Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, based in the Department of Government (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences). He also serves as Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. King and his research group develop and apply empirical methods in many areas of social science research, focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application. For more information, see his bio and curriculum vitae.
Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University -- one of 24 with the title of University Professor, Harvard's most distinguished faculty position. He is based in the Department of Government (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and serves as Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. King develops and applies empirical methods in many areas of social science research, focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application.
King has been elected Fellow in 7 honorary societies (National Academy of Sciences 2010, National Academy of Social Insurance 2014, American Statistical Association 2009, American Association for the Advancement of Science 2004, American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1998, Society for Political Methodology 2008, and American Academy of Political and Social Science 2004) and has won more than 40 "best of" awards for his work (including the Career Achievement Award 2010, Warren Miller Prize 2008, McGraw-Hill Award 2006, Durr Award 2005, Gosnell Prize 1999 and 1997, Outstanding Statistical Application Award 2000, Donald Campbell Award 1997, Eulau Award 1995, Mills Award 1993, Pi Sigma Alpha Award 2005, 1998, and 1993, APSA Research Software Award 2005, 1997, 1994, and 1992, Okidata Best Research Software Award 1999, Okidata Best Research Web Site Award 1999, Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award 2011, Kellogg/Notre Dame Award 2014, among others). King was elected President of the Society for Political Methodology (1997-1999) and Vice President of the American Political Science Association (2003-2004). He was appointed a Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation (1994-1995), Visiting Fellow at Oxford (1994), Senior Science Advisor to the World Health Organization (1998-2003), and member of the Senior Editorial Board at Science (2015-). His more than 150 journal articles, 20 open source software packages, and 8 books span most aspects of political methodology, many fields of political science, and several other scholarly disciplines.
King's work is widely read across scholarly fields and beyond academia. He was listed as the most cited political scientist of his cohort; among the group of "political scientists who have made the most important theoretical contributions" to the discipline "from its beginnings in the late-19th century to the present"; and on ISI's list of the most highly cited researchers across the social sciences. His work on legislative redistricting has been used in most American states by legislators, judges, lawyers, political parties, minority groups, and private citizens, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. His work on inferring individual behavior from aggregate data has been used in as many states by these groups, and in many other practical contexts. His contributions to methods for achieving cross-cultural comparability in survey research have been used in surveys in over eighty countries by researchers, governments, and private concerns. King led an evaluation of the Mexican universal health insurance program, which included the largest randomized health policy experiment to date. The statistical methods and software he develops are used extensively in academia, government, consulting, and private industry. He is a founder, and an inventor of the original technology for, Learning Catalytics (acquired by Pearson) and Crimson Hexagon, among others.
King has had many students and postdocs, many of whom now hold faculty positions at leading universities and companies. He has collaborated with more than 150 scholars, including many of his students, on research for publication. He has served on more than 30 editorial boards; on the governing councils of the American Political Science Association, Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, the Society for Political Methodology, and the Midwest Political Science Association; and on several National Research Council and National Science Foundation panels.
King received a B.A. from SUNY New Paltz (1980) and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984). His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Aging, the Global Forum for Health Research, and centers, corporations, foundations, and other federal agencies.
