Replication: The Heart of Science

There are allegations that the Reinhart and Rogoff paper “Growth in a Time of Debt,” which has informed the current debate about debt and spending as much as any economic paper could hope, is wrong. And it’s wrong because of a data processing error, specifically what appears to be an MS Excel formula error (see here, here, or here). The original Reinhart and Rogoff working paper has over 450+ Google Scholar citations and that understates its influence in the three years since it was published.

Every dataset I have looked at has problems, and the only question is whether those problems when fixed lead the results to “break.” In practice, as a field, we seem to be okay with small fractures, things that get p-values to .07 or .11 instead of the magical .05. Journal editors don’t want to reward replication articles that merely fiddle with someone else’s hard work, though this gives authors an incentive to fiddle with their own work at the margins.

In part because replication work is rarely rewarded with journal articles, the hard work of replication, crucial for any sort of cumulative knowledge, is more or less left to graduate students in mid-level stats courses. The fact that Thomas Herndon, apparently a grad student at the UMass-Amherst Econ program, is listed as first author of this new critique makes me wonder if this sort of “replication paper” requirement is the source of this discovery.

The Smoke-Filled Room at Midwest Political Science Association

Four of The Smoke-Filled Room’s contributors will be presenting their papers at the Midwest Political Science Association conference starting today. We’ve pasted the paper abstracts below.

Matt Eckel: “Nationalism, Chauvinism and Inequality: Skewed Incomes, Political Elites, and the Political Economy of Xenophobia” (Panel: Thursday, April 11 12:45 pm, 21-4, Who Are We?: The Politics of Defining National Identity)

Does inequality increase the intensity of chauvinist politics? There has been substantial recent work relating socio-economic inequality to a host of political outcomes, including redistribution, partisan polarization and popular nationalist sentiment. The relationship of inequality to nationalism, in particular, has been an object of inquiry in recent years, with studies finding that unequal societies tend to have more nationalist populations. Other work on inequality and redistributive outcomes has emphasized complex dynamics through which the specific shape of income distributions shapes voter and elite incentives. In this paper I test whether there is evidence that inequality leads political elites to mobilize constituencies with more intense ethnically and culturally chauvinist appeals in order to maintain status-quo socio-economic realities. Using time series cross sectional data on inequality in OECD countries as well as measures of nationalism drawn from the Comparative Party Manifesto dataset, I find evidence that political appeals become more nationalist and chauvinist as societies become more unequal.

To download paper:

Matt Scroggs: “Creating a Balance: Great Power Politics and Regional Integration” (Panel: Thursday, April 11, 12:45-2:25, 8-3, Causes and Consequences of European Integration)

Many consider the success of the European Union to be a major blow against power-based accounts of international relations, namely realism. While there have been some attempts at applying realist theory towards European integration, namely Grieco’s “voice opportunity thesis” and Rosato’s balance of power argument, this paper will challenge the logics of both these works, as well as the liberal case put forth by Moravcsik, and will instead contrast the role of power politics and grand strategy that led to integration in Western Europe to Eastern Europe and East Asia where no such integration occurred, according to the interests of the U.S. and Soviet Union. That role, I contend, is consistent with the “realist” approach.

Natalia S. Bueno and Thad Dunning: “Race, Class, and Representation: Evidence from Brazilian Politicians” (Panel: Sunday, April 14, 8:30 am, Representation and Social Identities in Developing Countries)


A persistent racial gap between Brazilian citizens and their elected politicians raises the possibility of important failures of descriptive as well as substantive representation—failures that are especially puzzling in the context of Brazil’s alleged “racial democracy” as well as electoral institutions that should be favorable to racial inclusiveness. This paper uses new, original data to document for the first time the size of this representational gap. We then explore several alternative explanations for it. First, drawing on an experiment in which the race and class background of faux candidates for city council are varied at random, we find some class effects but no discernible effects of candidates’ race on voters’ support for them. Thus, the representational gap may not be readily explained by race-based voter preferences or by a failure to politicize a latent racial cleavage. Next, we explore but reject several possible institutional explanations, including discrimination by party elites and electoral rules that foster or inhibit candidate entry along racial lines. Our evidence instead suggests the importance of race-associated resource disparities that are also strongly related to electoral victory. While the mechanism through which personal assets may shape electoral outcomes should be further explored in future research, our evidence suggests the enduring importance of resource inequalities in explaining failures of descriptive representation.

Nikolay Marinov and William G. Nomikos: “Electoral Proximity and Security Policy” (Panel: Sunday, April 14, 8:30 AM, 17-14, Democracies and International Security)

How do approaching elections a ffect the security policy states conduct? While international relations has paid some attention to this issue, existing theoretical work is scattered among many disparate arguments and the evidence does not allow researchers to identify causal relationships. We improve on both points. We identify the problem faced by democratic policy-makers near elections as a time-inconsistency problem. The time-inconsistency problem arises when the costs and benefi ts of policy are not realized at the same time, giving rise to electoral business cycles in security policy. We apply the argument to the case of allied troop contributions to Operation Enduring Freedom (“OEF”) and the International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”) mission in Afghanistan. The exogenous timing of elections allows us to identify the causal eff ect of approaching elections on troop levels. Our fi nding of signi ficantly lower troop contributions, in the order of approximately 10 percent, near elections, is the first arguably identif ed e ffect of electoral proximity on security policy. We discuss the role of election-related incentives in eliciting suboptimal security behavior from democratic policy-makers.

The Risk of War with North Korea is Teensy

The risk of war with North Korea is small, mostly because war is a very rare event in the international system. Bennett and Stam found that the risk of war in a single directed-dyad year (e.g., U.S.-North Korea in 2013) is 0.000065. Now, this current situation is much more dangerous than your average directed dyad (e.g., U.S.-Uruguay in 1996), but my guess is even if you plugged all the variables into your handy-dandy war predicting machine, you would not get much above a 2 percent risk of war onset. With that said, since the potential costs of a North Korean conflagration likely reach hundreds of thousands of casualties, the expected value of war with the Norks is unpleasantly high (let’s say, 200,000 casualties x .02 = 4,000). By comparison, there is an approximately 100% chance that 30,000 Americans will die in car accidents this year. With all of that said, I fully support anyone that wants to engage in Doomsday Prepping, because it just makes for quality television.