Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any questions about the Political Terror Scale, data releases, or about this website please contact:

Peter Haschke

207 Zageir Hall, CPO 1940, One University Heights, Asheville, NC 28804, USA

Why the name Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale (PTS)?

The PTS was first de­veloped in the early 1980s, well be­fore “ter­ror­ism” took on much of its present mean­ing. The “ter­ror” in the PTS refers to state-sanc­tioned killings, tor­ture, dis­ap­pear­ances and polit­ic­al im­pris­on­ment that the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale meas­ures.

How is the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale to be cited?

In a Ref­er­ence List cite as fol­lows:

Gib­ney, Mark, Linda Cor­nett, Reed Wood, Peter Hasch­ke, and Daniel Arnon. 2016. The Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale 1976-2015. Date Re­trieved, from the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale website: ht­tp://www.polit­ic­al­ter­

For a cita­tion in the text cite all au­thors the first time the ref­er­ence oc­curs. Gib­ney, Cor­nett, Wood, Hasch­ke, and Arnon (year of pub­lic­a­tion).

In all sub­sequent cita­tions per para­graph, in­clude only the sur­name of the first au­thor fol­lowed by “et al.” (Lat­in for “and oth­ers”) and the year of pub­lic­a­tion. Gib­ney et al. (2012)

How are the scores com­puted?

The PTS is com­puted an­nu­ally by all the prin­cip­al re­search­ers - Gib­ney, Wood, Cor­nett, Hasch­ke and Arnon, and a group of vo­lun­teers well versed in hu­man rights prac­tices. The “data” for the PTS is provided by the an­nu­al re­ports on hu­man rights prac­tices that are pub­lished by Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al (A), the U.S. State De­part­ment (S) and oc­ca­sion­ally us­ing the Hu­man Rights Watch re­port (hrw). There are al­ways at least two coders who read and code each coun­try for each year in both the Am­nesty Re­port and the State De­part­ment Re­port. The way that the sys­tem has evolved, Mark Gib­ney and Reed Wood each code every coun­try every year – and sev­er­al oth­er coders also read cer­tain as­signed coun­tries .

After each per­son codes (sep­ar­ately), the scores are then com­pared. In ap­prox­im­ately 80% of the cases, the scores that each coder comes up with are ex­actly the same. However, when there are dif­fer­ences, there is in­vari­ably an in­form­al dis­cus­sion between sev­er­al coders to de­term­ine how a par­tic­u­lar score was as­signed. This clears up any dis­crep­an­cies between the scores.

For a detailed discussion about the coding process and the scoring system visit the Coding and Documentation section.

Since they are re­port­ing on the same coun­try – and for the same year – how could a coun­try pos­sibly get two dif­fer­ent scores in any giv­en year?

The first thing to note is that there is much great­er agree­ment than dis­agree­ment. For ex­ample, based on the 2006 re­ports, in 2/3 of the cases the PTS score for Am­nesty and the State De­part­ment was the same. And if there is a dis­agree­ment it will al­most al­ways be one level (for ex­ample, the Am­nesty score is a 3 and the State De­part­ment score a 2).

However, what might cause the scores to di­verge at all? It is im­possible to say, but the way that AI, HRW and the U.S. State De­part­ment gath­er in­form­a­tion will be dif­fer­ent. In ad­di­tion, al­though both are look­ing at hu­man rights “prac­tices,” they might not al­ways be look­ing at the same things.

What is be­ing meas­ured, state vi­ol­ence, non-state vi­ol­ence – or both?

Coders are in­struc­ted to turn a blind eye to­wards vi­ol­ence by non-state act­ors, and that their primary goal is to meas­ure levels of vi­ol­ence by the state. For ex­ample, fe­male gen­it­al mu­til­a­tion re­mains a wide­spread phe­nomen­on in a num­ber of coun­tries in the world. Al­though this is type of “vi­ol­ence,” affects many people across the globe, it is not the kind of vi­ol­ence that is cap­tured by the PTS, as it is carried out by non-state actors. What we are at­tempt­ing to cap­ture and meas­ure are levels of state sanc­tioned or state per­petrated vi­ol­ence (e.g., polit­ic­al vi­ol­ence such as as­sas­si­na­tions of polit­ic­al chal­lengers or po­lice bru­tal­i­ty). However, what also has to be said is that in many places in the world – civil war situ­ations in par­tic­u­lar – state and non-state vi­ol­ence of­ten go to­geth­er.

What about polit­ic­al vi­ol­ence that a state en­gages in out­side of its own ter­rit­ori­al bor­ders?

This is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. In cod­ing for the United States, for ex­ample, should this score also com­pute Amer­ic­an activ­it­ies in Ir­aq? For the most part, we are only meas­ur­ing polit­ic­al vi­ol­ence that a state car­ries out with­in in its own ter­rit­ori­al bor­ders. However, a situ­ation such as Amer­ic­an activ­it­ies at Guantanamo simply can­not be ig­nored. Thus, we seek to use com­mon sense on such mat­ters.

What do ‘s’, ‘a’ and ‘h’ in the tables refer to?

An ‘s’ stands for the State De­part­ment, ‘a’ stands for Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al and ‘h’ stands for Hu­man Rights Watch. What this means is that in ar­riv­ing at the ‘s’, score, the coders read the State De­part­ment Re­port for that coun­try for that year, the ‘a’ score means that the coders are basing that score on the Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al Re­port for that coun­try for that year, and the ‘h’ score means that the coders are basing their score on the Hu­man Rights Watch re­port of that year.

Should both scores be used – or only one? Are scores comparable substitutes?

Some schol­ars use both scores and com­pute an av­er­age, while oth­ers only use one score. We ad­vise that re­search­ers err on the side of cau­tion with these data, since scores are based on dif­fer­ent source ma­ter­i­al, and prefer­ably choose the re­port they find to be more ap­pro­pri­ate for their re­search. For a more detailed discussion see our post on Missingness and Comparability of Scores.

Is the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale the same as the Poe-Tate Scale?

There is no Poe-Tate scale as such, al­though Steve Poe and Neal Tate did provide much of the cod­ing for 1976-1979. Ap­par­ently, the con­fu­sion arose be­cause of their ini­tials and their fre­quent use of the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale. However, all ref­er­ences to the Poe-Tate Scale should really be re­fer­ring to the Polit­ic­al Ter­ror Scale.