Understanding the Sceptics

During the first week of December, Mladen attended the “Understanding Euroscepticism Through the Lens of Big Data” hackathon at Villa Vigoni in Italy, where he joined forces with some pretty cool political science guys and gals to tackle a challenging NLP task.

Villa Vigoni, a beautiful old villa near Menaggio on Lake Como, was a host of quite a remarkable event this December. A hackathon entitled “Understanding Euroscepticism Through the Lens of Big Data”, held during the first week of December, brought together aspiring natural language processing (NLP) and political science (PL) researchers and put them against the task of automatically predicting the level of Euroscepticism from political texts.

Intrigued by the hackathon topic, our PhD student Mladen decided to experience it at first hand, which proved to be a worthwhile decision. To see how specific domain knowledge of both NLP and PL researchers could be leveraged to solve this challenging task, the participants were split into teams of mixed expertise, amusingly named after countries that dropped out of the FIFA World Cup 2018. Mladen ended up in team “Italy”, together with Dirk Hovy and Theresa Gessler.

After two days of trying a ton of methods from NLP, machine learning, and ritualistic dancing (and maybe actually reading some of the provided texts), all teams managed to beat the baseline system provided by the organizers. Luckily for this post, Mladen’s team secured the top spot, landing them a special prize (which all TakeLab’s members are envious of).


Dirk, Mladen, and Theresa showing off the prize.

When not hacking away at the task, the participants spent some time leisurely walking around the small town, enjoying some domestic food, and generally having a lot of fun. In retrospect, all this made a wonderful experience that allowed Mladen to meet new interesting people, possibly opening up new collaborations in this interesting research venue.

Lastly, we would like to thank the Data and Web Science Group of the University of Mannheim, the Digital Humanities Group at FBK Trento, and Unitelma Roma, which put in great effort into organizing this event. Let’s hope they won’t stop here. 🙂


A beautiful view of Lake Como.