Saturday, March 29, 2008

Interesting Resource: Keesing's World News Archive (Liveblogging ISA)

I stopped by the Keesing's booth at ISA yesterday and was fascinated by the potential of their service. I was not familiar with it previously but it seems to be pretty well represented here. Apparently they have been authenticating and summarizing news since 1931. They offer their service, which includes current news summaries and their archive, to institutions at what appeared to me, at least, to be a reasonable price.

I have just glanced at the website and am already impressed with the free timeline service (you can see an example here). I have also signed up for a free trial (only offered here at the conference, apparently) and will post a note about it later. Has anyone out there had any previous experience with the service?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Good Resource: International Center On Nonviolent Conflict (Liveblogging ISA)

With John McCain's recent speech on foreign policy recognizing the importance of allies and non-military strategies, it is virtually certain that the next president of the US (Clinton and Obama are already on the record with similar statements) will focus less on military strategies for protecting and advancing US national interests and more on diplomatic and other nonviolent strategies. With this thought in mind, it was more than serendipitous -- almost "way cool" -- to bump into the International Center On Nonviolent Conflict booth at ISA (See picture below).

The ICNC "is an independent, non-profit, educational foundation that develops and encourages the study and use of civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend human rights, democracy and justice worldwide." Good stuff, that, and we could use a bit more of it.

What is even better is that they have a number of films and resources that they are happy to send people who request them (Note: I was told by the booth attendant that they were free for the asking but I noted that there are prices -- very reasonable prices, but prices nonetheless -- on the ordering website. I may have gotten confused. Maybe they are only free to attendees of the conference. I certainly got my copies free. I will go back and double check this tomorrow or maybe the ICNC guys can post a comment to clarify).

I picked up two of the movies, Bringing Down a Dictator and A Force More Powerful. I have seen bits of Bringing Down A Dictator about the last days of the Milosevic regime and, having lived through some of that myself, can say that it is pretty good. I intend to watch A Force More Powerful when I get back to Mercyhurst and will blog about it later but my expectation is that it is equally good.

After I watch the movie, I am looking forward to playing the game! That's right, they have even developed a video game based on the movie and book, A Force More Powerful. They were down to their last copy and they told me they would have to send me one. In the meantime I will have to make do with reading the great reviews the game has earned.

Striking A Bargain: Simulating And Teaching Diplomacy (Liveblogging ISA)

The panel on using simulations in the classroom was pretty interesting. A number of useful ideas and case studies out there to tap into (see the list and the links at the bottom of this post for the full names of presenters, titles of the presentations and a link to the paper archive).

I asked what critical thinking skills were the professors trying to impart to their students (beyond the basic course content on Kyoto or the EU or whatever). My own attitude is shaped by guys like Tetlock who claim that it is not what you know but how you think that matters. Even if you still believe that subject matter expertise is the most important element in forecasting, there does not seem to be the will, money or time to raise an army of experts in every potential crisis the world can throw at us. Until that changes, it seems to me that we are destined to be jumping from one hot spot or crisis (both tactical and strategic) to another and the ability to think with agility about each of them is going to be a requirement for intelligence analysts. In other words, facts change but how to think about facts is a teachable and, ultimately, more useful, skill.

Michael Baranowski and Kimberley Weir from Northern Kentucky University gave some particularly cogent answers to my question. They wanted their students to put themselves in the other person's/side's shoes, to force the students out of their comfort zone and they thought that simulations were a good way to encourage this "Red Team" thinking. I would agree. My own research with simulations back in the 90's suggests exactly that.

They also wanted their students to have the experience of having to take in vast quantities of data, sort through it and narrow it down to a policy paper that not only expressed the position of the side the students were espousing but also that countered the positions of the other sides in the simulation. As I know from our project-based classes at Mercyhurst, these "drinking from a fire-hose" exercises really sharpen student's skills in dealing with information overload.

Eleanor Zeff from Drake University riffed on the information overload theme by highlighting the lessons in critical reading that simulations provided. She said that simulations forced students to come to grips with questions like "Is this institution doing X because it is truly concerned with privacy or whatever or is it doing it simply to preserve its own power?" My paraphrase, obviously. Eleanor was much more eloquent...

Federiga Bindi, from the University Of Rome Tor Vergata, outlined some of the difficulties/differences with the way simulations are perceived/presented in Europe. Federiga, who was quite passionate about the value of simulations in learning and has run some huge simulations in Europe, indicated that she wanted her students to get out of their books and to get face to face with the complexity of the issues they are studying. As someone who is pretty familiar with the European tradition of higher education, I can certainly sympathize with her frustrations but have to applaud her drive.

