reuters. November 17, 2007.