When do groups—be they countries, administrations, or other organizations—more or less accurately understand the world around them and assess political choices? Some argue that group decision-making processes often fail due to biases induced by groupthink. Others argue that groups, by aggregating knowledge, are better at analyzing the foreign policy world. To advance knowledge about the intersection of politics and group decision making, this paper draws on evidence from a multiyear geopolitical forecasting tournament with thousands of participants sponsored by the US government. We find that teams outperformed individuals in making accurate geopolitical predictions, with regression discontinuity analysis demonstrating specific teamwork effects. Moreover, structural topic models show that more cooperative teams outperformed less cooperative teams. These results demonstrate that information sharing through groups, cultivating reasoning to hedge against cognitive biases, and ensuring all perspectives are heard can lead to greater success for groups at forecasting and understanding politics.
This paper demonstrates how to use the R package stm for structural topic modeling. The structural topic model allows researchers to flexibly estimate a topic model that includes document-level metadata. Estimation is accomplished through a fast variational approximation. The stm package provides many useful features, including rich ways to explore topics, estimate uncertainty, and visualize quantities of interest.
In this study, we develop methods for computationally measuring the degree to which students engage in MOOC forums with other students holding different political beliefs. We examine a case study of a single MOOC about education policy, Saving Schools, where we obtain measures of student education policy preferences that correlate with political ideology. Contrary to assertions that online spaces often become echo chambers or ideological silos, we find that students in this case hold diverse political beliefs, participate equitably in forum discussions, directly engage (through replies and upvotes) with students holding opposing beliefs, and converge on a shared language rather than talking past one another. Research that focuses on the civic mission of MOOCs helps ensure that open online learning engages the same breadth of purposes that higher education aspires to serve.
Statistical models of text have become increasingly popular in statistics and computer science as a method of exploring large document collections. Social scientists often want to move beyond exploration, to measurement and experimentation, and make inference about social and political processes that drive discourse and content. In this paper, we develop a model of text data that supports this type of substantive research. Our approach is to posit a hierarchical mixed membership model for analyzing topical content of documents, in which mixing weights are parameterized by observed covariates. In this model, topical prevalence and topical content are specified as a simple generalized linear model on an arbitrary number of document-level covariates, such as news source and time of release, enabling researchers to introduce elements of the experimental design that informed document collection into the model, within a generally applicable framework. We demonstrate the proposed methodology by analyzing a collection of news reports about China, where we allow the prevalence of topics to evolve over time and vary across newswire services. Our methods quantify the effect of news wire source on both the frequency and nature of topic coverage.
Content analysis, a widely-applied social science research method, is increasingly being supplemented by topic modeling. However, while the discourse on content analysis centers heavily on reproducibility, computer scientists often focus more on scalability and less on coding reliability, leading to growing skepticism on the usefulness of topic models for automated content analysis. In response, we introduce TopicCheck, an interactive tool for assessing topic model stability. Our contributions are threefold. First, from established guidelines on reproducible content analysis, we distill a set of design requirements on how to computationally assess the stability of an automated coding process. Second, we devise an interactive alignment algorithm for matching latent topics from multiple models, and enable sensitivity evaluation across a large number of models. Finally, we demonstrate that our tool enables social scientists to gain novel insights into three active research questions.
Dealing with the vast quantities of text that students generate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a daunting challenge. Computational tools are needed to help instructional teams uncover themes and patterns as MOOC students write in forums, assignments, and surveys. This paper introduces to the learning analytics community the Structural Topic Model, an approach to language processing that can (1) find syntactic patterns with semantic meaning in unstructured text, (2) identify variation in those patterns across covariates, and (3) uncover archetypal texts that exemplify the documents within a topical pattern. We show examples of computationally- aided discovery and reading in three MOOC settings: mapping students’ self-reported motivations, identifying themes in discussion forums, and uncovering patterns of feedback in course evaluations.
Recent advances in research tools for the systematic analysis oftextual data are enabling exciting new research throughout the socialsciences. For comparative politics scholars who are often interestedin non-English and possibly multilingual textual datasets, theseadvances may be difficult to access. This paper discusses practicalissues that arise in the the processing, management, translation andanalysis of textual data with a particular focus on how proceduresdiffer across languages. These procedures are combined in two appliedexamples of automated text analysis using the recently introducedStructural Topic Model. We also show how the model can be used toanalyze data that has been translated into a single language viamachine translation tools. All the methods we describe here are implemented in open-source software packages available from the authors.