Panel -- Striking a Bargain: Simulating and Teaching Diplomacy
(There are no permanent links for this panel. You will have to go here and search for the papers below if you are interested).

Manhattan College
Pamela S. Chasek

Brown University/American International College
Kimberly A. Hudson

Drake University
Eleanor E. Zeff
"European Union Institutions in Action: A Case Study of Negotiations Between the EU Institutions and the United States Regarding the Collection of Passenger Data for Persons Traveling by Air from Europe to the United States"

University of Rome Tor Vergata and Brookings Institution
Federiga Bindi
"Learning by Doing. The Joy and Anguish of Organizing Hands‐On Activities about EU Affairs"

Northern Kentucky University
Michael K. Baranowski
Kimberly A. Weir
"Simulating Global Energy Policy in Introductory International Relations and American Politics Classes"

Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC‐Rio)
Marcelo Mello Valença
Manoela A. Souza
"The Relevance of Model UN's on the Formation of a Critical Thinking in IR: The Case of MIRIN"

International Relations A Growth Discipline In Brazil (Liveblogging ISA)

I attended an interesting panel this morning on the using simulations in the classroom (more on that in the next post) but heard something about the growth of International Relations (IR) programs in Brazil that I thought was very interesting.

Apparently IR is a booming industry in Brazil. In Rio alone the number of colleges and universities offering programs has grown from 1 in the 90's to 7 today. My first instinct was that this was due to Brazil's growing sense of importance on the world stage and that the increased interest in IR by its young people was a manifestation of this self-awareness.


According to the two Brazilian professors (from the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio De Janeiro) who spoke, Marcelo Valenca and Manoela Souza, the main reason for the increased interest was 9/11! Marcelo spoke of standing in front of a tiny TV with, as he described it, several thousand young students watching the attack on the twin towers and then, two years later, an explosion of programs in International Relations. Both professors also explained that there was a semantics issue as well and that "International Relations" sounds better in Portuguese than some of the alternatives. Finally, and most interesting to me, was the point (made by Manoela, I think) that even though the students were drawn to IR by 9/11, they stayed because of the world of ideas that the curriculum opened up to them.

Good Resource: The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Liveblogging ISA)

Other than getting settled and watching Josh and Rachel present, I only had time for a quick run through the exhibit hall. I will have to take a more detailed look tomorrow but one thing caught my eye -- The Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Developed by Uppsala University out of Sweden, their database is free, online and very complete. I had a chance to talk to the very kind and knowledgeable booth attendants and get a tour (see the grainy picture below) and was quite impressed with their collection methodology and the completeness of the product. Most of the data is currently in text or chart form (much of it is downloadable, by the way...) but I was told that they were working on some visualization initiatives for the future. As it is right now, though, it is still a very valuable resource.

Between Uppsala's database, SIPRI's FIRST database and Hans Rosling's Trendalyzer, it seems that there are a number of great open source resources coming out of Sweden. If anyone knows of any more, leave a comment.

Related Posts:
Five Sites To Help You Think, Two Sites To Make You Think

55 Million UN Records Now Online

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Made It To San Francisco! (Liveblogging ISA)

I made it in this morning to the ISA Convention in San Francisco. Like last year (and every year, I suppose), it is huge. With 1100 panels and 5000 individuals on the program, the conference guide is like a telephone book (376 pages long. See the picture below).

Josh Peterson and Rachel Kesselman from Mercyhurst gave outstanding presentations this afternoon. While clearly not everyone agreed with their conclusions, I think everyone respected the research and the genuine contributions Josh and Rachel have made to the discipline. For details about the content see yesterday's post.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Off To The International Studies Association Meeting!

I am eagerly awaiting my flight to the ISA Conference out in San Francisco (nothing like a 0500 departure followed by a long layover in Detroit before taking a 5 hour flight to the west coast...). My students get time off for good behavior and I get to present my paper on "A Wiki Is Like A Room..." (Saturday, 1545 if you are attending).

Two of my former students (and thesis advisees) will also be presenting. Both have done some excellent research that is well worth hearing about. Josh Peterson did a good bit of research to determine what were the appropriate elements of analytic confidence for intelligence and then ran an experiment to test his hypotheses. Rachel Kesselman did a multi-decade content analysis of the Key Judgments from dozens of NIEs to determine if there were significant changes in the ways the NIC has been articulating its intelligence judgments over time. Both papers are available in the paper archive at the ISA Conference but they really don't do the theses (or the research) justice. If you are interested in what you see in the papers or in their presentations (Thursday, 1545 for both), do not hesitate to contact them directly.