The accuracy of U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) demographic and financial forecasts is crucial for the solvency of its Trust Funds, government programs comprising greater than 50% of all federal government expenditures, industry decision making, and the evidence base of many scholarly articles. Forecasts are also essential for scoring policy proposals, put forward by both political parties. Because SSA makes public little replication information, and uses ad hoc, qualitative, and antiquated statistical forecasting methods, no one in or out of government has been able to produce fully independent alternative forecasts or policy scorings. Yet, no systematic evaluation of SSA forecasts has ever been published by SSA or anyone else. We show that SSA's forecasting errors were approximately unbiased until about 2000, but then began to grow quickly, with increasingly overconfident uncertainty intervals. Moreover, the errors all turn out to be in the same potentially dangerous direction, each making the Social Security Trust Funds look healthier than they actually are. We also discover the cause of these findings with evidence from a large number of interviews we conducted with participants at every level of the forecasting and policy processes. We show that SSA's forecasting procedures meet all the conditions the modern social-psychology and statistical literatures demonstrate make bias likely. When those conditions mixed with potent new political forces trying to change Social Security and influence the forecasts, SSA's actuaries hunkered down trying hard to insulate themselves from the intense political pressures. Unfortunately, this otherwise laudable resistance to undue influence, along with their ad hoc qualitative forecasting models, led them to also miss important changes in the input data such as retirees living longer lives, and drawing more benefits, than predicted by simple extrapolations. We explain that solving this problem involves using (a) removing human judgment where possible, by using formal statistical methods -- via the revolution in data science and big data; (b) instituting formal structural procedures when human judgment is required -- via the revolution in social psychological research; and (c) requiring transparency and data sharing to catch errors that slip through -- via the revolution in data sharing & replication.
An article at Barron's about our work.
Proof that previously used estimators of electoral incumbency advantage were biased, and a new unbiased estimator. Also, the first systematic demonstration that constituency service by legislators increases the incumbency advantage.
An evaluation of the Mexican Seguro Popular program (designed to extend health insurance and regular and preventive medical care, pharmaceuticals, and health facilities to 50 million uninsured Mexicans), one of the world's largest health policy reforms of the last two decades. Our evaluation features a new design for field experiments that is more robust to the political interventions and implementation errors that have ruined many similar previous efforts; new statistical methods that produce more reliable and efficient results using fewer resources, assumptions, and data; and an implementation of these methods in the largest randomized health policy experiment to date. (See the Harvard Gazette story on this project.)
Resolution of the paradox of why polls are so variable over time during presidential campaigns even though the vote outcome is easily predictable before it starts. Also, a resolution of a key controversy over absentee ballots during the 2000 presidential election; and the methodology of small-n research on executives.
Replication Standards New standards, protocols, and software for citing, sharing, analyzing, archiving, preserving, distributing, cataloging, translating, disseminating, naming, verifying, and replicating scholarly research data and analyses. Also includes proposals to improve the norms of data sharing and replication in science.
Methods for coding, analyzing, and forecasting international conflict and state failure. Evidence that the causes of conflict, theorized to be important but often found to be small or ephemeral, are indeed tiny for the vast majority of dyads, but are large, stable, and replicable wherever the ex ante probability of conflict is large.
The definition of partisan symmetry as a standard for fairness in redistricting; methods and software for measuring partisan bias and electoral responsiveness; discussion of U.S. Supreme Court rulings about this work. Evidence that U.S. redistricting reduces bias and increases responsiveness, and that the electoral college is fair; applications to legislatures, primaries, and multiparty systems.
Methods for forecasting mortality rates (overall or for time series data cross-classified by age, sex, country, and cause); estimating mortality rates in areas without vital registration; measuring inequality in risk of death; applications to US mortality, the future of the Social Security, armed conflict, heart failure, and human security.
Methods for detecting and reducing model dependence (i.e., when minor model changes produce substantively different inferences) in inferring causal effects and other counterfactuals. Matching methods; "politically robust" and cluster-randomized experimental designs; causal bias decompositions.
Statistical models to explain or predict how many events occur for each fixed time period, or the time between events. An application to cabinet dissolution in parliamentary democracies which united two previously warring scholarly literature. Other applications to international relations and U.S. Supreme Court appointments.
Inferring individual behavior from group-level data: The first approach to incorporate both unit-level deterministic bounds and cross-unit statistical information, methods for 2x2 and larger tables, Bayesian model averaging, applications to elections, software.
Statistical methods to accommodate missing information in data sets due to scattered unit nonresponse, missing variables, or cell values or variables measured with error. Easy-to-use algorithms and software for multiple imputation and multiple overimputation for surveys, time series, and time series cross-sectional data. Applications to electoral, and other compositional, data.
