Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Fall 2019

Fall 2019

PLSC 501

Methods of Political Analysis

Professor Roseanne McManus

This seminar is about research design. In contrast to 502-504, which focus on the analysis of data you have, this seminar focuses on the prior concern of how to collect data worth analyzing.  In 2008, Don Rubin coined a now ubiquitous phrase: “design trumps analysis.” In this course, we’re going to think about what this means, why this is, and what you can do to design your research to provide compelling support for your arguments.  Topics include design in experimental and observational settings, sampling and selection, concepts and measurement, challenges of small-N to large-N to massive-N designs, and approaches to inference.

Mondays, 1:25 p.m. – 4:25 p.m.

236 Pond Lab


PLSC 502

Statistical Methods for Political Research

Professor Bruce Desmarais

 This course provides an introduction to the principles of probability and mathematical statistics. Here you will learn the foundational principles of statistics that will be important for any type of quantitative analysis you will do in the future.  This includes topics such as probability, distributions, estimation, hypothesis testing, cross-tabulations, and bivariate regression. The material taught in this class will be important for understanding later classes in the methods sequence on regression and other topics.”

Wednesdays, 9:05 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

236 Pond Lab


PLSC 504

Topics in Political Methodology

Professor Christopher Zorn

 This is an elective course in statistical methods designed to meet the particular needs of students in the political science Ph. D. curriculum. PL SC 504 is tailored to focus on the specific issues that arise in the types of data found in political science applications. Students are expected to have completed the three required foundational courses in political methodology or their equivalents. This course examines a range of regression-like models widely used in empirical political science. Its core focus is on maximum likelihood estimation of models for various kinds of limited-dependent and qualitative response variables. Specific models covered are widely used in political science today, including binary logit and probit, multinomial logit and probit, ordered logit and probit, and Poisson regression models. Additional topics include models for time-to-event (survival) data, panel data and time-series cross-sectional analysis, item response theory, multi-level models, and methods for causal inference using observational data. Students will apply these models in a series of homework assignments and a replication project. Empirical political scientists must have familiarity with these models; these techniques represent a minimal level of statistical competence necessary for those seeking to do advanced quantitative analysis in the political science. The material in this course is technical, but students will be given an intuitive rationale for each model. Weekly homework assignments will be based on data from published research in political science.

 Mondays & Wednesdays, 9:05 a.m. – 10:35 a.m.

107 Rackley Building


PLSC 513

Writing and Professional Development in Political Science

Professor Vineeta Yadav

 The class is a workshop aimed at helping students communicate research orally and in writing. Students will draft the first half of their M.A. thesis and will present their research publicly, both to the class and to the department. Additionally, we will discuss strategies for preparing manuscripts for publication, writing and responding to manuscript reviews, working with the institutional review board, writing grant proposals, preparing for comprehensive examinations, and navigating the job market. All members of the seminar are expected to participate in each and every session, attend departmental talks, and provide constructive comments on one another’s work, both orally and in writing. Grading for the course will be pass/fail.

 Note: You should enroll in this course if you are entering your second year in the program. This course is the second of two required, 1.5 credit professional development courses in the graduate program in political science.  

Mondays, 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

118 Borland Building


 PLSC 519

Survey Methods II: Analysis of Survey Data

Professor Eric Plutzer

Cross-listed with Sociology

 Data collected by surveys have a combination of qualities that represent challenges to valid inference.  These include cluster and stratified sampling, under-representation of some groups due to differential response rates, missing data due to item non-response, and coarse measurement (3-4 categories to capture rich concepts such as religious faith or economic status). We often use surveys to test theories that the original survey designer did not intend to address, raising issues of validity and reliability of measurement.  At the same time, surveys offer a number of opportunities and, when combined with other surveys (pooled cross sections) or merged with contextual data, can address a wide range of theoretical puzzles in the social sciences.  This course provides an introduction to techniques in applied statistics that have been developed specifically to address the special features of survey data: use of design weights, post-stratification weights, accounting for clustering and other features of the research design in analysis, merging surveys with other surveys or auxiliary data, and missing data imputation. The class will emphasize the intuition of the theory underlying the statistical models rather than focusing on proofs and estimation.  This will provide a foundation for frequent hands-on applications in this seminar and for subsequent enrollment in more advanced courses offered by the Statistics department and the various social science departments.

Mondays & Wednesdays, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

012 Huck Life Sciences Building


 PLSC 550

Introduction to Comparative Politics

Professor Gretchen Casper

 This course is the core seminar for the field of comparative politics in the political science Ph.D. program.  It provides an introduction to the dominant questions, theories, and empirical research in comparative politics.  The substantive topics covered in the class include democracy and dictatorship, democratic performance, political institutions, culture and identity issues, elections and political parties, representation and accountability, and political economy.  The course has two goals: (i) to prepare students for a research career in comparative politics by providing a general survey of the field and (ii) to help prepare graduate students for the comprehensive examination in comparative politics.

 Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

236 Pond Lab


PL SC 560

International Relations: Theory and Methodology

Professor Xun Cao

 This course is the field seminar in international relations, aimed at providing an introduction to major theories of international relations and exposing students to contemporary research in the field. In this seminar, you will learn to understand and evaluate critically academic literature in international relations, as well as become familiar with major themes in international relations research. We will discuss important theoretical approaches used in the study of international politics and explore the manner in which social scientific research is conducted. The broad overview of theories and research topics in this course should enable you to identify areas of interest that you can further pursue in subsequent graduate courses and in independent research. This course is designed for graduate students who are planning to pursue careers in international relations or political science research; we will not focus on current events or issues in particular world regions.

Tuesdays, 10:35 a.m. – 1:35 p.m.

236 Pond Lab


PL SC 597

Test as Data

Professor Burt Monroe

 This course investigates the use of digitized texts — news articles, speeches, laws, treaties, press releases, party manifestos, campaign ads, interviews, transcripts, open-ended surveys, Tweets, Reddit posts, Youtube comments, Yelp reviews … — as sources of data for social science research. Topics will include gathering text data (e.g., web scraping, pdf scraping), preprocessing text and related NLP tasks (e.g., stemming, tokenizing), representing text as data (e.g., bag-of-words, word embeddings, measures of association), technical practicalities in using text data (e.g., encodings, sparsity), ethical and legal practicalities in using text data (e.g., robots.txt, terms of service, copyright), linguistic and substantive issues in text data (e.g., hand coding of training data, short vs. long texts, transcribed vs. thumb-typed vs. copy-edited texts, multilingual texts), inferential approaches to text as data (e.g., latent measurement modeling, decomposition, supervised learning, deep learning), and — mostly — measurement tasks with text (e.g., classification, scaling, topic modeling, sentiment analysis). Across topics there will be a heavy emphasis on social scientific objectives like measurement, validation, and inference. (The course will assume students have a base facility with Python, R, or similar, and some graduate level work in statistical inference, quantitative social science methodology, or machine learning.) 

Tuesdays, 2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

001B Sparks Building (Data basement)


PL SC 597


Professor Elizabeth Carlson

 “Corruption” is a popular, and often unchallenged, explanation for everything from economic stagnation to bureaucratic delays to unpopular policies. But the concept is actually quite slippery: what acts count as corruption, what acts count as legitimate means of influencing politics, and what acts are simply incompetent governance? How do we identify and measure exchanges that all participants are intentionally keeping secret? Why have some countries virtually eliminated corruption while it is endemic in others? What harm does corruption actually cause, to whom, and how? How can corruption be curtailed — or can’t it? The course will provide a nuanced view of the causes and effects of corruption as well as an introduction to the particular methodological challenges inherent in studying it.

Fridays, 9:05 a.m. – 12:5 p.m.

202 Chambers Building


PL SC 597

Seminar on State-Making

Professor Douglas Lemke

 State making is the study of how states emerge, develop, and persist. These topics are relevant to a number of the social sciences, and students will get a good idea of that this semester because the assigned readings are from not only American, Comparative and IR sub-fields of Political Science, but also from economics, history, sociology, geography, and various humanities disciplines as well. Comparativists seem to care considerably more about state making than do IR scholars, since it so centrally involves questions of national development. The tendency of IR scholars to take state making for granted, or to ignore it, is particularly puzzling since IR scholars mostly study what states do. Since states not infrequently make other states, the phenomenon clearly has an international component. We’ll spend the semester investigating how questions of state emergence, development, and survival inter-relate, and how they influence other aspects of state behavior. Student performance will be evaluated based on seminar attendance and participation, and two take-home essay exams.

 Thursdays, 1:35 p.m. – 4:35 p.m.

008 Huck Life Sciences Building


PL SC 597

Social Media and Politics

Professor Kevin Munger

This seminar covers recent and classic empirical research on the relationship between “the media” (broadly understood) and politics. The modern study of mass media influence originated in the 1940s and spans several social science disciplines. As we will see, the paradigms developed in the early years of that research program continue to influence scholars today–as well as to be debated and critiqued. Some of the canonical questions we will explore include the power of media messages to persuade; the extent to which media outlets are ideologically slanted, and how to objectively evaluate claims of bias; how censorship and propaganda work; and the role of new information technologies and social media on societal pathologies such as mass polarization. It would be impossible to adequately cover all aspects of media research even in a comprehensive survey course. As such, this seminar will focus on relatively recent work that is quantitative in nature (although not exclusively so), but we will also strive to remain grounded in foundational works.

Wednesdays, 2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

303 Boucke Building


SODA 502

Approaches and Issues in Social Data Analytics

Professor Charles Seguin

 Addresses the interdisciplinary integration of computational, informational, statistical, visual analytic, and social scientific approaches to learning from data that are both “social” (about, or arising from, human interactions) and “big” (of sufficient scale, variety, or complexity to strain the informational, computational, or cognitive limits of conventional social scientific approaches to data collection or analysis). Includes alternative scientific models for learning from data (Bayesian inference, causal inference, statistical / machine learning, visual analytics, measurement modeling), analytics issues with big data (variable selection, parallel computing, algorithmic scaling, ensemble modeling, validation), analytics issues with particular structures and channels of social data (network data, geospatial data, intensive longitudinal data, text data), and issues of scientific responsibility and ethics in analysis of big social data.

 Wednesdays, 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

105 Ag. Science and Industry