In examining the diffusion of social and political phenomena like regime transition, conflict, and policy change, scholars routinely make choices about how proximity is defined and which neighbors should be considered more important than others. Since each specification offers an alternative view of the networks through which diffusion can take place, one’s decision can exert a significant influence on the magnitude and scope of estimated diffusion effects. This problem is widely recognized, but is rarely the subject of direct analysis. In international relations research, connectivity choices are usually ad hoc, driven more by data availability than by theoretically informed decision criteria. We take a closer look at the assumptions behind these choices, and propose a more systematic method to asses the structural similarity of two or more alternative networks, and select one that most plausibly relates theory to empirics. We apply this method to the spread of democratic regime change, and offer an illustrative example of how neighbor choices might impact predictions and inferences in the case of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Politics and political conflict often occur in the written and spoken word. Scholars have long recognized this, but the massive costs of analyzing even moderately sized collections of texts have prevented political scientists from using texts in their research. Here lies the promise of automated text analysis: it substantially reduces the costs of analyzing large collections of text. We provide a guide to this exciting new area of research and show how, in many instances, the methods have already obtained part of their promise. But there are pitfalls to using automated methods. Automated text methods are useful, but incorrect, models of language: they are no substitute for careful thought and close reading. Rather, automated text methods augment and amplify human reading abilities. Using the methods requires extensive validation in any one application. With these guiding principles to using automated methods, we clarify misconceptions and errors in the literature and identify open questions in the application of automated text analysis in political science. For scholars to avoid the pitfalls of automated methods, methodologists need to develop new methods specifically for how social scientists use quantitative text methods.