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3/22/2017

1 Introduction

The existing paper Dirty Hands: Government Torture and Terrorism 1 by Ursula Daxecker, a political sci-

ence professor from the University of Amsterdam, explores how variation in the visibility of different torture

techniques affects the likelihood of terrorist backlash, i.e. increased terrorism activity.

The author focuses on two types of torture techniques: scarring torture and stealth torture. The former

leaves lesions or scars on the body and is thus more visible to the public (e.g. whipping, beating), while the

latter is more plausible for the government to deny (e.g. sleep deprivation, waterboarding). After analyzing

the data with negative binomial regression, she concludes that scarring torture produces more terrorist at-

tacks, whereas stealth torture has no statistically significant effect on terrorism.

This is a causal statement, and Daxecker attempts to defend it by elaborating reverse causality and en-

dogeneity in the torture-terrorism relationship both theoretically and empirically. Causation is beyond the

scope of this paper and we are going to examine the association only.

Daxecker also argues that model comparisons support the selection of the negative binomial model. However,

she does not provide any details about the fitting, testing and evaluation process. Whether the unregularized

negative binomial regression (NB2) is the optimal choice is open to doubt. Regularization may help, and

building separate models for zero and non-zero responses might be beneficial.

This paper proceeds as follows. After a brief description of the data, we review Daxeckers proposed model by

inspecting the significance of the torture variables and comparing multiple variants of the negative binomial

regression model. The subsequent section aims to make predictions about the occurence of terrorist attacks

using several machine learning techniques and compare their accuarcies.

1 See http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022002715603766.

1

2 Data Description

The dataset is country-year data of 116 countries from 1996 to 2006, and there are 1, 140 observations. It is

in fact the replication data2 of Daxeckers paper, gathered by combining information from Global Terrorism

Database (GTD), Ill-Treatment and Torture Specific Allegations (ITT SA) by Amnesty International (AI),

World Bank, etc. The only dependent variable is the number of domestic terrorist incidents. Predictors

consist of the two torture variables and other covariates measuring information, institutional and human

rights environment. As Daxecker puts, the predictors are taken at time t 1 rather than time t, so that

the simultaneity bias could be avoided. Natural logarithm is taken on several variables because of their left

skewness. Notations and detailed descriptions (extracted from the existing paper) of the variables are shown

below in Table 1.

Notation Description

Response (time = t)

DV t No. of domestic terrorist incidents. A count variable.

Predictors (time = t 1)

Scarring t1 Logged no. of scarring torture (logarithm is taken after adding one).

Stealtht1 Logged no. of stealth torture (logarithm is taken after adding one).

GDP t1 Logged gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

P opt1 Logged population size.

Dummy variable (1 = Democracy). A continous polity measure is not used

Demt1

here due to multicollinearity concerns between HR and democracy measures.

Durat1 Durability. It is the number of years since a three-point change in polity score.

3-Year moving average of DV at t 1, t 2 and t 3. It accounts for serial

M avgDV t1

correlation.

SpDV t1 Spatial lag of DV . It captures the spatial diffusion of terrorism.

Dummy variable (1 = Restricted). It measures whether AI had difficulty gain-

Restrictt1

ing access to detainees. This is related with the reporting of allegations.

Logged no. of news reports about a country in Reuters Global New Service. It

M ediaExpot1

measures the media reporting environment.

Judit1 An indicator of judicial independence. It is continuous, ranging from 0 to 1.

M ediaF reet1 A measure of freedom of speech and press, taking values 0, 1, or 2.

Othert1 A measure of physical integrity rights violations other than torture.

U nstatedt1 Logged no. of torture allegations with the techniques used unknown.

2

The correlation matrix between the 14 predictors shows there is no strong correlation between the two torture

variables and other covariates, except for unstated. This justifies the selection of the torture variables as

predictors. One may have noticed that scarring torture and stealth torture are moderately correlated (their

correlation is around 0.7), but Daxecker has addressed this issue by attributing it to reporting bias of AI,

the organization that is responsible for recording the torture allegations, rather than any theoretical logic.

In fact, the reason to include Restrict and M ediaExpo as variables is to account for the issue.

