The courses below are the research topics from the summer of 2014. The 2015 topics will be listed in November of 2014.
Political Science: International Relations (Professor Montero)
Students will analyze research questions of central concern to political scientists such as whether the quality of democratic governance is fundamentally determined by economic and social development. A wide variety of democratic institutions correlate with socio-economic outcomes. Our section will be interested in testing theories concerning whether majoritarian or proportional/consensual types of democracy provide better conditions for health and human development in advanced capitalist and developing countries. But regardless of the hypotheses under study, the central learning goals are an understanding of how to use comparative data to form and test hypotheses about how institutions, organizations, and voters respond to differences in political forms and social and economic development across countries and over time.
Potential Research Topics: Students in this section will test hypotheses concerning the political determinants of different levels of social welfare spending, human development indicators such as literacy and life expectancy in a survey of European, Latin American, Asian, and African countries. Do left-of-center governments produce better outcomes or are right-of-center governments just as good or better in generating improvements to human development? Are electoral systems based on proportional representation better for socio-economic development than those based on majoritarian formulas?
Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology (Professor Abrams)
In this age of scientific advancement, why do so many individuals visit astrologers and palm readers to learn about themselves and their futures? What leads individuals when ill to pursue homeopathy, magnet therapy, or faith healings? How do people come to believe they can communicate through extrasensory channels or have been abducted by aliens? Generally, how can one soundly evaluate claims to knowledge? In this seminar we will explore the differences between scientific and pseudoscientific approaches to the study of human behavior. Common characteristics of pseudoscientific approaches as well as tools for critically evaluating claims to knowledge will be identified. Topics will include controversial means of assessment, treatment, and communication. Students will be encouraged to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism toward controversial claims and utilize a high standard of evidence before accepting them. In the afternoon labs, students in small groups will develop small-scale experiments to test the validity of parapsychological phenomena of interest. Groups, for example, might replicate the Rhine clairvoyance studies, create a remote-viewing study, or evaluate precognition.
Models of Conflict, Cooperation and Communication (Professor Marfleet)
Studying the social world is challenging because it is usually impossible to conduct controlled experiments on the big problems. For example, we can't explore how civil wars start, progress or end by randomly choosing a country to have one. That wouldn't be ethical! Instead, we try to build explanatory models that incorporate relevant factors and account for relationships. Typically, this is done using accumulated observations and statistics. One alternative approach is to construct computer models or simulations that incorporate prior findings and theory and that progress dynamically when we run them. Models like these allow researchers to "watch events unfold" and investigate the impact of varying initial conditions or different sensitivity settings on the outcome. Often, the results are unexpected and lead to reconsideration of our assumptions and theories. In this course students will explore computer models of three types of social phenomenon: asymmetric guerrilla-insurgency and warfare; social coordination to solve group tasks; and the challenge of decision making in social networks. Students will also learn how to modify existing models, program their own, original ones using the NetLogo language for agent-based simulation, and collect and analyze data from repeated trials.
The Politics of Globalization (Professor Seneviratne)
The current wave of globalization has created unease within societies. While globalization has generated new markets and new economic opportunities for millions, it has also coincided with rapid social change, widening inequality, greater insecurity in livelihoods, and growing environmental damage. Despite pleas for protectionism from some quarters, many support and encourage globalization’s ubiquitous trend. Who are globalization’s “winners” and “losers”? How do these groups influence public policies that drive or impede globalization? Using statistical analysis of data from around the world, students in this course will first explore the relationship between globalization and the various social ills laid at its door, such as inequality, poverty, and pollution. Students will then use computer simulations to conduct welfare analyses of public policies that influence the path of globalization. Possible research topics: Does globalization widen the gap between rich and poor, and is this necessarily bad? Does globalization harm the environment and is this a price society is willing to pay for economic prosperity? Are policies that influence globalization aimed at increasing national welfare or do they benefit small, powerful groups at the expense of the majority?