How the same unified theory of inference underlies quantitative and qualitative research alike; scientific inference when quantification is difficult or impossible; research design; empirical research in legal scholarship.
How to save 99% of your data collection costs; bias corrections for logistic regression in estimating probabilities and causal effects in rare events data; estimating base probabilities or any quantity from case-control data; automated coding of events.
"Anchoring Vignette" methods for when different respondents (perhaps from different cultures, countries, or ethnic groups) understand survey questions in different ways; an approach to developing theoretical definitions of complicated concepts apparently definable only by example (i.e., "you know it when you see it"); how surveys work.
A few years ago, explaining what you did for a living to Dad, Aunt Rose, or your friend from high school was pretty complicated. Answering that you develop statistical estimators, work on numerical optimization, or, even better, are working on a great new Markov Chain Monte Carlo implementation of a Bayesian model with heteroskedastic errors for automated text analysis is pretty much the definition of conversation stopper.Then the media noticed the revolution we’re all apart of, and they glued a label to it. Now “Big Data” is what you and I do. As trivial as this change sounds, we should be grateful for it, as the name seems to resonate with the public and so it helps convey the importance of our field to others better than we had managed to do ourselves. Yet, now that we have everyone’s attention, we need to start clarifying for others -- and ourselves -- what the revolution means. This is much of what this book is about.
Throughout, we need to remember that for the most part, Big Data is not about the data....
Although social scientists devote considerable effort to mitigating measurement error during data collection, they often ignore the issue during data analysis. And although many statistical methods have been proposed for reducing measurement error-induced biases, few have been widely used because of implausible assumptions, high levels of model dependence, difficult computation, or inapplicability with multiple mismeasured variables. We develop an easy-to-use alternative without these problems; it generalizes the popular multiple imputation (MI) framework by treating missing data problems as a limiting special case of extreme measurement error, and corrects for both. Like MI, the proposed framework is a simple two-step procedure, so that in the second step researchers can use whatever statistical method they would have if there had been no problem in the first place. We also offer empirical illustrations, open source software that implements all the methods described herein, and a companion paper with technical details and extensions (Blackwell, Honaker, and King, 2014b).
The vast majority of social science research presently uses small (MB or GB scale) data sets. These fixed-scale data sets are commonly downloaded to the researcher's computer where the analysis is performed locally, and are often shared and cited with well-established technologies, such as the Dataverse Project (see Dataverse.org), to support the published results. The trend towards Big Data -- including large scale streaming data -- is starting to transform research and has the potential to impact policy-making and our understanding of the social, economic, and political problems that affect human societies. However, this research poses new challenges in execution, accountability, preservation, reuse, and reproducibility. Downloading these data sets to a researcher’s computer is infeasible or not practical; hence, analyses take place in the cloud, require unusual expertise, and benefit from collaborative teamwork and novel tool development. The advantage of these data sets in how informative they are also means that they are much more likely to contain highly sensitive personally identifiable information. In this paper, we discuss solutions to these new challenges so that the social sciences can realize the potential of Big Data.
We extend a unified and easy-to-use approach to measurement error and missing data. Blackwell, Honaker, and King (2014a) gives an intuitive overview of the new technique, along with practical suggestions and empirical applications. Here, we offer more precise technical details; more sophisticated measurement error model specifications and estimation procedures; and analyses to assess the approach's robustness to correlated measurement errors and to errors in categorical variables. These results support using the technique to reduce bias and increase efficiency in a wide variety of empirical research.
