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Suck on this, Eurovision!

by John Holbo on May 26, 2008

Eurovision isn’t really my bailiwick but you can learn history reading about this stuff. From Reuters UK:

“Other countries got support from their neighbours. Germany didn’t get any support at all from its neighbours.” …

“Russia won thanks to considerable help from its neighbours. The Russian song wasn’t bad but it wasn’t any better than the rest.”

Even though Germany shares borders with nine countries, it has a turbulent past – having invaded most of these nations.

I guess this is Russia’s reward for always being nice to its neighbors. Discuss.

Or watch some classic J-pop. This one is from the 3rd episode of “Pink Lady and Jeff”, a show that perhaps did not fail due to lingering resentment about that Pearl Harbor business. This is “Chameleon Army”, sung to the tune of “Rawhide”, give or take. (Note the changing colors of the outfits.) And “Monster”. Very Discozilla Chic. The ladies are still looking good. Here they are in 2004, remaking “Pepper Keibu”, which is – I think – Japanese for “Viva Las Vegas”. I couldn’t think of a good title for a Pink Lady post, so Belle suggested that one. How do you like it? (Honestly, until an hour ago we had never even heard of Pink Lady.)

As longtime readers will know, CT is the Internet’s premier research institute for the political sociology of the Eurovision Song Contest. In the recent past, for example, we have warned the econophysics community about the dangers of simple extrapolation from Eurovision voting blocs to national comities.

It appears that recent events have borne us out. I probably shouldn’t be treating this as an “and finally” item, as the Serbian newspaper Danas is comparing it to the 1990 Serbia/Croatia football riot, which was a precursor to the Balkan wars. But I mean really; surely to god, even in the Balkans, nobody is going to kill their neighbours over Eurovision, are they?

Quick Eurovision Followup

by Kieran Healy on May 18, 2004

Nottingham today, and I eventually found wireless access in the lobby of a rather better hotel than the one I’m staying in. Just time to note that, in the light of last weekend’s Eurovision song contest, my network analysis of voting is now both confirmed and redundant.[1] The introduction of the Eastern European bloc of countries has had striking structural and cultural effects. Structurally, political voting for neighbors is now blatantly obvious love fest and openly commented on by the returning officers for each country. When Russia its douze points the Russian announcer said highest marks went “to our great friends, Ukraine.” “We used to be so close,” Terry Wogan commented on the BBC. Culturally, the “Euro Heritage” type song also seems to be eclipsed and the contest has returned to its roots as a festival of tat and pap, thanks mainly to the fashion and musical tastes of the breakaway republics and former Yugoslavian countries. From sub-Britney to proto-Xena to quasi-Miami Vice, there’s clearly no sleaze like Balkan sleaze.

fn1. That was real data, by the way. I abused it but I didn’t make it up.

…but mostly circuses

by niamh on November 3, 2011

The Irish government must be disappointed that the Presidential election, held on 27 October, is now over, with the election of the Labour Party’s candidate Michael D Higgins as the country’s ninth President. We will now start to notice once again that unemployment is over 14%, we are still in the grip of austerity, and a new and even nastier budget is on the way. But for weeks on end, news coverage was dominated by the race for this almost entirely ceremonial office, while the government’s standing in the polls stayed quite high.

Long ago we could depend on having a pretty boring Presidential election contest involving a largely tribal, party-political choice between two elderly men. But the last two Presidents, both women, both lawyers, both academics from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and both strangely enough called Mary, transformed the office. Mary Robinson and Mary MacAleese adopted big, symbolic, non-party-political themes for their campaigns –women’s empowerment (‘Mná na hÉireann’), outreach to the diaspora, overcoming communal divisions, encouraging civil society organizations.

This year, the election attracted an unprecedented seven candidates. This colourful group included a prominent gay rights activist, a former Eurovision song contest winner, an ex-IRA leader, a poet-politician given to wearing floral ties, and a businessman best known for his role in the Irish version of the reality-TV programme Dragons’ Den (or Shark Tank in the USA).

