As usual I think Bill is brilliant, but in this case I have a higher opinion of peacekeeping interventions, in small part due to my experience in Liberia, and in large part because of the work of scholars like Page Fortna and her new book, Does Peacekeeping Work?
Now I see that Andrew Gelman, a Columbia professor and blogger, has made Page’s argument picture-perfect. From his excellent blog:
Here’s the graph (which I made from Page’s data when she spoke in our seminar a few years ago):
The red points are countries with peacekeeping, the black points are countries without, and the y-axis represents how long the countries have gone so far without a return of the conflict.
One of the best things about Page’s book is that she tries to investigate the (obvious) selection problem that could be driving the result: namely peacekeeping missions tackling the easiest conflicts. It’s difficult to measure, but her evidence actually points in the opposite direction: peacekeepers pick the tougher cases. If anything, we may be underestimating the effect of peacekeeping.
Page took a shot at a question that eludes easy causal analysis, and shows that with careful case study and thoughtful statistics, you can make an important and convincing argument. In this spirit, my favorite part of Andrew’s post is the last bit:
Easterly also writes, “To a social scientist, the world is a big laboratory.” I would alter this to “observatory.” To me, a laboratory evokes images of test tubes and scientific experiments, whereas for me (and, I think, for most quantitative social scientists), the world is something that we gather data on and learn about rather than directly manipulate. Laboratory and field experiments are increasingly popular, sure, but I still don’t see them as prototypical social science.