The financial stability of four of the five largest U.S. federal entitlement programs, strategic decision making in several industries, and many academic publications all depend on the accuracy of demographic and financial forecasts made by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Although the SSA has performed these forecasts since 1942, no systematic and comprehensive evaluation of their accuracy has ever been published by SSA or anyone else. The absence of a systematic evaluation of forecasts is a concern because the SSA relies on informal procedures that are potentially subject to inadvertent biases and does not share with the public, the scientific community, or other parts of SSA sufficient data or information necessary to replicate or improve its forecasts. These issues result in SSA holding a monopoly position in policy debates as the sole supplier of fully independent forecasts and evaluations of proposals to change Social Security. To assist with the forecasting evaluation problem, we collect all SSA forecasts for years that have passed and discover error patterns that could have been---and could now be---used to improve future forecasts. Specifically, we find that after 2000, SSA forecasting errors grew considerably larger and most of these errors made the Social Security Trust Funds look more financially secure than they actually were. In addition, SSA's reported uncertainty intervals are overconfident and increasingly so after 2000. We discuss the implications of these systematic forecasting biases for public policy.
The accuracy of U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) demographic and financial forecasts is crucial for the solvency of its Trust Funds, other government programs, industry decision making, and the evidence base of many scholarly articles. Because SSA makes public little replication information and uses qualitative and antiquated statistical forecasting methods, fully independent alternative forecasts (and the ability to score policy proposals to change the system) are nonexistent. Yet, no systematic evaluation of SSA forecasts has ever been published by SSA or anyone else --- until a companion paper to this one (King, Kashin, and Soneji, 2015a). We show that SSA's forecasting errors were approximately unbiased until about 2000, but then began to grow quickly, with increasingly overconfident uncertainty intervals. Moreover, the errors are all in the same potentially dangerous direction, making the Social Security Trust Funds look healthier than they actually are. We extend and then attempt to explain these findings with evidence from a large number of interviews we conducted with participants at every level of the forecasting and policy processes. We show that SSA's forecasting procedures meet all the conditions the modern social-psychology and statistical literatures demonstrate make bias likely. When those conditions mixed with potent new political forces trying to change Social Security, SSA's actuaries hunkered down trying hard to insulate their forecasts from strong political pressures. Unfortunately, this otherwise laudable resistance to undue influence, along with their ad hoc qualitative forecasting models, led the actuaries to miss important changes in the input data. Retirees began living longer lives and drawing benefits longer than predicted by simple extrapolations. We also show that the solution to this problem involves SSA or Congress implementing in government two of the central projects of political science over the last quarter century:  promoting transparency in data and methods and  replacing with formal statistical models large numbers of qualitative decisions too complex for unaided humans to make optimally.
Researchers use propensity score matching (PSM) as a data preprocessing step to selectively prune observations prior to applying a model to estimate a causal effect. The goal of PSM is to reduce imbalance in pre-treatment covariates between the treatment and control groups, thereby reducing the degree of model dependence and potential for bias. Although some applied researchers have combined PSM with various ad hoc procedures and checks to produce useful analyses, we show that the core PSM procedure itself often accomplishes the opposite of what is intended -- increasing imbalance, model dependence, and bias. The weakness of PSM is that it approximates a completely randomized experiment, rather than, as with other matching methods, a more powerful fully blocked randomized experiment. PSM is therefore blind to the portion of imbalance that would have been eliminated by also approximating full blocking. Moreover, in data balanced enough to approximate complete randomization, either to begin with or after pruning some observations, PSM approximates random matching which turns out to increase imbalance. We show that these problems occur even in data designed for PSM with as few as two covariates, and is exacerbated in data with better balance, higher dimensionality, and (in our experience) real applications. Although these results suggest that propensity scores not be used for matching, propensity scores have many other productive uses. In addition, although we show that matching by most other methods, when used under unusual or extreme circumstances, can exhibit some of the same damaging characteristics as PSM does regularly, other matching methods remain a strongly recommended way to make causal inferences.
