Political Science 501. Social Scientific Thinking II.

Spring 2020

Tu 2:30 - 5:30, HRZ 126
Professor Richard Stoll
HRZ 120, x3362; stoll at rice dot edu

Office Hours:

Mo   1:00 -  1:50
We 11:00 - 11:50

You may also make an appointment to see me or contact me by e-mail. But you are welcome to stop by my office anytime the door is open. I am always happy to talk to you about the class, graduate school, or things related to political science. As a general rule, if you have a question, concern, or even if you are "just curious," please contact me sooner rather than later.

Introduction and Learning Objectives.

This course is the follow-up to Poli 500. Poli 501 is a methods course, not a Methods course. That is, 501 takes a broad look the research process, while courses such as 505 focus on the "technical" side of research. Of course these two things are not completely distinct so although there will be no problem sets in this course you will see connections between what you do in 501 and your Methods and substantive courses.

Quoting from the spring 2013 501 syllabus "By the end of the semester, students should have a more sophisticated understanding of the logic of inquiry and also be proficient in reading, interpreting, and evaluating research reports and studies found in academic journals and books. In addition, students should be able to design their own study to investigate a research question of their choosing." But please understand that becoming a good researcher is not something that happens after you successfully complete a series of courses. It is something that you must work on you entire career.

An Overview of Your Obligations

Components of Your Final Grade.

Class participation 15%
Written assignments 30%
Presentations 15%
Research proposal 15%
Final poster 10%
Final paper 15%

Your research proposal does not have to include analysis of actual data, but you can do this. If you do not conduct actual analysis you will have to create "fake" data to demonstrate what you would expect to find if your hypotheses were supported. The proposal will be broken up into chunks, with different chunks being due at different times during the semester. You should identify a faculty mentor in the substantive area of your proposal who can help you develop it. It is also possible to use a proposal or research paper from another course you are taking this semester. But both myself and the faculty member teaching the other course must sign off on this. At the end of the semester there will be a poster session showcasing the proposals.

Special Needs

If you have a documented disability that may affect academic performance, you should:
  1. Make sure this documentation is on file with the Disability Resource Center;
  2. Meet with Disability Resource Center personnel to discuss your accommodation needs;
  3. Meet with your professor/instructor to discuss implementing your accommodations.
Contact information for the Disability Resource Center:


There are no required texts for the course. If you have a strong interest in a particular topic, come talk to me and I may be able to suggest one or more books that you should read.

Reading Assignments.

The course syllabus is a work in progress. Please note that I reserve the right to add or delete readings as the semester progresses. Readings that are not otherwise easily available (e.g., via the library's online resources) can be obtained from me. You are responsible for finding and retrieving materials that are online.

Honor Code.

Rice has an Honor System. The Honor System places a great deal of trust -- but also responsibility -- on the student. All graded work in this course is covered by the Honor System. In each case I will explain what limitations and restrictions you should observe in order to comply with the Honor System. But there may be times when my explanations are incomplete or you do not understand what I have said. The best way to avoid any potential problems with the Honor System is this: if you ever have any questions about how the Honor Code applies to anything in this course, contact me before you start to do the work that you have questions about. Following the Honor Code is not simply something that applies to graduate school at Rice. In the profession of political science, if you do anything that would be an Honor Code violation at Rice this would most probably end your career.

Course Plan.

Jan. 14. Introduction

The first class will not last 3 hours. I will discuss what we will accomplish in the class and we will do a few other things.

Jan. 21. Library Tour.

Due in Class: First Presentation. Review a research paper you have written. You will present the paper for 8 minutes. You should spend about half your time describing the paper. You should discuss: (a) three things you took away from your paper; (b) three things you would change about your paper (i.e. if you had to start over, what would you do differently?).

Jan. 28. Data: Caveat Emptor.

Reading Assignment. Read the piece on Soviet military expenditures the 3 pieces on polling data, the 2 pieces on Nigeria (in the section on African economic data), the 2 pieces under Reinhart and Rogoff, and the article by Dafoe.

Written Assignment. There are 2 parts to the written assignment.

Feb. 4. Research Design.

Written Assignment. There are 2 parts to your next written assignment.

Presentation. Your are to give a brief presentation of your research project to the class. The presentation can last no more than 5 minutes (you will be timed). You are also expected to ask at least 2 questions or comments about the other presentations (the questions/comments can be about the same presentation or about 2 different presentations).

Feb. 11. Quasi-Experimental Design and Techniques.

Written Assignment.. Find at least six references for your research proposal. If you are following up a previous paper you must find six new references. Write an outline of the literature review based on these six (or more) items. You need to find the most effect organization scheme for your references.

Presentation. You will have 5 minutes to present your references. Emphasize the organization scheme, not the details of the individual references.

Feb. 18. Vocal Data, Field Research, Elite Surveys.

Guest Speakers: Diane O'Brien and Matthew Hayes.

Written Assignment.

Feb. 25. Surveys and Matching

Guest speaker: Bob Stein.

Written Assignment

Package Location
cem http://gking.harvard.edu/cem
matching http://sekhon.berkeley.edu/matching
optmatch https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/optmatch/index.html
Program Location or Command to Install
cem http://gking.harvard.edu/cem
nnmatch ssc install nnmatch
psmatch2 ssc install psmatch2

Mar. 3. Experiments, Cross Level and Ecological Inference

Guest speaker: Rick Wilson.

Written Assignments

Mar. 10. Formal Theory and Simulation

Written Assignment

Mar. 17 ** Spring Break. No Class. **

Mar. 31. Big Data, Social Media

Written Assignment

Apr. 7. Biopolitics, Visualization, and Text Analysis

Guest speaker: John Alford.

Written Assignments

Apr. 14. Indexes and Scaling

  • Indexes and Scaling Written Assignment.

    Apr. 21. Qualitative Methods, Preliminary Poster Presentation