3

3 Reviewing Daxeckers Model

Daxeckers paper defines 4 models with various number of predictors included. For simplicity, we limit our

study to the one with the least number of variables, the base model, and the one with all 14 variables, the

full model. They are outlined as follows:

Base Model

Full Model

We start by fitting all the data with negative binomial regression (NB2) and inspect the significance of the

torture variables. NB2 is a natural choice since the response is a count variable without upper limit, and it

allows for over-dispersion, imposing fewer constraints than Poisson regression.

As observations of the same country in different years are not independent, the standard errors directly

reported by the statistical package are biased (Column 2 and 4 of Table 2, in parentheses). Adjustments are

made to get clustered standard errors (Column 3 and 5 of Table 2, in parentheses). As one can see, standard

error tends to grow after the adjustment, leading to the reduction in the significance level of the coefficient

estimate.

Although it is nice to see that stealth torture remains not significant in all cases, it makes Daxeckers

conclusion questionable that the significance of scarring torture (almost) vanish in both the base and full

model after the adjustment. In her paper she argues that the reported standard errors are clustered, but it

still seems that there is a big gap in numerical value between her calculation (Base 0.081, Full 0.095) and

ours (Base 0.136, Full 0.138) in the standard error of the scarring variable. This is far from enough to deny

her findings, but at least it means that her result is not fully replicable.

4

Table 2: Coefficients of Negative Binomial Regression (All Observations, Base & Full)

Base Model Full Model

Our Our Our Our

Daxeckers Daxeckers

(Before Adj) (Clustered) (Before Adj) (Clustered)

-1.089 -0.622 -0.622 -2.569* -2.697*** -2.697*

(Intercept)

(1.062) (0.474) (0.863) (1.097) (0.576) (1.073)

0.039** 0.040*** 0.040*** 0.020** 0.022*** 0.022***

M avgDV t1

(0.010) (0.002) (0.002) (0.006) (0.002) (0.002)

0.047* 0.033*** 0.033*** 0.053** 0.045*** 0.045***

SpDV t1

(0.022) (0.010) (0.009) (0.019) (0.009) (0.009)

0.271** 0.259*** 0.259 0.220* 0.156* 0.156

Scarringt1

(0.081) (0.075) (0.136) (0.095) (0.076) (0.138)

-0.004 0.037 0.037 0.081 0.103 0.103

Stealtht1

(0.101) (0.090) (0.113) (0.087) (0.092) (0.092)

-0.703** -0.818*** -0.818***

Restrictt1

(0.227) (0.224) (0.226)

0.429** 0.262*** 0.262***

M ediaExpot1

(0.109) (0.060) (0.066)

1.359* 1.645*** 1.645*

Judit1

(0.646) (0.407) (0.812)

0.324* 0.288** 0.288*

M ediaF reet1

(0.147) (0.099) (0.131)

0.327** 0.333*** 0.333***

Othert1

(0.068) (0.042) (0.071)

-0.049 0.008 0.008

U nstatedt1

(0.096) (0.079) (0.103)

0.005 -0.020 -0.020 -0.320* -0.228** -0.228

GDP t1

(0.129) (0.060) (0.111) (0.145) (0.077) (0.118)

0.333** 0.318*** 0.318** 0.012 0.139* 0.139

P opt1

(0.102) (0.045) (0.114) (0.128) (0.061) (0.132)

-0.054 -0.013 -0.013 -0.259 -0.320 -0.320

Demt1

(0.266) (0.133) (0.310) (0.347) (0.179) (0.546)

0.002 0.001 0.001 -0.002 -0.002 -0.002

Durat1

(0.004) (0.002) (0.004) (0.003) (0.002) (0.003)

a

Significance Codes: 0 *** 0.001 ** 0.01 * 0.05 . 0.1 1

5

3.2 Comparisons of Various Regression Models

In this section, the focus is 5 different variants of negative binomial regression. They are:

Tuning parameter () is chosen by 10-fold cross-validation.

Tuning parameter () is chosen by 10-fold cross-validation.

Hurdle Model

Zero-model: binomial with logit link; Count-model: truncated negative binomial with log link.

Zero-Inflated Model

Zero-model: binomial with logit link; Count-model: negative binomial with log link.

To make comparisons, we need to partition the data into training and testing sets. Models are to be fitted

on the training set, and their performance are to be evaluated on the test set. Before doing that, we have

noticed some unreasonably large fitted values in the previous negative binomial regression (up to 8.58 106

in base model and 4.15 104 in full model). Since the range of the response is only from 0 to 576, this

indicates the existence of outliers and the need to delete them.

For outlier detection, we only consider 7 (nearly) continuous variables, M avgDv, SpDV , Scarring, Stealth,

M ediaExpo, GDP and P op. Iteratively 57 outliers have been removed, which accounts for 5% of the data,

and now we have 1083 observations in total. In each iteration, the Mahalanobis distance of all remaining

points is computed and the data point with the highest distance is deleted.

6

Recall that if data points are multivariate normal, their squared Mahalanobis distance follows a Chi-squared

distribution. The QQ-chisq plots before and after the cleaning have demonstrated the improved multivariate

normality of the continuous variables.

Since different observations for the same country tends to be non-independent, we do cluster level randomiza-

tion to split the data. The ratio of training data to test data is 739 : 344, approximately 2 : 1. Performances

on test data are evaluated according to two measures: the mean squared error (MSE) and the log-likelihood.

MSE is a natural choice for linear regression, which is fitted by minimizing the residual sum of squares, but

it might not be suitable for our case. For generalized linear models, e.g. negative binomial regression, as

they are fitted by maximizing the likelihood, we introduce the log-likelihood of the test set as a measure.

NB2 NB2 LASSO NB2 L2 Hurdle Zero-Inflated

-0.133 -2.190** 0.944 4.036* 1.306

(Intercept) -0.401 -0.135

(0.903) (0.817) (1.125) (1.757) (0.931)

0.083*** 0.221*** 0.073*** -1.028*** 0.066***

M avgDV t1 0.081 0.076

(0.007) (0.046) (0.011) (0.283) (0.007)

0.038*** 0.024 0.029* -0.011 0.023*

SpDV t1 0.032 0.035

(0.011) (0.018) (0.014) (0.051) (0.011)

0.196 0.139 0.158 0.055 0.163

Scarringt1 0.137 0.183

(0.134) (0.131) (0.152) ( 0.300) (0.122)

-0.058 0.147 -0.107 -0.560 -0.117

Stealtht1 - -0.021

(0.115) (0.151) (0.113) (0.361) (0.096)

-0.096 0.080 -0.210 -0.451 -0.190

GDP t1 -0.042 -0.086

(0.116) (0.098) (0.149) (0.246) (0.129)

0.310*** 0.187* 0.304* 0.059 0.273*

P opt1 0.300 0.301

(0.076) (0.087) (0.148) (0.175) (0.110)

-0.324 -0.222 -0.169 0.368 -0.123

Demt1 -0.311 -0.309

(0.301) (0.238) (0.325) (0.501) (0.304)

0.002 0.002 0.002 0.006 0.003

Durat1 - 0.002

(0.003) (0.003) (0.004) (0.007) (0.003)

a

Significance Codes: 0 *** 0.001 ** 0.01 * 0.05 . 0.1 1. Clustered SEs are reported in parentheses.

Table 3 and Table 4 show the estimated coefficients and their significance. For technical reason we cannot

get the standard errors and p-values of the regularized models: the R package only reports the coefficient

estimates, while bootstrapping fails due to potential memory leakage in the model-fitting function.

7

Table 4: Coefficients of Various Regression Models (Training Set, Full)

NB2 NB2 LASSO NB2 L2 Hurdle Zero-Inflated

-0.823 -2.215* 0.248 5.820* 0.862

(Intercept) -1.256 -1.272

(1.082) (1.005) (1.329) (2.565) (1.048)

0.073*** 0.188*** 0.065*** -1.248** 0.064***

M avgDV t1 0.073 0.065

(0.008) (0.044) (0.011) (0.469) (0.010)

0.049*** 0.035* 0.040** -0.031 0.033**

SpDV t1 0.039 0.042

(0.012) (0.017) (0.014) (0.062) (0.012)

0.082 0.116 0.098 0.592 0.183

Scarringt1 0.090 0.110

(0.124) (0.143) (0.162) (0.824) (0.134)

0.046 0.212 -0.014 -0.823 -0.033

Stealtht1 - 0.030

(0.105) (0.143) (0.116) (0.748) (0.090)

-0.761** -0.474 -0.689 -16.38*** -0.804**

Restrictt1 -0.506 -0.663

(0.245) (0.548) (0.373) (1.878) 0.293

0.287*** 0.315** 0.125 -0.428 0.092

M ediaExpot1 0.224 0.191

0.072 (0.116) (0.120) (0.506) (0.104)

0.857 0.041 1.026 -0.371 0.712

Judit1 - 0.429

(0.675) (0.720) (0.801) (1.785) (0.713)

-0.037 -0.045 -0.040 0.430 -0.011

M ediaF reet1 - 0.009

(0.139) (0.156) 0.191 (0.524) (0.158)

0.158* 0.127 0.112 -0.452 0.077

Othert1 0.134 0.146

(0.068) (0.068) (0.070) (0.302) (0.061)

0.021 -0.092 0.013 -0.391 -0.075

U nstatedt1 - 0.017

(0.118) (0.180) (0.114) (1.042) (0.130)

-0.300* -0.159 -0.306 -0.346 -0.303*

GDP t1 -0.146 -0.161

(0.137) (0.160) (0.160) (0.465) (0.144)

0.061 -0.079 0.203 0.876 0.265

P opt1 0.090 0.140

(0.107) (0.123) (0.188) (0.885) (0.167)

-0.329 -0.010 -0.351 -0.291 -0.255

Demt1 -0.120 -0.273

(0.464) (0.353) (0.423) (0.654) (0.384)

-0.001 0.000 0.001 0.005 0.001

Durat1 - -

(0.003) (0.003) (0.004) (0.011) (0.003)

a

Significance Codes: 0 *** 0.001 ** 0.01 * 0.05 . 0.1 1. Clustered SEs are reported in parentheses.

8

Note that scarring torture is significant in none of the fitted models, which again cast doubt on the validity

of the proposed significant association between scaring torture and terrorism.

The performances of the fitted models are demonstrated in Table 5, from which one can tell that the per-

formances of zero-inflated model and hurdle stand out from the other threes. Moreover, the plots of the

distribution of true and expected counts on the test set convince us that zero-inflated model slightly out-

performs hurdle. So a mini-summary here is that Daxecker should have considered fitting the data using

zero-inflated model instead of NB2. She may has chosen NB2 because it is parsimonious, though.

NB2 NB2 LASSO NB2 L2 Hurdle Zero-Inflated

MSE, Base 1244.210 963.461 664.399 576.351 465.510

MSE, Full 1651.515 1175.452 580.492 502.261 590.999

Log-likelihood, Base -751.442 -747.138 -750.219 -724.504 -727.535

Log-likelihood, Full -738.266 -736.624 -736.948 -713.698 -725.249

9

3.3 Principal Component Analysis

Since most variables are non-significant in the regression models of the previous section, we want to see if the

dimension of the predictors in the full model can be reduced through principal component analysis (PCA).

As is illustrated in the plot above, the variances of the first two principle components (PCs) take up most

of the total variance. In fact, sum of their variances accounts for 54% of the overall variance. This indicates

that they contain a considerable amount of information in the whole dataset.

PC1 PC2

M avgDV -0.0397471 -0.3195717

SpDV -0.0719273 -0.0604280

Scarring -0.1818698 -0.3676354

Stealth -0.1215768 -0.4043683

Restrict -0.0678978 -0.1650857

M ediaExpo 0.1918648 -0.4075648

Judi 0.4553516 -0.1161575

M ediaF ree 0.3388678 -0.0325676

Other -0.3766586 -0.1506809

U nstated -0.2489377 -0.3486599

GDP 0.3805943 -0.2110718

P op -0.0576056 -0.3928653

Dem 0.3886246 -0.0880870

Dura 0.2806228 -0.1916120

To interpret the PCs, we take a careful look at their factor loadings. From Table 6, it can be easily seen that

the first PC puts emphasis mainly on variables like Judi, M ediaF ree, Dem and GDP , which summarizes the

overall development level of a country. The second PC puts much of its emphasis on Scarring and Stealth,

which describes the overall torture level of a country.

10

4 Binary Classification Using Machine Learning

In this section, we aim to make predictions about the occurrence of terrorist attacks using the variables from

the replication data.

As whether there are terrorist attacks is of higher practical importance than the specific number of ter-

rorism incidents, we simplify our problem to a binary classification case. The response variable (label) is an

indicator defined by Yt = I {DVt > 0}. Yt = 1 means that there exist terrorist attacks within the country in

year t, while Yt = 0 means no terrorist attacks in that year. Similar to the regression problem, Yt is predicted

based on the independent variables at time t 1.

To classify the data we consider 5 different machine learning techniques and 3 different classes of variables.

The classification methods are:

Among them there are both discriminant models (SVM, Logistic) and generative models (LDA, QDA), which

makes it possible for us to compare between the two philosophy.

M avgDV , SpDV , Scarring, Stealth, GDP and P op

M avgDV , SpDV , Scarring, Stealth, Restrict, M ediaExpo, Judi, Other, GDP and P op

M avgDV , SpDV , Scarring, Stealth, Restrict, M ediaExpo, Judi, M ediaF ree, Other, U nstated,

GDP , P op, Dem and Dura

Following the same data splitting as Section 3.2.2, we fit the models on the training set and evaluate their

performances on the test set. The base rate of the two classes in test set is 172:172, or 1:1. The training and

test accuracies are displayed in the coming section.

11

4.2 Performance Evaluation

From Table 7, we can see that all five classification methods perform quite well in prediction with a test accu-

racy of at least 67.4%. The highest test accuracy 74.7% appears in logistic regression with Class 1 variables.

Besides, SVM with radial kernel tends to outperform SVM with linear kernel. And QDA is consistently

better than LDA, implying that the equal-covariance-matrix assumption of the two classes does not hold.

Note that the test accuracies for the 3 variable classes are quite similar, which means that the variables

within Class 1 contains most of the information, and thus it is good enough to make classification by using

them only.

Training Test

SVM (Linear) 0.664 0.713 0.717 0.674 0.674 0.674

SVM (Radial) 0.744 0.748 0.770 0.732 0.718 0.721

Logistic 0.739 0.731 0.731 0.747 0.706 0.709

QDA 0.681 0.700 0.721 0.718 0.724 0.724

LDA 0.686 0.709 0.714 0.689 0.669 0.674

We further check the effectiveness of the classification methods by looking at the Receiver Operator Char-

acteristic (ROC) curve and area under the curve (AUC). From the ROC plots, one can see that the five

classification methods have very good trade-off between sensitivity and specificity, as all the curves are close

to the left and top borders.

Taking the AUC as a measure, we can see that SVM with radial kernel now becomes the optimal meth-

ods for all three variable classes, while logistic regression is the second best. This provides a slightly different

perspective from the test accuracies. Moreover, Table 8 still supports the view that variables not included in

Class 1 add little accuracy in predictions.

Class 1 Class 2 Class 3

SVM (Linear) 0.7361 0.7549 0.7361

SVM (Radial) 0.7925 0.7944 0.7981

Logistic 0.7871 0.7944 0.7926

QDA 0.7695 0.7817 0.7712

LDA 0.7635 0.7732 0.7735

12

13

5 Discussion

In this paper we attempts to replicate the significant relationship between scarring torture and terrorism pro-

posed by Daxecker. It turns out that in negative binomial regression the significance of the scarring variable

is achieved only when non-clustered standard errors are used. This undermines the validity of her conclu-

sion. Furthermore, comparisons between different regression models have shown that Daxeckers selection of

unregularized negative binomial regression (NB2) might be sub-optimal in terms of MSE and log-likelhood.

The zero-inflated model could be a better choice.

The second part of the paper concentrates on the predictions of whether there will be terrorist attacks

given several variables from the previous year, a binary classification problem. The performances of logistic

regression and SVM using radial kernel stand out according to test errors and AUC, respectively.

For further improvement, we may consider adding more variables (e.g. Polity score) to the model and

inspect whether they contribute to the explanation of the response, as well as their relationship with the

torture variables.

14

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