James D. Morrow
Theory shapes how data is collected and analyzed in at least three ways. Theoretical concepts inform how we collect data because data attempt to capture and reflect those concepts. Theory provides testable hypotheses that direct our research. Theory also helps us draw conclusions from the results of empirical research. Meanwhile, research using quantitative methods seeks to be rigorous and reproducible. Mathematical models develop the logic of a theory carefully, while statistical methods help us judge whether the evidence matches the expectations of our theories. Quantitative scholars tend to specialize in one approach or the other. The interaction of theory and data for them thus concerns how models and statistical analysis draw on and respond to one another. In the abstract, they work together seamlessly to advance scientific understanding. In practice, however, there are many places and ways this abstract process can stumble. These difficulties are not unique to rigorous methods; they confront any attempt to reconcile causal arguments with reality. Rigorous methods help by making the issues clear and forcing us to confront them. Furthermore, these methods do not ensure arguments or empirical judgments are correct; they only make it easier for us to agree among ourselves when they do.
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Kyle Beardsley, and Sara M. T. Polo
Conflict data sets can shed light on how different ways of measuring conflict (or any other international relations phenomenon) result in different conclusions. Data collection procedures affect our efforts to answer key descriptive questions about war and peace in the world and their relationship to other features of interest. Moreover, empirical data or information can answer some pointed questions about world politics, such as, “Has there been a decline in conflict in the international system?” The development of data on characteristics relevant to the study of international relations has undeniably allowed a great deal of progress to be made on many research questions. However, trying to answer seemingly simple descriptive questions about international relations often shows how data rarely speak entirely for themselves. The specific ways in which we pose questions or try to reach answers will often influence our conclusions. Likewise, the specific manner in which the data have been collected will often have implications for our inferences. In turn, proposed answers to descriptive questions are often contested by other researchers. Many empirical debates in the study of international relations, upon closer inspection, often hinge on assumptions and criteria that are not made fully explicit in studies based on empirical data.
The scientific study of international processes (SSIP) has made substantial progress over the past twenty years, establishing itself as the mainstream research community in the field of international relations (IR) and attracting more and more attention from other disciplines. This was due to the convergence of several revolutions that have taken place in the field, including the data revolution, the formal modeling revolution, the methods revolution, the substantive revolution, and the epistemological revolution. In addition to the dramatic increase in the number of the community of scholars who use scientific logic, systematic methods, and empirical data to study IR, there was a significant improvement in the quality of research. This research has yielded important contributions to our understanding of international processes. Some of these contributions went far beyond the field; they have attracted the attention of policy makers as well as quite a few scholars from other disciplines. Some of the key findings that emerged from this research have become—correctly or incorrectly—a key component of the discourse of political leaders. Growing data availability, increased methodological sophistication, and greater scientific discipline within the profession have converged to open new research frontiers, but important challenges remain, such as the disconnect between theory and empirical tests that exists in many cases, and the almost exclusive reliance on the dyadic level of analysis. It is important to make our understanding of international processes translated into broader policy implications.
Paul R. Hensel
The International Studies Association’s (ISA) Scientific Study of International Processes (SSIP) section is dedicated to the systematic analysis of empirical data covering the entire range of international political questions. Drawing on the canons of scientific inquiry, SSIP seeks to support and promote replicable research in terms of the clarity of a theoretical argument and/or the testing of hypotheses. Journals that have been most likely to publish SSIP-related research include the top three general journals in the field of political science: the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and Journal of Politics. A number of more specialized journals frequently publish research of interest to the SSIP community, such as Conflict Management and Peace Science, International Interactions, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Journal of Peace Research. Together, these journals published a total of 1,024 qualifying articles between 2003 and 2010. These articles cover a wide range of topics, from armed conflict and conflict management to terrorism, international political economy, economic development or growth, monetary policy, foreign aid, sanctions, human rights and repression, international law, international organizations/institutions, and foreign policy attitudes and beliefs. Data users who are interested in conducting their own research must: choose the most appropriate data set(s), become familiar with what the data set includes and how its central concepts are measured, multipurpose data sources, investigate missing data, and assess robustness across multiple data sets.