I will be blogging again once I get to the conference. Until then I will leave you with this Jonathan Coulton song that just barely begins to capture the unspeakable horror that is modern air travel, Skymall:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

COOLINT, Facebook Edition: Visualize Your Social Network! (Nexus)

Facebook has just added a new application called Nexus that allows a Facebook user to actually visualize his or her network of Facebook friends. I cannot think of a better way to introduce some of the core concepts of Social Network Analysis to Intelligence Studies students than through this application. See a still image of my network below (The still image does not do the app justice as the full app carries many of the attributes associated with the friend network as well).

Related Posts:
Five Sites To Help You Think, Two Sites To Make You Think
Intel Official: Expect Less Privacy
Journal Of Computer Mediated Communication: Social Network Edition

COOLINT Part Deux: "The World Through The Eyes Of Editors In Chief" (L'Observatoire Des Medias via Boing Boing)

Check out the application below from L'Observatoire Des Medias (I first saw it on Boing Boing). It shows how different major world papers have elected to cover international news. Click on the red dots and countries get bigger or smaller depending on how they are covered by the various news outlets. For a hi-res version of the map, click on the link to the right of each paper. A few more news sources are available at the link to the L' Observatoire site above.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What Do Words Of Estimative Probability Mean? (Final Version With Abstract)


The value of Word of Estimative Probability (WEPs) is, of course, an ongoing question both within the intelligence community and among its critics. At one end of the spectrum are those, who call for numeric estimates. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that it doesn’t matter what an analyst says, policymakers and others will interpret the analysis however they wish. The intelligence community (IC) has recently moved further in the direction of a position that that is clearly on more formal side of the spectrum as the “best practice” for effectively communicating the results of intelligence analysis to decisionmakers. Much of the reason for using WEPs instead of numbers centers around the imprecise nature of intelligence analysis in general, coupled with the misunderstandings that could arise in the minds of decisionmakers if analysts used numbers to communicate their estimative judgments. A large part of the argument against WEPs, on the other hand, has to do with the imprecise meaning of the words themselves. In other words, what exactly does ‘likely” mean? Exploring these ideas and how best to teach them to Intelligence Studies students is the purpose of this article.

PDF Version (Pre-pub/Complete)

HTML Version:
Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- To Kent And Beyond
Part 3 -- The Exercise And Its Learning Objectives
Part 4 -- Teaching Points
Part 5 -- A Surprise Ending

COOLINT: Heat Map Of Search Terms By Country (Google Blogoscoped Via Lifehacker)

Lifehacker picked up on a really cool application by Phillip Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped this morning that uses Google Spreadsheets to calculate the ratio of Google hits concerning a country and any other particular search term you wish to include. The spreadsheet then automatically plots the results on a "heat map" showing where there are "hot" countries for the search term (see the example below using the search term "Mercyhurst").

You can save a copy of the original spreadsheet yourself and add whatever term you want (try it out with "jihad" -- interesting results!). As with all great COOLINT, I am not sure how you might be able to use it, but it sure is cool!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Revolution Begins On Page Five: The Changing Nature Of The NIE And Its Implications For Intelligence (Final Version With Abstract)


There has been a good bit of discussion in the press and elsewhere concerning the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program.
Virtually all of this commentary has focused on the facts, sources and logic – the content – of the estimate. It is my position that, while the content is fascinating, the most interesting story behind the NIE has to do with the changes in form that this latest NIE has adopted; that what the National Intelligence Council (NIC) has said is, in many ways, less interesting than the way it has decided to say it. This shift in form implies a new, emerging theory of intelligence – what intelligence is and how to do it – that is likely to influence intelligence communities worldwide. “Emerging”, however, is the key term here. As this article will highlight, the revolution may have begun but it is far from complete

PDF Version (Pre-pub/Complete)

HTML Version:
Part 1 -- Welcome To The Revolution
Part 2 -- Some History
Part 3 -- The Revolution Begins
Part 4 -- Page Five In Detail
Part 5 -- Enough Exposition, Let's Get Down To It...
Part 6 -- Digging Deeper
Part 7 -- Looking At The Fine Print
Part 8 -- Confidence Is Not the Only Issue
Part 9 -- Waffle Words And Intel-Speak
Part 10 -- The Problem With “If”
Part 11 -- One More Thing
Part 12 -- Final Thoughts

Another Very Strong Open Source Link List (

Looks like the Easter Bunny brought loads of link lists this year... Ran Hock at Online Strategies has to rank up there with the amazing Marcus Zillman when it comes to putting together a useful link list. Worth checking out and bookmarking...

55 Million UN Records Now Online (

The UN has recently compiled much of its data into a single fairly easy to use web-based interface called UNData. They are apparently working with Hans Rosling (If you have not seen him speak, check out the video below and be inspired) and the brilliant people at Gapminder which means, eventually, I hope, that all this lovely data will be available through Trendalyzer (another tool you have to see to believe).