Monthly updates from the Policy Change Index.
Mercatus Center at George Mason University This Week

Dear Human Readers,
Happy holidays and almost the end of 2020! But before we close out this extraordinary year, let us bring you the latest from the PCI project.

PCI Outbreak

Research paper on the PCI-Outbreak. As our readers know, we developed the PCI-Outbreak algorithm to estimate the severity of COVID-19 in China by analyzing the language of China’s People’s Daily. This month, the research behind the bot was released as a Mercatus Working Paper. Its source code, powered by Google AI’s language model BERT, is also freely available.

The figure below compares the PCI-Outbreak with China’s official numbers of diagnosed cases. After a peak in February, the two measures diverge, with the PCI-Outbreak trending downwards much more slowly than the official numbers. Our measure also stays elevated until September, suggesting that COVID-19 may have been more severe than what the Chinese authorities have let on. Moreover, we conclude all that from nowhere but the Chinese government’s own words.

Figure 1. PCI-Outbreak for COVID-19 and Official Statistics in China

Note: The PCI-Outbreak learns the tone and tenor of China’s media coverage of the 2003 SARS outbreak and then assesses how serious-sounding the coverage of COVID-19 is. See: Chan et al. “Words Speak Louder Than Numbers: Estimating China’s COVID-19 Severity with Deep Learning.” Mercatus Working Paper, December 2020.


PCI Resources

To kick off the new year with conferences, Zhong will present the PCI-Outbreak research paper at the Southern Political Science Association’s annual conference on a panel about politics, big data, and new technology. Join us on January 7 to learn more about the project!

The PCI-Crackdown, our previous work on predicting whether the Chinese military would crack down on Hong Kong protesters, will be presented as a poster session at the Allied Social Science Associations’ annual conference from January 3 to 5.

The open-sourced PCI projects are meant to crack a window to otherwise opaque political systems, so everyone can look inside—for free. You can find out more about the projects on the PCI website. Don’t hesitate to reach out!


Edited by Weifeng Zhong and Julian TszKin Chan


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