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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Craig JenkinsPrincipal Investigators: J. Craig Jenkins, Department of Sociology; with Charles Lewis Taylor, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, and Marianne Abbott, independent scholar

The World Handbook of Political Indicators has been published by Yale University Press since 1963 to provide statistics and data to help scholars studying political processes and political change. While the handbook has been the dominant source for analyzing conflict and violence internationally, data collection for the last edition stopped in 1982.

In this fourth edition, Jenkins and his team aim to bring the handbook current to the present and make the data available over the Internet. In the process, they have made several revolutionary changes that will prepare the handbook for 21st century research.

First, they used machine coding rather than human coding to boil down world events into a series of cross-national statistics. They have done this by working with Virtual Research Associates (VRA), a private company formed by Harvard researchers, to develop a system for its automated data coder called Knowledge Manager™.

Second, they expanded upon coding instruments used in previous editions of the World Handbook to encompass variables tracked by such widely used datasets as Conflict and Mediation Events Observations (CAMEO), Militarized Disputes (MID), and World Events Interaction Survey (WEIS).

In the case of World Handbook IV, more than 1 million news stories distributed by Reuters from 1990 to 2004 were fed into the automated coder. The coder then analyzed these stories based on a framework of "who does what to whom when and where."

This framework has allowed World Handbook IV to track about 250 "event forms." Examples include optimistic or pessimistic comments; meetings and discussions; praise, apologies or promises; military, economic or humanitarian aid; requests for help, action or protection; proposals, refusals, accusations, complaints, demands, warnings, threats, demonstrations, or sanctions; arrests or abductions; assaults, riots or weapons attacks; human illness and death; currency, prices and payments; beliefs and values; and other events such as natural disasters, accidents, animal attacks, performances, and sports contests.

This expansion has led to several improvements to the World Handbook. For example, while World Handbook III concentrated on state actors, World Handbook IV includes data on non-state actors such as individuals, groups (including concepts like crowds), organizations (including corporations), and even non-human actors (such as diseases).

Also, while World Handbook III concentrated on political events, World Handbook IV includes events in the social, environmental and economic arenas that have political impacts, adding substantially to data about social conflict, particularly protests and collective behavior.

The main disadvantage to automated coding is that the computer must be trained to recognize duplicate stories on the same event. The team also uses human review to identify other sources of coding error. The Mershon Center grant has supported this project in 2006-07 and 2010-11.

Jenkins and his team expect that when the World Handbook of Political Indicators IV is published, it will become the international standard for political conflict event research.