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Michael Nicholson and the naming of our centre

Michael Nicholson "We should aim for evidence-based International Relations, not prejudice-based as a great deal is ... Policy advice becomes little more that the articulate expression of prejudice by clever people, and International Relations ends by being no more than a careful reading of the newspapers..."
Michael Nicholson (2000), "What is the use of International Relations?", Review of International Studies 26(2)

Michael Nicholson (1933-2001) was a pioneer in formal and quantitative analysis of conflict and cooperation when this type of research was uncommon and often controversial among British scholars. We have named our Centre after him to honour his legacy and to indicate our similar research orientation.

Nicholson was trained as an economist, but developed at an early stage an interest in how mathematical models could be applied to conflict. Nicholson advocated the need for a social scientific approach, identifying decision-makers and their objectives, and trying to understand the specific circumstances when their interactions make conflict and cooperative outcomes more or less likely. Since propositions about conflict situations are often probabilistic, we need systematic data to evaluate these. Nicholson was a strong critic of the traditionalism that dominated many British institutions, which typically eschews the value of theoretical formalization and systematic evaluation or data collection.

"[A] lack of numeracy in many areas of the social sciences weakens research and in some cases nearly excludes the British social scientist from participating in various research enterprises. ... [F]ew students are taught the skills to evaluate, much less participate in ... the crucial hard edge of the research endeavour. I do not ask that [students] be turned into applied mathematicians. I merely suggest that the basic methodological techniques ... now required for the understanding of significant amounts of International Relations research, should be seen as necessities for the full understanding of our discipline. ... If we maintain obedience to Auden's rule that:

Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians
Nor commit a social science

then British International Relations will stay within its own self-congratulatory little world immune from, and uncaring of, the work going on elsewhere."
Michael Nicholson (1998), "The Edwards' Report and the International Relations Profession", Review of International Studies 14(2)

Nicholson published a number of important books and scholarly articles, including a 1992 monograph on Rationality in International Relations (Cambridge University Press) and 2002 text book (International Relations: A Concise Introduction, Palgrave). He was awarded the Lewis Fry Richardson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, in explicit recognition of his work on the systematic analysis of conflict.

Nicholson held full time academic appointments at University College London, the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research, the University of Kent, and Sussex University. He also taught part time at the University of Essex between 1970 and 1975.

Nicholson's link to the University of Essex illustrates his role in conflict research in the UK as well his enduring legacy and the vision of our Centre. In the late 1960s the University of Essex sought to establish itself as a centre for systematic research in Political Science, but lacked competence in international relations. The University did not want to recruit a traditional British scholar, but rather someone who could teach international relations in a manner more in line with the social scientific approach to the study of political behaviour and parties that the University was known from. At the time, Nicholson was one of very few UK-based scholar interested in this line of research, and he accepted to teach a course on international relations between 1970 and 1975. At the present, Essex has a large research group working on conflict and cooperation, and the social scientific approach advocated by Nicholson has become much more common in the UK.

"Michael made wonderful use of his skills and expertise as a social scientist to explore how conflicts can be avoided or defused, without resorting to violence and bloodshed. Although Michael is no longer physically with us, his ideas on how rationality can be used to promote peace rather than war are becoming even more relevant to the contemporary world."
Amartya Sen, Harvard University, 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences