21 Aug 2014


Full title: Quantitative Reasoning Foundation: War and Democracy
Course number: UQF2101H
University/Department: NUS, USP
Offered: Fall 2013 (2 sections), Spring 2014 (1 section), Fall 2014 (1 section), Spring 2015 (1 section), Spring 2016 (2 sections), Fall 2016 (2 sections), Spring 2018 (2 sections).

Background Information

The Quantitative Reasoning Foundation class (QRF) is one of three compulsory intro-level courses in USP. Students must take QRF within their first three semesters in USP. Effectively, QRF is an intro to research methods course, but with a unique twist—each course adopts a specific substantive question that serves as the running theme throughout the semester.

My QRF course is structured around the democratic peace, and how it can be evaluated quantitatively. USP’s multidisciplinary nature means that, in any one section of the course, substantial variation exists in students’ majors. Physics majors sitting alongside English literature majors is the rule in USP, not the exception. For me, as a political scientist, non-political scientists constitute between 85-100% of the students I teach in QRF.

Because of the diverse composition of my classes, I have developed some interactive tools to make the course’s content more accessible and concrete. As two examples:

  • An interactive map that permits students to view various measures of democracy (Polity IV, Freedom House, and CGV’s Democracy-Dictatorship measure) across space and time.
  • An interactive Shiny app that allows students to see the effect of violating OLS’s assumptions via simulations.
Course Description
Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere. Democracies don’t attack each other.

Generalities: The Rhetoric of Numbers
This Foundation-level module introduces students to the basics of quantitative reasoning—the way in which we can use numbers to provide evidence for our arguments. It does so by examining a specific substantive topic whose claims can be assessed quantitatively. The module is required for all USP students entering the programme in Sem1 of the AY 2012/13 school year or later.

In this module, we will regard “quantitative reasoning” as a philosophical approach. The module’s core idea is simple: quantitative analysis is rhetoric for numbers. Just as sound argumentation involves clear, logically consistent, fallacy-free prose, sound quantitative analysis involves appropriate research design, valid data measures, and the correct statistical technique. As students, you have spent your entire educational career learning how to conceptualize, recognize, and critique written rhetoric. You have spent less time developing the corresponding skillset for “numerical” rhetoric. Thus, the primary objective of this module is to develop these skills.

Substantive Topic: The Democratic Peace
Does democracy promote peace between states? Immanuel Kant was among the first to argue “yes” in his 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace.” “The reason,” writes Kant, “is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this [republican] constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war.”

Over 200 years later, Kant’s argument continues to attract attention because of its clear implications for our world. It has been the subject of countless academic articles and books, and has even made appearances in politicians’ foreign policy speeches, as shown by the epigraph.

Numerous scholars have made arguments in favor and against Kant’s claims, which have been dubbed the “democratic peace theory.” We follow in their footsteps by using quantitative reasoning and analysis. We assess whether the likelihood of interstate war is affected by countries’ regime types. We will survey extant research on the subject, wrestle with thought-provoking questions about appropriate ways to quantitatively measure the theoretical concepts, and develop a research design that we will then execute when we build and interpret our empirical models.

Syllabus (Fall 2014)