Can crowdsourcing decipher the roots of armed conflict?

Stephanie Kanowitz at GCN: “Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas at Dallas are proving that there’s accuracy, not just safety, in numbers. The Correlates of War project, a long-standing effort that studies the history of warfare, is now experimenting with crowdsourcing as a way to more quickly and inexpensively create a global conflict database that could help explain when and why countries go to war.

The goal is to facilitate the collection, dissemination and use of reliable data in international relations, but a byproduct has emerged: the development of technology that uses machine learning and natural language processing to efficiently, cost-effectively and accurately create databases from news articles that detail militarized interstate disputes.

The project is in its fifth iteration, having released the fourth set of Militarized Dispute (MID) Data in 2014. To create those earlier versions, researchers paid subject-matter experts such as political scientists to read and hand code newswire articles about disputes, identifying features of possible militarized incidents. Now, however, they’re soliciting help from anyone and everyone — and finding the results are much the same as what the experts produced, except the results come in faster and with significantly less expense.

As news articles come across the wire, the researchers pull them and formulate questions about them that help evaluate the military events. Next, the articles and questions are loaded onto the Amazon Mechanical Turk, a marketplace for crowdsourcing. The project assigns articles to readers, who typically spend about 10 minutes reading an article and responding to the questions. The readers submit the answers to the project researchers, who review them. The project assigns the same article to multiple workers and uses computer algorithms to combine the data into one annotation.

A systematic comparison of the crowdsourced responses with those of trained subject-matter experts showed that the crowdsourced work was accurate for 68 percent of the news reports coded. More important, the aggregation of answers for each article showed that common answers from multiple readers strongly correlated with correct coding. This allowed researchers to easily flag the articles that required deeper expert involvement and process the majority of the news items in near-real time and at limited cost….(more)”