Saturday, September 29, 2012

Crowdseeding also in Sweden.

Am happy to see that "crowdseeding" is picked up as a strategy for data collection in addition to "crowdsourcing", and "bounded crowdsourcing". At the bottom of the slide:

  • Representative samples
  • Small costs

From the presentation "ICT and Conflict Prevention: The Case of a Quantitative Early Warning System" by Gerd Hagmeyer-Gave from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

More on crowdseeding here.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crowdseeding in Oslo.

Today I presented at the two-day conference "ICTs and the Global Governance of Peace and Security" at the University of Oslo in Norway. It is in interesting get-together with participants from Cambridge U, Oxford U, PRIO, SIPRI, UNDP, EUI, etc. More information here.

I (again) discussed the benefits and limitations of "Crowdseeding" based upon our experiences with Voix des Kivus in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you're interested, my slides are here.

  • Other than stop-overs by plane, the last time in Norway was about 15 years ago with mom, dad and brothers for holiday (read: the typical Dutch family with car + caravan). Except for the long winters that people keep on talking about here, it's a gorgeous country!
  • Next time I do take a jacket with me. It's cold.
  • And... it's expensive. To give an idea, a 25cl bottle of wine (+- a big glas of wine) from the minibar is almost $25. One can by a farm in France from that!
Expensive (1 $ is about 5.5 NOK)...
But beautiful!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Survey Response to Moral Issues.

By making use of a survey 'magic trick' researchers show how people can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions. More in the video below and here.

The article continues: The researcher have previously reported this effect, called 'choice blindness', in other areas, including taste and smell and aesthetic choice. “I don't feel we have exposed people or fooled them,” says Hall, “Rather this shows something otherwise very difficult to show, [which is] how open and flexible people can actually be.”

In our household survey in Congo we did something similar (design document: here), although we did not have a magic trick and we were interested in something different. In particular we were interested in what we called the respondents' "social desirability bias". An important subject for academics and policymakers that conduct surveys is: In how far does the reporter actually tell the truth? Is the response given really his or her opinion, or did he or she just reply in such a way to give (what the reporter thinks is) "the correct answer" -- the socially desirable reply.

The final evaluation report was published several months ago (here) but we are currently in the process of writing the secondary analysis report, and this social desirability bias is one of the many things we look at. How? We have two statements:
  • A “Many NGOs in the region believe that elections are not appropriate to choose community representatives when it comes to a position of technical responsibility. “
  • B “Many NGOs in the region believe that elections are always the best way to choose community representatives, even for positions of technical responsibility.”
The statements are followed by the question: “Do you agree that elections are the best way to select representatives?” Now 50% of the respondents received first statement A, and then sufficiently later in the survey statement B. For the other 50% of respondents A and B are swapped. As a result, for each individual we receive two observations: their response to “Do you agree that elections are the best way to select representatives?” after statement A, and once after statement B. The social desirability effect is the effect of the prime on the likelihood to agree with that statement. Respondents that give socially desirable answers will say "yes" to the question after statement B, and "no" to exactly the same question after statement A. In addition to this within-person analysis, we also conduct a between-person comparison where we use only whichever statement was asked first for each person (which removes consistency biases), and regress the answer on the prime given.

More soon!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can cellphones be used to learn about conflict events?

Between 2009 and 2011 Columbia University implemented Voix des Kivus in Eastern Congo; an SMS-based pilot project to obtain high quality data about conflict events in real-time from hard-to-access areas. To obtain high-quality data Columbia invented "crowdseeding" -- in contrast to data-collection projects based on "crowdsourcing". Last week the academic study came out discussing data quality and using the data for a downstream experiment to assess the conflict effects of international aid. The abstract:
Poor quality data about conflict events weakens humanitarian responses and hinders academic research on the dynamics of violence. To address this problem we piloted a data gathering system in Eastern Congo in which reporters in randomly selected villages reported on events in real-time. We describe the data generated through this system and use it to implement a downstream experiment that illustrates how the data can be used. We take advantage of exogenous variation in the allocation of development aid to assess whether aid is associated with increased or reduced violence. Our data suggests that aid had a negative effect on conflict. Critically, by exploiting the continuous nature of our data, we also highlight the sensitivity of estimates of effects to the timing of measurement.

The complete study can be found HERE.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm on Twitter.

Since a few minutes I'm on Twitter. Let's see if I can get into this:

Spot on!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pro-social Behavior in the NYC Metro.

Yesterday, around midnight. Raul, Neelan and me in the metro: back from University to our apartment in Brooklyn. While waiting for the train Neelan gets a smile on his face and says "I am very pro-social now". Raul and I look behind us, see what's in the picture below, and crack up.