We propose a simplified approach to matching for causal inference that simultaneously optimizes both balance (between the treated and control groups) and matched sample size. This procedure resolves two widespread tensions in the use of this popular methodology. First, current practice is to run a matching method that maximizes one balance metric (such as a propensity score or average Mahalanobis distance), but then to check whether it succeeds with respect to a different balance metric for which it was not designed (such as differences in means or L1). Second, current matching methods either fix the sample size and maximize balance (e.g., Mahalanobis or propensity score matching), fix balance and maximize the sample size (such as coarsened exact matching), or are arbitrary compromises between the two (such as calipers with ad hoc thresholds applied to other methods). These tensions lead researchers to either try to optimize manually, by iteratively tweaking their matching method and rechecking balance, or settle for suboptimal solutions. We address these tensions by first defining and showing how to calculate the matching frontier as the set of matching solutions with maximum balance for each possible sample size. Researchers can then choose one, several, or all matching solutions from the frontier for analysis in one step without iteration. The main difficulty in this strategy is that checking all possible solutions is exponentially difficult. We solve this problem with new algorithms that finish fast, optimally, and without iteration or manual tweaking. We also offer easy-to-use software that implements these ideas, along with analyses of the effect of sex on judging and job training programs that show how the methods we introduce enable us to extract new knowledge from existing data sets.
Matching methods for causal inference have become a popular way of reducing model dependence and bias, in large part because of their convenience and conceptual simplicity. Researchers most commonly use matching as a data preprocessing step, after which they apply whatever statistical model and uncertainty estimators they would have without matching. Unfortunately, for a given sample of any finite size, this approach is theoretically appropriate only under exact matching, which is usually infeasible; approximate matching can be justified under asymptotic theory, if large enough sample sizes are available, but then specialized point and variance estimators are required, which sacrifices some of matching's simplicity and convenience. Researchers also violate statistical theory with ad hoc iterations between formal matching methods and informal balance checks. Instead of asking researchers to change their widely used practices, we develop a comprehensive theory of statistical inference able to justify them. The theory we propose is substantively plausible, requires no asymptotic theory, and is simple to understand. Its core conceptualizes continuous variables as having natural breakpoints, which are common in applications (e.g., high school or college degrees in years of education, a governmental poverty level in income, or phase transitions in temperature). The theory allows binary, multicategory, and continuous treatment variables from the outset and straightforward extensions for imperfect treatment assignment and different versions of treatments. Although this theory provides a valid foundation for most commonly used methods of matching, researchers must still satisfy the assumptions in any real application.
King, Gary, Benjamin Schneer, and Ariel White. 2014. “
This is a poster presentation describing (1) the largest ever experimental study of media effects, with more than 50 cooperating traditional media sites, normally unavailable web site analytics, the text of hundreds of thousands of news articles, and tens of millions of social media posts, and (2) a design we used in preparation that attempts to anticipate experimental outcomes
Grimmer, Justin, Gary King, and Chiara Superti. 2014. “
This is a poster that describes our analysis of "partisan taunting," the explicit, public, and negative attacks on another political party or its members, usually using vitriolic and derogatory language. We first demonstrate that most projects that hand code text in the social sciences optimize with respect to the wrong criterion, resulting in large, unnecessary biases. We show how to fix this problem and then apply it to taunting. We find empirically that, unlike most claims in the press and the literature, taunting is not inexorably increasing; it appears instead to be a rational political strategy, most often used by those least likely to win by traditional means -- ideological extremists, out-party members when the president is unpopular, and minority party members. However, although taunting appears to be individually rational, it is collectively irrational: Constituents may resonate with one cutting taunt by their Senator, but they might not approve if he or she were devoting large amounts of time to this behavior rather than say trying to solve important national problems. We hope to partially rectify this situation by posting public rankings of Senatorial taunting behavior.
We introduce a new framework for forecasting age-sex-country-cause-specific mortality rates that incorporates considerably more information, and thus has the potential to forecast much better, than any existing approach. Mortality forecasts are used in a wide variety of academic fields, and for global and national health policy making, medical and pharmaceutical research, and social security and retirement planning.
As it turns out, the tools we developed in pursuit of this goal also have broader statistical implications, in addition to their use for forecasting mortality or other variables with similar statistical properties. First, our methods make it possible to include different explanatory variables in a time series regression for each cross-section, while still borrowing strength from one regression to improve the estimation of all. Second, we show that many existing Bayesian (hierarchical and spatial) models with explanatory variables use prior densities that incorrectly formalize prior knowledge. Many demographers and public health researchers have fortuitously avoided this problem so prevalent in other fields by using prior knowledge only as an ex post check on empirical results, but this approach excludes considerable information from their models. We show how to incorporate this demographic knowledge into a model in a statistically appropriate way. Finally, we develop a set of tools useful for developing models with Bayesian priors in the presence of partial prior ignorance. This approach also provides many of the attractive features claimed by the empirical Bayes approach, but fully within the standard Bayesian theory of inference.
Ecological Inference: New Methodological Strategies brings together a diverse group of scholars to survey the latest strategies for solving ecological inference problems in various fields. The last half decade has witnessed an explosion of research in ecological inference – the attempt to infer individual behavior from aggregate data. The uncertainties and the information lost in aggregation make ecological inference one of the most difficult areas of statistical inference, but such inferences are required in many academic fields, as well as by legislatures and the courts in redistricting, by businesses in marketing research, and by governments in policy analysis.
MatchingFrontier is an easy-to-use R Package for making optimal causal inferences from observational data. Despite their popularity, existing matching approaches leave researchers with two fundamental tensions. First, they are designed to maximize one metric (such as propensity score or Mahalanobis distance) but are judged against another for which they were not designed (such as L1 or differences in means). Second, they lack a principled solution to revealing the implicit bias-variance trade off: matching methods need to optimize with respect to both imbalance (between the treated and control groups) and the number of observations pruned, but existing approaches optimize with respect to only one; users then either ignore the other, or tweak it, usually suboptimally, by hand.
MatchingFrontier resolves both tensions by consolidating previous techniques into a single, optimal, and flexible approach. It calculates the matching solution with maximum balance for each possible sample size (N, N-1, N-2,...). It thus directly calculates the entire balance-sample size frontier, from which the user can easily choose one, several, or all subsamples from which to conduct their final analysis, given their own choice of imbalance metric and quantity of interest. MatchingFrontier solves the joint optimization problem in one run, automatically, without manual tweaking, and without iteration. Although for each subset size k, there exist a huge (N choose k) number of unique subsets, MatchingFrontier includes specially designed fast algorithms that give the optimal answer, usually in a few minutes.
MatchingFrontier implements the methods in this paper:
King, Gary, Christopher Lucas, and Richard Nielsen. 2014. The Balance-Sample Size Frontier in Matching Methods for Causal Inference, copy at http://j.mp/1dRDMrE
A program for analyzing most any feature of district-level legislative elections data, including prediction, evaluating redistricting plans, estimating counterfactual hypotheses (such as what would happen if a term-limitation amendment were imposed). This implements statistical procedures described in a series of journal articles and has been used during redistricting in many states by judges, partisans, governments, private citizens, and many others. The earlier version was winner of the APSA Research Software Award.
This program multiply imputes missing data in cross-sectional, time series, and time series cross-sectional data sets. It includes a Windows version (no knowledge of R required), and a version that works with R either from the command line or via a GUI.
YourCast is (open source and free) software that makes forecasts by running sets of linear regressions together in a variety of sophisticated ways. YourCast avoids the bias that results when stacking datasets from separate cross-sections and assuming constant parameters, and the inefficiency that results from running independent regressions in each cross-section.
This is a set of easy-to-use Stata macros that implement the techniques described in Gary King, Michael Tomz, and Jason Wittenberg's "Making the Most of Statistical Analyses: Improving Interpretation and Presentation". To install Clarify, type "net from http://gking.harvard.edu/clarify" at the Stata command line. The documentation [ HTML | PDF ] explains how to do this. We also provide a zip archive for users who want to install Clarify on a computer that is not connected to the internet. Winner of the Okidata Best Research Software Award. Also try -ssc install qsim- to install a wrapper, donated by Fred Wolfe, to automate Clarify's simulation of dummy variables.