Creating Custom Event Data Without Dictionaries: A Bag-of-Tricks | Andy Halterman

Creating Custom Event Data Without Dictionaries: A Bag-of-Tricks


Event data, or structured records of “who did what to whom” that are automatically extracted from text, is an important source of data for scholars of international politics. The high cost of developing new event datasets, especially using automated systems that rely on hand-built dictionaries, means that most researchers draw on large, pre-existing datasets such as ICEWS rather than developing tailor-made event datasets optimized for their specific research question. This paper describes a “bag of tricks” for efficient, custom event data production, drawing on recent advances in natural language processing (NLP) that allow researchers to rapidly produce customized event datasets. The paper introduces techniques for training an event category classifier with active learning, identifying actors and the recipients of actions in text using large language models and standard machine learning classifiers and pretrained “question-answering” models from NLP, and resolving mentions of actors to their Wikipedia article to categorize them. We describe how these techniques produced the new POLECAT global event dataset that is intended to replace ICEWS, along with examples of how scholars can quickly produce smaller, custom event datasets. We publish example code and models to implement our new techniques.

ISA 2023
Andy Halterman
Andy Halterman
Assistant Professor, MSU Political Science

My research interests include natural language processing, text as data, and subnational armed conflict