John Meyer emailed me about an interesting paper at ASA:
Rob Clark and Jason Hall presented a paper entitled “The International Telecommunications Network and Human Rights.” The paper explores the idea that global telecommunication may be a useful measure of global cultural embeddedness, similar to “INGO membership”. It turns out that their measure predicts human rights scores.
It is really important to keep developing measures of global embeddedness, going beyond what we have — which is pretty much just measures of international association (INGOs).
Obviously, INGOs are great. John Boli & George Thomas’s book (Constructing World Culture) does a great job of explaining how INGOs are an important embodiment of world culture. And, INGOs work really well in predicting a lot of things. AND, people have largely come to accept INGOs as the “standard” way to test world polity effects. But, it isn’t great to be wholly dependent on a single measure which, like all cross-national data, has its quirks. Moreover, there’s a tendency to reify measures — to start thinking that INGOs = world culture, and to forget about other interesting stuff, like communication, media, movement of people/students, etc.
Anyhow, John Meyer had an exchange with the authors of this new paper and learned how they created their measure. They started with a matrix of calls to & from each country (separately for incoming and outgoing calls). Then they dichotomized — essentially creating dummies of whether any dyad has a relationship. Finally, they used degree centrality — calculating the total number of other countries a given country is linked to. Also, since telecommunication was strongly correlated with INGOs, they residualized the telecom variable to reduce collinearity.
The authors found that (residualized) incoming telecommunication had a positive effect on human rights scores. Outgoing calls didn’t.
Seems like a reasonable approach. Of course, one could think of other good ways to do it — which would be worth trying — such as normalizing by country size in some way, or dealing with the actual density of calls. Also, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the zeros were all real or might include missing data. Finally, it would be useful to see which countries score high/how. I wondered: Are the paper’s findings general to all cases, or mainly due to a few extreme “basket case” countries like North Korea, which might be outliers?
Anyhow, I was really glad to learn of this interesting paper. It suggests a new direction for thinking about and operationalizing world polity/world society processes. We should definitely be exploring this type of data.