Mar 122012

Colleagues/friends Matt Goodwin and Jocelyn Evans have created quite a stir with their report on the attitudes of BNP and UKIP supporters/voters. Obviously, UKIP is not happy at all about being lumped together with what remains of Nick Griffin’s party. Being introduced as a ‘polite alternative’ to the BNP (albeit with a rhetorical question mark) does not help, either. Today, Matt responds to their critics over at the Guardian’s ever more popular Comment is free section.

Whether UKIP likes it or not, this is fascinating stuff (for us aficionados). That their respondents predominantly young, male, undereducated and deeply worried about Muslims/immigrants hardly comes as a surprise. But there are some real innovations in this paper.

  • First, the N is huge (you need yougov or a very solid skull to interview ~2000 right-wingers). The sheer number of interviews makes it possible to differentiate between members, identifiers, supporters, and voters, something that is not normally possible.
  • Second, comparing BNP and UKIP supporters on the basis of a large sample makes a lot of substantive sense, whether UKIP likes it or not.
  • Third, Goodwin/Evans cleverly included items tapping into attitudes towards politically motivated violence in their survey. This allows them to connect existing research on voters with the sparse literature on militant activists.
What's the difference between BNP/UKIP voters? 1
May 042010

Being a political scientist is not considered an exciting occupation by people who have a life, and  as party conversation topics go, electoral systems are pretty lousy. But with LibDem support somewhere in the high 20s (if the polls are to be believed), normal people start to wonder why 26% of the vote should give them 12% of the seats, while 28% of the vote for Labour would amount to just under 40% of the seats (you can fiddle with the numbers at the wonderful BBC’s election pages).

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the hitherto pretty arcane idea of tactical voting (voting against your favourite party to support them) is now making headlines in the tabloids: Enter the Mirror’s guide to tactical voting for Labour and LibDem supporters. The information looks valid and may well be part of Labours last-ditch strategy to save what might be saved.

Is this Political Science gone mad? Tactical voting and the tabloids 2
Mar 242009

Arguably, no western democracy has more surveillance cameras per citizen than the UK. I would also like to think that few European countries are collecting data on their citizens on such an Orwellian scale. In a recent report, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has assessed 46 major government databases. Somewhat predictably, the result is devastating. Only six databases are “effective, proportionate and necessary”, 29 “have significant problems, and may be unlawful” whereas the remaining 11 are “almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law”.

Examples of the latter include the National DNA Database, which holds information on 2 million innocent people including 39,000 children, and (my pet hate) ONSET, a system which brings together information on children from various sources to predict which children will offend in the future. Another nightmare is the Jacqui Smith‘s dream project of a system that registers every phone call made, every email sent, and every visit to any web page.

While the traffic light system used by the trust conflates two distinct dimensions (efficiency and data protection standards/human rights), it is certainly useful to get an overview of a very complex situation, and to identify the biggest problems.

The publication of the report created quite a splash in the media. The Guardian highlights the case of a 13-year old with a criminal record for taking part in a playground fight, and a single mother who does not dare to discuss her mental problems with her GP for fear of loosing her children to the social services, though I could not find any sources for these examples. The BBC throws in an interview with Ross Anderson, Cambridge IT professor, and one of the authors of the report. And here are even more articles on the Rowntree report , most of them basically summarising the executive summary.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Mar 212009

MLwiN is one of the granddaddies of multi-level modelling software (the other being HLM).  Essentially, it is a 1990s-ish looking and sometimes quirky GUI wrapped around  an old DOS program (MLn). The one feature that set MLwiN apart in the late 1990s is point-and-click interface that allows you to build the equations for a multi-level in a stepwise fashion. The underlying command language is still slightly confusing and less than well documented, and some of the modern features (such as modelling categorical dependent variables) are implemented as external macros, which does not need to concern you unless something goes horribly wrong, which happens occassionally.

That said, MLwiN is reasonably fast, does now incorporate modern MCMC estimators, has an interface with WINBUGS and can be convinced to do most things you would possibly want to do with it.  I bought version 1.10 ca. 1998, received free upgrades to 2.02 and good support well until 2004/2005 or so.  These days, Stata, R and MPlus can all estimate multi-level models, but working with MLwiN may still be worthwhile for you (by the way, you can download the free stata2mlwin addon from UCLA academic technology to export your variables from Stata to MLwiN).

Rather amazingly, MLwiN is now freely available for anyone working in UK universities: just enter your details including your, and few days later, they will send you a download link.

Mar 192009

Radio 4 never fails to amaze me. This morning, just three minutes before the 9 o’clock news, they interviewed David Spigelhalter. Spiegelhalter is obviously the man who gave us BUGS. But he  is also Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, and a man who can (within the 90 seconds they allocated him) explain to a lay public why a spade in knife-crime (last summer, four people were killed in the space of just one day) is not totally unlikely and does not necessarily indicate an increase in the murder rate, illustrating the idea of clustered risks in passing. He even convinced the anchor that stats is actually fun, even if you look at 170 murders per year in a population of just 7 million Londoners. I was duly impressed (you can listen here to the interview with Spiegelhalter). In fact, I was so impressed that I googled him once I reached the office and came across his website, which has full coverage of the London murder mystery (that is solved by modelling a Poisson distribution of the incidents).


David Spiegelhalter on Risk, Knife-Crime and the Probability of Being Killed in London 3
Jul 292008

Weird, sad but apparently true: at Nottingham University, a PhD student who works on islamic terrorism and an administrator were arrested (though released without charges) because they were in possession of an al-Qaeda manual downloaded from the internet. The twist: the manual was part of an MA dissertation and had been re-submitted as part of a PhD application. Now this is clandestine. THE has the full story, and boing boing has lots of comments on it. All of the sudden, the whole point of urging students to provide proper references and go back to the sources seems rather moot.

Technorati-Tags: nottingham, university, terrorism, radicalism, islam, al-qaeda, plagiarism, uk, political, science, political science