David Ribar combines data science and politics

Monday, Dec 16, 2019
by Sharon Adarlo

David Ribar, 27, doctoral student


Ribar is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in Princeton University’s politics department. He is also pursuing the Graduate Certificate in Statistics and Machine Learning from the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML). He earned a master’s degree, also from Princeton’s politics department, in August 2018. For his bachelor’s degree that he was awarded in 2014, he studied political science and economics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 


In his studies, Ribar has combined his interest in politics and quantitative research. His dissertation examines how the public’s concerns over symbolic status influence America’s foreign policy.

“It’s about how Americans’ concerns over status and various reputations influence their foreign policy preferences,” said Ribar. “As well as how people internalize America’s international prestige.”

In his dissertation, Ribar said he’s trying to ask the following questions: Given the political rhetoric of the president and other politicians about how America is variously disrespected or held in high regard by the rest of the world, does the American public think this way? What do they think about how America’s foreign policy impacts their nation’s reputation abroad? And how do their own status-driven concerns affect their foreign policy preferences?

The Internet has been a boon to researchers like Ribar. Social media, from Facebook to Twitter, brim with millions of opinions, while news sites readily offer countless comments and letters to the editor. To answer some of his dissertation’s questions, Ribar uses data science tools to comb through these opinions.

“People are constantly putting their unfiltered opinions out there,” said Ribar. “By using machine learning tools, you are able to analyze these opinions more quickly and more thoroughly than was possible before. A decade or two ago, you would hire research assistants and spend hours reading newspaper archives. Machine learning can decipher themes and opinions in far less time.”

Course work for the CSML certificate has been especially helpful for his research, Ribar said. He also found the graduate workshop sessions to be insightful.

“Being able to participate in the grad workshop at CSML has been eye opening. You are exposed to how other people use data science, and how many things are happening in the field,” he said. 

When he finishes his doctoral degree, Ribar hopes to continue his academic research.

Extracurricular activities:

During his time at Princeton, he’s been involved in the graduate student unionization efforts on campus. Ribar has also served as a session chair for Princeton Research Day, a co-chair of the American Political Behavior Research Group, and as a member of the Politics Graduate Student Committee.

For fun:

Ribar enjoys his new hobby of cooking. When he’s not busy, he tries to read for recreation. A personal favorite of his lately have been novels by Umberto Eco and Patrick O’Brian.