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.