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This course was offered in Fall 2016 at Arkansas State University.

POSC 4003: Special Topics: Data Science and Foreign Policy Crises

Description: Students will spend the first six weeks learning (in some cases, reviewing) basic principles of research design, measurement, statistical significance, hypothesis testing, data mining, data visualization, and computer programming. There will be an exam covering these topics at the end of the first six weeks.

The remainder of the semester will consist of three 3-week segments, each dedicated to a different hypothetical or historical foreign policy crisis. The details of each crisis, including the scenario, parameters, and role that students will be playing, will be distributed at the beginning of each segment. Students will work independently or on teams to produce a report recommending a response to each crisis. This will require students to perform background research, locate data, decide how to analyze that data, reach a conclusion, present the results, defend the procedures used, and explain how their conclusion follows from the results of their analysis. Creative and outside-the-box thinking will be encouraged, and it is the professor's expectation that modified versions of these reports could serve as writing samples for graduate school and internship applications.

In one hypothetical scenario, the U.S. government is trying to figure out who gave a speech in the ISIS-occupied city of Tikrit (the speech was broadcast over the radio but no video was released). The speaker's identity has been narrowed down to two prominent figures in the ISIS leadership: Abu Ahmad al-Alwani and Haji Bakr. Given that the speaker's identity will determine the extent to which ISIS forces in Tikrit have effective leadership, the U.S. government must figure out who gave that speech in order to determine the ideal strategy for retaking the town. Using the text of previous speeches and interviews by each individual, students will use their newly-acquired programming and statistical analysis skills to develop a procedure by which to determine the identity of the individual who gave the more recent speech.


In another scenario, the government of Saudi Arabia has announced that they are considering increasing oil production. Students will be asked to recommend whether the U.S. should ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil production (presumably lowering the price of oil) or recommend that production remain steady. Students will examine variation in worldwide public opinion regarding the United States and use their newly-acquired skills to determine whether countries that look down upon the United States would be disproportionately hurt by a drop in oil prices compared to countries that have favorable opinions of the United States and on that basis alone whether it would be in the best interests of the United States if Saudi Arabia left production alone.


Each scenario will be different and the professor will make an effort to tailor scenarios to students' interests. Topics could include nuclear proliferation, military coups, political assassinations, cyber warfare, spy swaps, civil wars, or something less violent such as whether to recommend to the President that s/he boycott an Olympics being held in an authoritarian country.



Prerequisite: POSC 3003: Introduction to Political Analysis or comparable course from other department (will require professor override)


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