What’s been especially striking is that several of the leading candidates embodied some issue that has been difficult or traumatic in recent Irish public life. And one after the other, what they had hoped to use as their main selling-point turned out to be their downfall. What follows is probably mostly for Irish political junkies, so I will put the rest below the fold…

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Don’t scrap the squiggle!

by Daniel on October 17, 2008

Nate Silver wants to scrap the “squiggly” audience reaction dials during Presidential debates. My instinctive reaction to this is “step away from the bacon, son, leave the bacon out of this. I love the crawler and think that it really helps you understand what’s going on in the debates – in particular, it helps you take one step back from your own prejudices. It’s also just about the only input into debate commentary that comes more or less unmediated; the anonymous “undecided” focus group participants might be dumb or irrational, but they’re at least not pushing an agenda. Raw data is always good to have – although Nate’s sample size points are well made, I actually doubt how much potential there is for practical error to be introduced, given that one doesn’t actually look to the crawler for straightforward yes/no answers to questions, just for an overall impression of how the participants are going over.

My only complaint about the crawler is that CNN removes it from the screen when the debate finishes. I absolutely wish that they continued to show the favourable/unfavourable reactions of the dial-testing focus group to the talking heads on the news afterwards; you’d be able to see the worm plunging every time Wolf Blitzer opened his gob.. I suspect a few uncomfortable home truths would arise out of that one. In general, more new programs should use dial-testing crawlers. And not just news, thinking about it; why doesn’t Big Brother have a crawler, since it’s also basically a popularity contest? Or the Eurovision? Chat shows would be great entertainment if you could see boring or vain starlets bleeding their popularity away in real time. At this precise moment, I can’t think of a single program on TV that wouldn’t be improved by having a dial-test at the bottom of the screen.

Deadly data in the transit lounge

by Daniel on April 19, 2007

Really rather shameful. Riyadh Lafta, one of the co-authors of the Johns Hopkins/Lancet studies on excess deaths in Iraq, has been refused a transit visa for his flight to Vancouver to make a presentation on alarming increases in child cancer. He was apparently meant to be passing on some documentation to some other medical researchers who are going to write a paper with him on the subject; the presentation was happening in Vancouver because Dr. Lafta had already been refused a visa to visit the USA.

What on earth can be in this data? Presumably the UK and US authorities have reasoned that Dr Lafta is an ex Ba’ath Party member (as he would have had to have been to hold a position in the Iraqi Health Ministry), and thus the data he is carrying is not really about child cancer at all. Perhaps he is involved in some sort of “Boys from Brazil” type plot to clone an army of super-soldiers from Saddam Hussein’s DNA, and for this reason the UK cannot be exposed to this deadly information for even four hours in the Heathrow transit lounge.

The alternative – that Dr Lafta is being intentionally prevented from travelling in order to hush up his research on post-war deaths (research which even the Foreign Office have now more or less given up on trying to pretend isn’t broadly accurate), or to hush up the news about paediatric cancer for political convenience – is too horrible to contemplate. I’d note that there isn’t an election on in the USA at present, so the denialist crowd can shove that little slur up their backsides this time too.

(thanks to Tim Lambert as always)

In semi-related news, and with apologies to the person who gave me the tip for taking so long to post it, it appears that Professor Michael Spagat, the author of the “main street bias” critique, has a bit of previous form when it comes to making poorly substantiated and highly inflammatory statements about other people’s research. His involvement with the general issue came about because he’d been using some of the IBC data in support of a power law hypothesis[1] about the scaling of violent deaths. This carried on from previous work he’d done on Colombia, where he had also defended his own somewhat tendentious interpretation on the data by slagging off Human Rights Watch. I sense something of a pattern here; I noted in a previous post that although the “main street bias” critique appeared in the Lancet colloquium on the Burnham et al paper, Prof. Spagat himself did not, and I thought at the time it might be because of this habit.

[1] And one of Prof Spagat’s co-authors on the main street bias paper, and a few others in the power law of violence series was Neil Johnson of Oxford University, who was also a co-author of that paper about the Eurovision Song Contest that we had a go at a while ago, and so the circle of minor irritation is complete.

Who supports whom?

by Chris Bertram on July 2, 2006

It was interesting to watch England’s defeat in a bar in Dublin. The locals were plainly pleased with the result, and so were—on the whole—RTE’s studio panel. But I rather got the impression that the anti-Englishness was more for form and tradition’s sake than based in any deep feelings of hostility. Contrast that with the Scots. I just wouldn’t have felt comfortable (or safe) to cheer England on in Glasgow.

