Detecting causality in policy diffusion processes

Carsten Grabow, James Macinko, Diana Silver, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A universal question in network science entails learning about the topology of interaction from collective dynamics. Here, we address this question by examining diffusion of laws across US states. We propose two complementary techniques to unravel determinants of this diffusion process: information-theoretic union transfer entropy and event synchronization. In order to systematically investigate their performance on law activity data, we establish a new stochastic model to generate synthetic law activity data based on plausible networks of interactions. Through extensive parametric studies, we demonstrate the ability of these methods to reconstruct networks, varying in size, link density, and degree heterogeneity. Our results suggest that union transfer entropy should be preferred for slowly varying processes, which may be associated with policies attending to specific local problems that occur only rarely or with policies facing high levels of opposition. In contrast, event synchronization is effective for faster enactment rates, which may be related to policies involving Federal mandates or incentives. This study puts forward a data-driven toolbox to explain the determinants of legal activity applicable to political science, across dynamical systems, information theory, and complex networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number083113
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Applied Mathematics


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