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United Kingdom Government Python Politics Science

Big Data Attempts To Find Meaning In 40 Years of UK Political Debate (thestack.com) 44

An anonymous reader writes: International researchers have analyzed 40 years of political speeches from the UK Parliament in an effort to move the study of political theory from social science towards the quantitative analysis offered by Big Data analytics techniques. The group used Python to crunch publicly available data from theyworkforyou.com, comprising 3.7 million individual speeches. A few strange trends emerged in this initial experiment, such as the decline of 'health care' as a trending Parliamentary topic, with 'welfare' consistently on the rise, and the decrease of fervent interest in any particular topic during the more pacific years under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
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Big Data Attempts To Find Meaning In 40 Years of UK Political Debate

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The decrease of fervent interest in any particular topic during the more pacific years under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair."

    WHAT??

    Brit here. I recall a few comments on the Miner's Strike, under Mrs. T. Something about the Iraq war under Tony Blair, as well.

    Or does this just show how out-of-touch the 40 years of political speeches were with what people were actually concerned about?

    • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @10:59AM (#50735751) Journal

      I think it means "years of relative economic stability".

      Don't forget that perceptions of economic (in)stability tend to affect political discourse more than any other factor. The 1984 Miner's Strike and the Iraq War excite a lot of emotion in some quarters, but don't forget that Thatcher and Blair respectively went on to win elections after both of them.

      The declines of the 1979-1997 Conservative Government and the 1997-2010 Labour Governments almost certainly had more to do with a combination of general fatigue and factors that threatened economic stability (Black Monday and Europe for the former, the 2007 financial crash for the latter).

      On this basis, the speeches were actually well tuned to what the majority seem to have been concerned about.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @08:27AM (#50734543) Journal

    ... decrease of fervent interest in any particular topic during the more pacific years under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

    I am trying to envision the turn of events that rendered during periods of political stability into this typo for the ages.

  • Political theory?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @08:36AM (#50734581)

    Theres your problem.

    There is nothing scientific about politics.

    Politics are 100% emotion, just like the stock market and the economy.

    These things could be based on sound deterministic things, but they will never be because they all depend on human interaction. You simply can not predict human behavior. Ever. You can make plenty of reasonable accurate generalizations, but there will always be enough people in that generalization who break it horribly and destroy any plans you made based on that generalization.

    • But there are trends, and some of these trends are predictable given the rise of technologies. For example, nowadays social media has made conventional wars between major world powers highly unlikely. Censorship only works for short-duration wars like Desert Storm before the sight of bloodied soldiers and civilians spread through the Internet and turn public opinion against the war.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Censorship only works for short-duration wars like Desert Storm before the sight of bloodied soldiers and civilians spread through the Internet and turn public opinion against the war."

        They are trying to get back the power over the information space through bullshit IP laws and the like, they want to turn the internet back into TV.

        Science on reasoning:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ [youtube.com]

        The (mass surveillance) by the NSA/others and abuse by law enforcement is just more part and parcel of state suppr

      • For example, nowadays social media has made conventional wars between major world powers highly unlikely.

        Hah, pretty funny but you're a few decades late. The correct answer is nuclear weapons, which made full on conflict between major powers essentially unwinnable and thus pointless.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        For example, nowadays social media has made conventional wars between major world powers highly unlikely. Censorship only works for short-duration wars like Desert Storm before the sight of bloodied soldiers and civilians spread through the Internet and turn public opinion against the war.

        Conventional warfare, maybe.

        But look at ISIL. They're savvy at social networking - that's how they recruit vulnerable young people (including Americans and all that) to join their cause.

        Yes, the public is against war - tha

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Thursday October 15, 2015 @10:04AM (#50735179) Homepage

      Oh, there is plenty of political theory and ideology to go around. The problem with this study is that what is said is usually nothing to do with the actual motives.

      The current chancellor is a good example. Bangs on about opportunity for all, fairness, all in it together, party of the working class etc. Yet his policies are mostly designed to benefit rich people and big business. His real ideology is pretty much the opposite of what he says, so any study of his speeches is not going to produce any meaningful results.

