If A Computer Model Says It, It Must Be True

Aug 17, 2009

“If the U.S. merely doubled its annual aid [to Pakistan] from $700 million to $1.5 billion, America’s influence in the country would significantly jump, while the militants’ would drop drastically. Why? Because with that sort of financial flow, corrupt rural officials would suddenly profit more from helping the U.S. than from helping the Taliban.”

So says the computer model that predicted Khamenei’s rise to power and the timing of Pervez Musharraf’s fall.

This from yesterday’s NYTimes expose on political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who helped popularize the application of game theory to political and economic decision-making, and who in addition to scholarly publishing consults with firms like British Aerospace and Marconi Electonics, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency.

The article, sort of an advertisement for Bueno de Mesquita’s new book The Predictioneer’s Game is good press not only for Bueno de Mesquita but for the political science profession. Accordingly, it was important that the article did not equate political science with game theoretic models, and in fact (as both Dan Drezner and some of the commenters at the Monkey Cage note) demonstrated that qualitative methods – interviewing, interpretation, and coding – are key to the number-crunching for which Bueno de Mesquita is famous.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.