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Regular version of the site

LCSR Summer School 2012: Results and Plans

The HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research summer school on ‘Causal models and structural equations’ has just finished in Zelenogorsk. The Laboratory director, Eduard Ponarin, shared his impressions about the school and told us about the LCSR’s plans for developing the school...

Dr. Ponarin, what is your opinion about the school in general, what are your impressions?

Personally, I think it went extremely well. It seems to me that the researchers were able to master a pretty complicated method of statistical analysis within a short time. Presentations of models created by the participants using their own data and structural equations were scheduled for the last day, and I was surprised by how well they managed it.

Maybe the program seemed to be too full of content because this is because the event was attended not only by participants of our research network, but also by people who were focused on learning structural equations. We were also discussing  projects which touch upon subjects slightly different from the ones which are of higher priority for the Laboratory. This took some time; on the other hand, it was useful for those who presented these projects. They received feedback, advice and comments from high-level specialists. I hope this will contribute to their professional development.

Do you think any of the participants might become an associated researcher at LCSR in the future?

Potentially yes. Judite Goncalves showed herself to be a strong researcher. Her project about the effects of home care policy on health care use in Switzerland is comparative in general, although it is based on national data. I should also mention some participants from Russia and the CIS: Irina Vartanova from Saint-Petersburg State University, Julia Sereda from Ukraine. They are strong researchers with whom it would be interesting to work.

How did you come up with the idea about structural equations? Why this method was chosen to be taught at the school this year?

Actually, it was planned from the very beginning of the Laboratory’s work. Our first school was devoted to multilevel models. Since the LCSR is engaged in cross-country comparisons, it is impossible to work without multilevel models. They are the main statistical instrument for such research, making it possible to analyze variation on both country and individual levels.

The second stage of the necessary technical skills for research into the LCSR’s topics is structural equation modeling. It is a contemporary method which lets us verify the scales we use. Scholars who use international databases such as the World Values Survey often construct sum indices. A number of assumptions are usually made when such indices are constructed, for example, about the equal weighting of all variables; but this is not always valid. In order to check how correct our assumptions are in each specific case, confirmatory factor analysis has to be used. In order to observe relations between latent variables, structural equations are necessary. We were focusing exactly  on these methods at the recent summer school.

Next year, if everything goes according to plan, we expect to hold a summer school on multilevel structural equation modeling so that we can summarize the experience of our first and second schools.

The program of the School included guest lectures delivered by some prominent scholars. Can you tell us about them?

From the methodological point of view, the most attractive lecture for me was the lecture by Professor Duelmer. It was devoted to methodological issues of testing the modernization theory developed by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel (2005). He used a very sophisticated approach, namely, multilevel structural equations. The general results of the analysis presented by Duelmer corroborated the main postulates of modernization theory. However, some aspects of the latter were not confirmed. In particular, Duelmer showed that societies were aligned on the global cultural map more clearly along a diagonal that reflects economic development, so disturbances by cultural zones appeared to be much less important than Inglehart supposed.

Professor Schmidt’s talk about his study of value diversity in Europe using the latent class approach was also very impressive. He criticized both Inglehart’s theory and Duelmer’s empirical results from Shalom Schwartz’s basic human values theory’s point of view. I think it was very exciting that these outstanding scholars discussed such influential theories and also showed the participants how their claims should be supported by statistical tools. As for me, the methodological dispute between Schmidt and Duelmer after the presentation of the latter was the highlight of the school!

— Speaking about your expectations before the beginning of the school, do you think it turned out to be better or worse than you expected?

First of all, I enjoyed the location very much. Zelenogorsk was wonderful. Concerning the organization of the school the only problem was an excessive number of participants’ presentations in the program. I think we should avoid such an overloaded programme during future schools.

What are your laboratory’s plans? Will the LCSR hold only one school per year or will it be possible to have both summer and winter schools?

We will not be organizing a school for next winter because we are not sure about our funding. Nevertheless, I hope that terms of our grant will be prolonged. So it is very likely that the next school on multilevel structural equations will be held in June 2013.

If we have long-term funding it will also be possible for the Lab to provide two schools per year. Our Laboratory is one of the leading research centers in Russia, especially in terms of methodology. And in my opinion one of the main functions of the LCSR is to provide assistance for young researchers to help them learn advanced statistical methods. If it were up to me, the Lab would conduct more schools for young scholars.

— Who do you plan to invite as lecturers for future schools?

We are currently considering some candidates. Among them are Hermann Duelmer, Bart Mueleman from the University of Loeven and Elhmar Schlüter from the University of Cologne. However, now we are only at the preliminary stage, so. I can’t provide any definite answers to that question.


You can read more about the LCSR Summer School at the Lab’s website. Over the next week we will publish reviews of keynote lectures delivered during the event and PDF-presentations of the reports of our researchers. Everyday notes about the most interesting events during the school have already been published.


Boris Sokolov and Tamara Petrova, specially for the HSE News Service

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