PL 9239 Introduction to Data Science for Politics and IR
Welcome to this module. In PL 9239 you will learn how to make the most of data. How can you handle and analyse data efficiently? How to communicate and visualise results? While everything we do here has of course a wider appeal, we will focus in particular on our area: How can we use data to study politics and international relations?
I am really looking forward to teaching the module again in Spring of 2022.
Data to Answer Your Questions
Today, data are everywhere. Data are not only collected for scientific studies. Governments, companies and non-profit organisations are amassing and increasingly sharing data at an unprecedented level.
Data on their own can actually be a bit boring. Few people might enjoy to just browse numbers. Everything changes, however, if we can use data to answer a question we are interested in. This is why we we will build the module around three scenarios.
Scenario 1: The Data Report
Whatever you actually want to do with data, the first step is always getting a good oversight over the data itself. You will have to open the data and describe its most characteristic features. Often, you want to communicate these results to other colleagues in a data report. And all of your work with the data is ideally documented in a transparent way so that others—or even your future self—can easily understand what you were doing. This first scenario might actually be quite typical for your first years at work.
Scenario 2: Knowing It All By Knowing A Few
For the second scenario, imagine you are working for an NGO that helps implement voting observation missions in fragile democracies. Even though you are partnering up with local civil society organisations, you cannot send election observers too all polling stations during a mission. Luckily, this is not strictly necessary: As long as you properly randomise the polling stations you want to observe, you can infer the real, countrywide numbers on the basis of just a few hundred few hundred observations. In this class, we will learn why this is working and how you can do inference yourself.
Scenario 3: Did the New Policy Have an Effect?
Finally, take another example: A new law introduced mandatory environmental protection for farm land. A year later, biologists measure that harmful substances in ground water are down by 20%. Was this the effect of the policy? Or was it maybe just a particularly rainy year that washed all pollutants away? Together we will learn how we can find answers by asking our data the right kind of questions.
The module is particularly relevant if you are planning to undertake a dissertation, since it will help you find the right data and how to work with it. Data literacy is not only a really useful skill to have as a modern citizen, it is also really valuable when you are looking for a job.
Your Weekly Data Workout
In this module, we will expose you to core concepts prior to the actual class. This frees up large chunks of time during the class that we can spend on activities where you typically need the most help, such as application of basic material and engaging in deeper discussions and creative work with it. Two years ago, all this would have been quite revolutionary. But now, 24 months into the pandemic, all of this feels actually quite intuitive. Let me introduce all of our activities one by one.
1 Work Through This Homepage
Your first port of call in every week will be the respective chapter in this module homepage. This site is a mixture between a website and a teaching book. It will walk you through the content of each week and you can find the most important content explained here. The website allows you to take your own pace and revisit the parts that you find most challenging as many times as you want and at the pace that you feel comfortable with.
The respective content of the week will be uploaded on Monday morning, latest. I expect that you work through that home page on your own over the course of the week. In case you have questions, please reach out to me via email or book time in the office hour. We will also use the module cafe every second week for answering any of your questions.
2 Apply Your Knowledge in Our Workshops
While the homepage is focusing on knowledge acquisition, our workshops on Tuesdays between 1pm-1.45pm and Friday 3pm-3.45pm will focus on skills development. Learning how to do data analysis requires practice. And practice means failing a lot and learning from the own mistakes. The workshops on Tuesdays are meant to serve as a place where we can jointly explore how to properly manage, analyse and visualise data.
The workshops will always cover the content of the past week, e.g. in the workshop in week 2 we will be covering the content of the homepage from week 1. Please make sure that you come prepared. Workshops will run from week 1 until week 11.
Over the course of these two workshop hours, you will be working online in small groups. For each week, I will prepare lab sheets that you will jointly solve. Do not worry in case you struggle: I will be always around to help.
Without participating in these workshops, the assignments will be really challenging. I strongly recommend you do not miss a single session.
3 Bring Your Questions to the Seminars
We will have bi-weekly module cafes where you can discuss any additional questions that you might have. In addition, these module cafes will also serve to answer any question regarding the assignments.
4 Read Guideance on Planning and Structuring
To guide you through all the hoops, I will also stay in touch with you with am email every Friday to make sure that you are on board. It is vital that you check your university email regularly, since we will only communicate with you through this address.
The Module Webpage
Let us take a closer look at how this website is working. This space is going to be the main learning tool for this term’s Introduction to Data Science for Politics and IR.
Obviously, I will guide you through the material on this web-page via text. Think of it as a replacement for the lecture slides that you might find in other contexts: A place to find the core concepts and central ideas of this class.
But not all is text. Sometimes, nothing beats someone actually explaining you core ideas. For that purpose, I will record small videos and embedd them here. The best thing about videos: You can watch them as many times as you want…
Finally, this format is also really handy, because we will be able to take a look at R code. R is a computer language invented for data analysis, and you will learn how to use it in PL 9239. This is how it looks like when we will be covering R code.
# All text in a line after the hashtag is a comment. # Here we assign some variables <- 1 a <- 2 b # This is how to add them and assign the result to another variable <- a+b c # And finally we print the result cat(c)
Last but not least, each week will have some readings that will reflect the core content of the respective week from yet another perspective. I will add pointers to the readings whenever appropriate. You can find all information about the readings in the [bibliography].
Getting in Touch
If you have questions or need any kind of help, feel free to get in touch.
- The whole purpose of our weekly workshops and our bi-weekly module cafe is to provide you with ample space for your questions. Make use of this!
- You can always drop me an email. I will respond at the end of the working day.
- You can also book time in my office hours
- Tuesday 3-4pm;
- Wednesday 3.15-4.15pm;
- Friday 5.15-6.15pm.