The Department of Government
The Department of Government

T.I.G.E.R. Lab Living Up to Its Acronym

Mon, April 27, 2009

Since Ami Pedahzur came to the Department of Government as an associate professor in 2005, he has been building a program focused around the study of terrorism that reflects certain ideals, goals, and comparative advantages of the department and university in the best of ways. There are four components to this: Collaboration between the department and the university’s Title 6 centers and professional schools; pushing forward undergraduate research; rigorous graduate research; and pursuit of a clear goal – producing cutting-edge, reliable, purposeful research that can be used with confidence to better public policy, and to be the best at producing it. Central to Pedahzur’s efforts is the T.I.G.E.R. Lab – Terrorists, Insurgents, and Guerrillas in Education and Research. Pedahzur brought the T.I.G.E.R. Lab with him from the University of Haifa, and is now focused on making it bigger, stronger, and better.

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies and The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law

Along with Clement Henry, Jason Brownlee, and George Gavrilis, Pedahzur is part of the department’s contingent of affiliates with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the department has an even larger group of fellows at The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, which, in addition to Gavrilis, Henry, and Pedahzur, includes Zoltan Barany, Catherine Boone, James K. Galbraith, Terri Givens, and Peter Trubowitz. Point being, when Pedahzur says he wants to manage the best terrorism and counterterrorism lab in the country by having the University of Texas be the national center for data collection and storage, he is situated in an environment that offers a bridge from the audacity of his vision to reality.

Pushing Forward Undergraduate Research

Cassy Dorff is completing her junior year as a Government major, and, thanks to her involvement with the T.I.G.E.R. Lab, is well on her way to writing a senior thesis through the Department of Government Honors Program, and then off to graduate school. Cassy researches political assassinations, and earlier this month she presented her paper, “What Motivates Political Assassins? – A New Assessment,” as part of an undergraduate poster session at the Midwest Political Science Association annual conference in Chicago, Illinois. An Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the University Co-operative Society and The University of Texas Student Government funded her conference participation. What is so exceptional about Cassy’s research is its methodological awareness. Consistent with the demands of building a leading database, Cassy takes great care defining political assassin, and then insisting on the necessity of robust and complete data as a precondition for drawing valid conclusions.

Cassy speaks about conceptualizing terrorism, defining criteria for what counts as a political assassination, and finding patterns in the data with the sophistication of an advanced graduate student. Her first point of emphasis, for example, is about defining assassination by target selection, not motivation – Cassy wants to explain what motivates political assassinations, and therefore cannot categorize assassinations as political based on a political motivation, but instead on the attributes of who is assassinated. Attending the Midwest conference reinforced Cassy’s desire to attend graduate school and study political science – “I think I found my niche,” she said.

Rigorous Graduate Research

The T.I.G.E.R. Lab began in 1999 when Pedahzur was still at The University of Haifa and working with his then-graduate student Arie Perlinger. Perlinger is now Pedahzur’s main collaborator – their book, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, will be released this year by Columbia University Press, they have already published together, and they have two projects in the works, including a comprehensive analysis of the global Jihad. In 1999, Pedahzur designed a data coding system, gathered a group of 20 students, trained them to identify terrorist events, and sent them to the microfilms, where they made their way through every day in Israeli history, and coded the events according to 66 variables. Since then, the focus has been on developing and broadening this approach. T.I.G.E.R. data are being used by graduate students at The University of Chicago, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. At least weekly, Pedahzur receives an e-mail from someone, somewhere in the world, asking for T.I.G.E.R. data.

Currently, Pedahzur is supervising two Department of Government dissertation projects. Amanda Skuldt is building what will be the most comprehensive dataset on state-sponsored terrorism. Amanda’s database will include the worldwide universe of terrorist events, as she codes her way through all events beginning in 1968 based on 32 observable actions, ranging from providing safe passage on a state’s territory to dispatching officials to participate in a terrorist attack. Susanne Martin’s dissertation investigates the conditions under which political groups employ violence, non-violence, or change strategies. Susanne has already presented her research at several conferences and is preparing an article for publication.

The Eye of the TIGER

For Pedahzur, the goal could not be clearer: To preside over the leading center for the study of terrorism in the country. This will be guided by high-quality scientific work on terrorism, rooted in strong conceptualizing, strong theorizing, correspondence with the top scholars in the field, producing, and making publicly available, the best data in the world, and supporting it all through a steady stream of quality undergraduate and graduate research assistants who are generating journal publications and placing themselves at the top of the field. For all his ambition, Pedahzur is not grandiose: “We are not interested in giving policymakers thoughts and ideas, or anything approaching policy recipes. But, what we will give policymakers is the best data they can find. These data will portray a story, explain processes, and lead to their own conclusions, and with this wealth and depth of knowledge, they can change the world. But, we need to get them the data.”

By Stuart Tendler

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