I had a chat with an Estonian philosopher on the subject, which revealed a couple of interesting data points. First, that Estonians don’t feel anything like the degree of sporting antagonism to the Russians that you’d expect (she found the Scottish feeling about the English mystifying). Second, she was rather hoping that the Germans would do well. I’d hypothesized the day before that no-one except the Germans themselves would be supporting their team (with the possible exception of Austrians and the odd relic of a Nietzschean colony in Paraguay). It seems I was wrong: Estonians will happily cheer for the Germans. (The English, on the other hand, backed Argentina against Germany to the last, despite a recentish war and some notable grudge matches between England and Argentina.)

There are clearly some patterns out there reminiscent of those typical of the Eurovision song contest. (Maybe a Finnish team composed of axe-wielding lunatics in latex masks would get widely supported.) So which other countries do your compatriots support? And which do they have an “anyone but X” policy towards?

Dr. Death and the Tooth Fairy

by Harry on May 19, 2006

Any of you who wonder what we are going on about when we talk about the Eurovision Song Contest, can spend an hour learning about its complete history here (complete with an interview with the marvelous Dana).

I used to be homesick all the time. Now, it is only when I realise that I cannot watch the greatest living Irishman presenting Eurovision on TV.

Isolated social networkers

by Eszter Hargittai on May 19, 2005

Some physicists have come out with a paper on the Eurovision song contest. Of course, we at CT like to be ahead of the curve and thanks to Kieran’s ingenuity reported similar findings over a year ago. So much for this being “new research”.

There has been much excitement about and focus on social networks in the past few years ranging from social networking sites to several high-profile books on the topic.

Interestingly, much of the buzz about recent work covers research by physicists. It’s curious how physicists have expanded their research agenda to cover social phenomena. I thought their realm was the physical world. Of course, since social phenomena are extremely complex to study, as a social scientist, I certainly welcome the extra efforts put into this field of inquiry.

What is less welcomed is watching people reinvent the wheel. Sure, partly it’s an ego thing. But more importantly, it’s unfortunate if the overall goal is scientific progress. Much of the recent work in this area by physicists has completely ignored decades worth of work by social scientists. If we really do live in such a networked world where information is so easy to access, how have these researchers managed to miss all the existing relevant scholarship? Recently Kieran pointed me to an informative graph published by Lin Freeman in his recent book on The Development of Social Network Analysis:


People whose overall work focuses on social networks are represented by white dots, physicists by black ones, others by grey circles. As is clear on the image, the worlds exist in isolation from each other. It would be interesting to see year-of-publication attached to the nodes to see the progression of work.

I have been meaning to write about all of this for a while, but John Scott from the Univ. Essex addressed these issues quite well in some notes he sent to INSNA’s SOCNET mailing list a few months ago so I will just reproduce those here. (I do so with permission.)

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Fingerprints

by Kieran Healy on May 14, 2004

My post about voting networks in the Eurovision led to a followup from Danyel Fisher, a grad student at Irvine who studies social networks. His weblog is has lots of interesting stuff, including a better-informed version of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while about fingerprint databases. When the U.S. announced that it was going to fingerprint visitors entering the country, I began to wonder when the vast size of these databases was going to run up against the problem of false positives. Although we think of fingerprints as unique, the matching process is prone to error (like everything) and, for a large enough scale, your prints may be essentially identical to someone else’s. Daniel’s post links to a story where exactly this happened, in the case of the Spanish investigation into the train bombings. A perfect match turned up in Portland, Oregon.

Danyel links to a paper On the Individuality of Fingerprints (pdf). I also know of—but haven’t read—Simon Cole’s Suspect Identities, a study of the emergence and institutionalization of standards for fingerprinting.

Torture of a different kind

by Kieran Healy on May 13, 2004

Remember to watch the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you have no idea what this is, you can read my primer on the subject from last year.

Update: Never let it be said that the tools of empirical social science are not abused on this website. I decided to see whether my prejudices about the geopolitics of the Eurovision were empirically confirmable. To this end, I dug up data on voting patterns in the Eurovision from 1975 to 1999. (From a B and B in Stirling, too. If only all social science data were this easily available.) Confining ourselves to a group of countries who competed during (almost) all these years, we can aggregate their voting scores into a directed graph representing their preferences for one another’s songs over the years. Given that Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations. We then abuse the tools of network analysis to see how the voting patterns cluster. And to think Drezner got published in Slate for calculating a correlation coefficient.

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