Why? Neelan and I are writing a paper together that deals, among others, with the behavior of people when they are under scrutiny. On this topic there is a well-known paper by Kevin Haley and Daniel Fessler (published in 2005 in "Evolution and Human Behavior") that shows that even small hints of monitoring can make people more pro-social. They do so by placing a set of eyes on computer screens while people play lab experiments. The abstract:
Models indicate that opportunities for reputation formation can play an important role in sustaining cooperation and prosocial behavior. Results from experimental economic games support this conclusion, as manipulating reputational opportunities affects prosocial behavior. Noting that some prosocial behavior remains even in anonymous noniterated games, some investigators argue that humans possess a propensity for prosociality independent of reputation management. However, decision-making processes often employ both explicit propositional knowledge and intuitive or affective judgments elicited by tacit cues. Manipulating game parameters alters explicit information employed in overt strategizing but leaves intact cues that may affect intuitive judgments relevant to reputation formation. To explore how subtle cues of observability impact prosocial behavior, we conducted five dictator games, manipulating both auditory cues of the presence of others (via the use of sound-deadening earmuffs) and visual cues (via the presentation of stylized eyespots). Although earmuffs appeared to reduce generosity, this effect was not significant. However, as predicted, eyespots substantially increased generosity, despite no differences in actual anonymity; when using a computer displaying eyespots, almost twice as many participants gave money to their partners compared with the controls. Investigations of prosocial behavior must consider both overt information about game parameters and subtle cues influencing intuitive judgments. 
 Link to the complete paper here.

Maybe a bit nerdy? :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Apple in Africa.

I saw this passing by on Facebook. Not sure whom to give credit (I saw something saying "I Love Ghana), but it's good fun:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Manuscript Submission to a Journal? Some Useful LaTeX Code.

I'm about to submit a manuscript to an academic journal. People that write their papers in LaTeX often do so in a format of which they like the .pdf output: e.g. single-spaced, footnotes at the bottom of the page, et cetera. Now unfortunately journals often want to receive their manuscripts in a very different format. The one I am about to send a manuscript to wants:
  • The manuscript double-spaced throughout;
  • Footnotes, references, tables, and graphs on separate pages at the end of the document;
  • To follow The Chicago Manual of Style;
  • And because the journal sends out the manuscript anonymously for review, the author names and affiliations should be taken out, and anything else that makes the manuscript not-anonymous.
Needless to say with some cutting, pasting and tweaking of code this is possible. However, by doing so one ends up with multiple LaTeX documents: one for "normal use", and one for submission to the journal. Bah! As a result, this morning I wrote some code that avoids this. That is, by changing one thing at the start of the document (i.e. indicating whether you want a normal version or a version for journal submission) you obtain either one of two .pdf outputs: a normal working version, and a manuscript for submission that complies with the conditions the journal wants. All from the same LaTeX document. It's quite straightforward, but useful:


% Create your condition:


% The below is the only thing to be changed. Indicate whether you want the normal work version (deselect "\issubmissiontrue"), or whether it's for submission (deselect "\issubmissionfalse"):


% The next bit of code makes the document doublespaced, makes the footnotes endnotes, and places the tables and figures at the end of the document on separate pages, but only if the document is for submission:


% The next bit of code makes the document anonymous (i.e. takes out the authors' name and acknowledgements), but only if the document is for submission:


% Any other text or code in the document can be made conditional, and be kept out or changed depending whether it is for normal use, or for submission. Here, for example, a website link in a footnote is given "normally" if we want the normal working document, but it will become anonymized as "{link}" when the document is for submission:

NORMAL TEXT.\footnote{All documents can be found on the project's website: \ifissubmission \{link\}. \else {REAL WEBSITE LINK} \fi NORMAL TEXT

% Finally, the code below, which should be placed at the end of the document, gives the references in Chicago style, and indicates where the endnotes should appear, but again only if the manuscript is to be for submission:

    \bibliography{PATH TO .BIB FILE}
    \bibliographystyle{YOUR NORMAL STYLE}
    \bibliography{PATH TO .BIB FILE}


Monday, September 10, 2012


Blogging has been slow. The reason: I'm back in NYC and spent a good bit of time searching for a new apartment, and moving in. The latter happened this weekend. To give an idea of the overlap of work and social life for a PhD student: I'll be living with three close friends, all are PhD colleagues, and two are co-authors. And to give an idea how nerdy we are: we have a large empty wall in the living room so somebody came up with the idea of buying a projector to watch movies. After less than 1 minute we were talking about how cool it would be to show newly-created R figures, or do coding on such a large screen. Two pictures (because the apartment is still a mess with boxes):

After five years on the island (2 in Harlem, 3 in Upper-West Side) we said goodbye to Manhattan. On the picture: financial district from the Manhattan Bridge (World Trade Center just to the right outside of the picture).

We moved to Brooklyn where the coffeeshops are larger and there are more outdoor spaces. Specifically, we moved to Crown Heights (Franklin Avenue 581): a very dynamic upcoming neighborhood: new bars, coffeeshops, etc. Also, compared to our previous apartments we get twice as much space at 60% of the price we paid in Manhattan. And instead of looking at the wall of the neighboring building we have an extraordinary view over Franklin Avenue and from our window we can see the financial district again -- including the World Trade Center being build (see picture above). And this is not even from our roof.

Great months ahead!