      • The current chancellor is a good example. Bangs on about opportunity for all, fairness, all in it together, party of the working class etc.

        All you need is to adjust for perspective - to him 'working people' are the ones who 'work': business men, bankers, venture capitalists etc, not the other kind: manual labourers, people on low income etc, who are just plebs.

        It is of course a remarkable situation the Conservatives are in. On one hand, they won a lot of seats in Parliament, but as the election of Jeremy Corbin shows, a large part of the explanation was probably that a lot of people were disillusioned with Labour. The problem since the Blair y

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @08:39AM (#50734593)
    Prime example of GIGO
  • by Feral Nerd ( 3929873 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @08:41AM (#50734611)

    Big Data Attempts To Find Meaning In 40 Years of UK Political Debate

    Good luck with that....

  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @08:50AM (#50734651)

    Have you ever watched parliament? For as long as I've ever seen it (occasionally through the years on streams), the ratio of deeply ironic statements to sincere ones would make it almost impossible to interpret systematically. Even judging the number of 'harumphs' after a statement, or forced group laughs wouldn't give you a clear clue in that audience.

    It's like trying to judge violence in a group of young apes who do nothing but posture all day, only accidentally actually hitting eachother. It's all a strange mix of false outrage, forced laughter, crude imitation, lies, and accusation of lies. Things get done in a way, but not without a mountain of pagentry and indirection.

    If you want signal from noise in that scenario, you're better off looking at finances, rather than speeches.

    Ryan Fenton

    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      Actually one of the odd rules in parliament is that you cannot (in parliament) accuse another MP of lying. You can do it outside parliament of course, which is why this rule is so dumb.

      • I think it's one of those conventions to maintain some form of order, and it's not a good idea anyway since the accuser looks silly / hysterical.

        It's more or less impossible to accuse someone of lying in the UK as you open yourself up to slander lawsuits unless you can prove malicious intent.

        • you open yourself up to slander lawsuits unless you can prove malicious intent.

          So we can say whatever we're like, as long as we're being malicious?

          I don't think that adds up...

    • >> Even judging the number of 'harumphs' after a statement, or forced group laughs wouldn't give you a clear clue in that audience. I didn't get a harumph out of that guy!
  • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @09:05AM (#50734715) Homepage
    Attempts to find Meaning in 40 Years of UK Political Debate. Good luck with that. The answer isn't even 42, it's probably 'Punch and Judy'.
  • by sandbagger ( 654585 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @09:10AM (#50734743)

    James Hacker: [reading a speech written for him] "We shall of course be reviewing a ... Bernard, this doesn't say anything.

    Bernard Woolley: Oh, thank you , Prime Minister.

    • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @10:44AM (#50735597)

      Heh. The first thing I thought of when I read the headline was a snippet from Asimov's "Foundation":

      When Holk, after two days of steady work, succeeded in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications – in short, all the goo and dribble – he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out."

      "Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn't say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed. There are the assurances you had from your precious Empire."

    • Yes Minister/Prime Minister should be compulsory viewing in schools so people understand the political processes of this great country!
  • The UK's youngest member of parliament had this to say after here first few weeks in the job:

    "So you’re not allowed to clap like an ordinary person, but you’re allowed to bray like a donkey? I mean, see PMQs, especially the Conservative side, they’ve got this weird noise they do. It actually sounds like a drunken mob."
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      I'm mildly surprised that they only realised this once they'd turned up in the place itself. It's pretty obvious from television that they're always shouting each other down.
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      I'd have thought the bray would come more naturally to her, anyway.

  • Maybe they can use big data to find a meaning in life.
  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @02:23PM (#50737511)

    Wouldn't performing a spectrographic analysis on the hot air coming out of these guys' mouthes reveal more quantifiable data?

  • ...would be to look through 40 years of landfill. You'll get the same conclusions and will have contact with less filth.

Moneyliness is next to Godliness. -- Andries van Dam

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