About the Political Terror Scale
The Political Terror Scale (PTS): A Re-Introduction and a Comparison to CIRI
Reed M. Wood & Mark Gibney
Despite the frequency with which scholars have utilized the Political Terror Scale (PTS), a surprising number of questions remain regarding the origins of the scale, the coding scheme it employs, and its conceptualization of “state terror.” This research note attempts to clarify these issues. We also take this opportunity to compare the PTS with the Cingranelli and Richards Human Rights Data Project (CIRI). Although the PTS and CIRI are coded from the same source material and capture the same class of human rights violations, we observe some important differences between the two that we believe may be of interest to scholars in the quantitative human rights community. First, we believe that the CIRI claims a level of precision that is not possible given the source data from which both datasets are coded. We believe that the PTS offers a transparent coding system that recognizes the inherent limitation in measuring abuses of physical integrity rights. Second, we argue that the CIRI’s method of summing across abuse types leads to some inappropriate categorizations. For instance, the absence of one type of abuse prevents a state from being coded into a more repressive overall category regardless of the levels of other types of abuse. Lastly, the PTS accounts for the “range” of violence committed by the state - in short, what segments of the population are targeted. We believe that range is an important dimension to consider in measuring human rights and one to which CIRI does not attend.
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How PTS Measures Levels
The PTS measures levels of political violence and terror that a country experiences in a particular year based on a 5-level “terror scale” originally developed by Freedom House. The data used in compiling this index comes from two different sources: the yearly country reports of Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
In the construction of an index for each year for each report, countries are scaled as if the reports are accurate and complete. The five PTS levels are listed below.
In determining the levels coders are provided with the following instructions:
Ignore Own Biases.
Coders should make every attempt to keep their own biases out of their work.
Thus, coders are instructed to ignore their perceptions of a country, and to limit their coding to the information provided in the country report.
Give Countries the Benefit of the Doubt.
Coders also are instructed to give the benefit of the doubt in favor of the countries they are coding. Thus, if a coder thinks that a country could be scored as either a level 2 or a level 3, the country is to receive the lower score. Sometimes coders will not feel comfortable making a choice between two levels. In those instances, coders will oftentimes score a country using both numbers, such as 2/3. If the coder has either of these numbers, we use the level where there is agreement.
Read What the Report is Saying.
Finally, coders are instructed to read what the report is trying to say.
One of the keys is to look at the adjectives used in these reports. For example, “reports” of torture is different in kind (and less serious) than “widespread” torture, which also is different (and less serious) than “systematic” torture.
One of the more difficult problems is how to deal with the situation where a country's human rights situation changes dramatically during the course of the year. It is not out of the ordinary for a nearly installed regime to pursue policies that are diametrically opposed to that which preceded it. In these instances, we instruct the coders to consider when the regime change occurred. For example, if a repressive regime was ousted late in the calendar year, the score probably should reflect the human rights situation that existed for most of the year. On the other hand, if the change occurred anywhere near the middle of the year or before then, the score should reflect this change.
Political Terror Scale Levels
Level 5 : Terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness
with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.
Level 4 : Civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level terror affects those who interest themselves
in politics or ideas.
Level 3 : There is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted.
Level 2 : There is a limited amount of imprisonment for nonviolent political activity. However, few persons are affected, torture and beatings are exceptional. Political murder is rare.
Level 1 : Countries under a secure rule of law, people are not imprisoned for their views, and torture is rare or exceptional. Political murders are extremely rare.