Last week, Jessica Trisko Darden wrote a guest blog post about the international politics of the Miss Universe pageant. Yesterday, over at Duck of Minerva, Megan MacKenzie took me to task for this post on a number of fronts. Problem #1:
Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn’t come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn’t address the
half-naked ladieselephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can’t find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation….and you don’t think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I’m holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer).
I'd encourage you to read the rest of MacKenzie's post to get a taste of the (pretty odious) race and gender politics that she references. And I agree that, while Trisko Darden's guest post certainly did reference these issues, I did not.
But I'm not sure MacKenzie's teaching analogy is appropriate. This wasn't a guest lecture -- it was a guest blog post. I don't have them very often, but when I do, I tend to let the post speak for itself. In the classroom, or perhaps in a journal article, MacKenzie would be absolutely correct to push me to be as comprehensive on a topic. I'm not sure the same rules should apply to a blog post -- though this is a far-from-settled question, and I'm curious what others think.
MacKenzie's other criticism runs quite a bit deeper -- namely, that I shouldn't have outsourced the topic to Trisko Darden at all:
I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue....
Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?
Hmm.... Trisko Darden's unique perspective was exactly what made it a useful and informative guest post. But let's step back from these particulars, and get to the deeper question. If MacKenzie really wants to go there, then I'd observe that, yeah, responses like hers do an excellent job of raising the barriers for male political scientists to comment on gender politics when it's not their area of expertise. Why on God's green earth would I want to venture out from my professional comfort zone of American foreign policy and global political economy to blog about the politics of gender -- just so I can be told by experts on gender politics that I'm doing it wrong? To be clear, there is some upside to such engagement -- see the next paragraph. But the thing is, the downside risks of poorly articulated arguments on this subject are pretty massive. Indeed, I suspect Duck of Minerva bloggers are fully cognizant of those risks.
Now, all that said, MacKenzie makes a good point -- I've talked about lady issues in the past, I shouldn't be too scared talking about them in the future. And it is altogether good and appropriate for scholars to venture beyond their intellectual comfort zone -- it's the best way to learn. And as it happens, an opportunity presents itself on this front.
I'm about to start work on the
revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. There's gonna be some updating of the zombie material -- a lot has happened in recent years. But one of the things that's gnawed at me since the first edition of the book came out was that I didn't talk a lot about more critical perspectives of international relations theory. So I'm throwing caution into the wind and adding a chapter on feminist international relations theory and zombies. [Because of this?--ed. No, I decided to do this quite some time ago.]
This means I'm gonna have to read up on feminist IR theory. A lot. As I've noted, feminist approaches to international relations are not my strong suit, and it's going to be rather important to get the tone right. So I'd ask MacKenzie, as well as readers on this subject, to suggest in the comments the pertinent feminist literature (beyond the obvious canonical citations) that would speak to "post-human" politics. And vice versa -- which parts of the zombie canon clearly have things to say about the politics of gender?
Yesterday I was intermittently watching Janet Yellen's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, and I was struck by how often she relied on the guidance of "studies" to explain her worldview on monetary policy. By "studies," Yellen was referring to the policy-relevant academic literature.
This, in and of itself, is not extraordinary -- you'd find the same trope when Ben Bernanke testified. But it got me to thinking,. and then to tweeting:
Fun exercise: imagine a SecState or NSC Advisor referring to "studies" -- i.e., the literature -- as much as Yellen has in Cong. testimony.— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) November 14, 2013
My point is that no foreign policy principal, in testifying before Congress, would ever think of saying that the academic literature guides their thinking on a particular policy issue.
In response to that tweet, Chris Blattman -- a strange economist in the stranger land of political science -- offered a response:
[An] immense amount of what the best political scientists are doing is irrelevant to what State or the NSC does, and what is relevant is often of mediocre quality. I think this is improving but I’m not very sure. (emphasis added)
Now it's possible that Blattman is correct -- but I don't think so. First, I'm unconvinced that political scientists are doing as much irrelevant scholarship as he suggests. More importantly, I'm extremely dubious of the implicit contention that a greater fraction of political scientists are doing policy irrelevant work than, say, economists.
I'd offer an alternative hypothesis -- prejudice. The issue isn't the poverty of political science research, but rather that foreign affairs policymakers view their relevant academic literature very differently from the way economic policymakers view their relevant academic literature. To repeat myself:
[T[he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
For evidence to back up my assertion, see this forthcoming International Studies Quarterly paper by Michael Desch and Paul Avey entitled "What Do Policymakers Want From Us?" They find that senior foreign affairs policymakers are extremely dubious about the utility of political science scholarship. The interesting finding is why:
[T]he more sophisticated social science methods such as formal models, operations research, theoretical analysis, and quantitative analysis tended to be categorized more often as “not very useful” or “not useful at all,” calling into question the direct influence of these approaches to international relations. Indeed, the only methodology that more than half the respondents characterized as “not very useful” or “not useful at all” was formal models. As Table 4 shows, the higher the rank of the government official, the less likely he or she was to think that formal models were useful for policymaking (p. 11).
Now here's the thing -- as Desch and Avey note, these very same policymakers have a very different attitude about economics: "Respondents were more tolerant of 'highly theoretical writings [and] complex statistical analysis of social science topics' in the realm of Economics (p. 9)." Indeed, they note at the end of their paper that an outstanding question remains: "why is it that policymakers are relatively tolerant of complex modeling and statistical work in Economics and survey research but not in other areas of political science and international relations? (p. 35)"
Maybe this is because economists are really just far more sophisticated in their research than political scientists -- but I don't think so. Maybe, as Desch and Avey postulate, it's because foreign affairs policymakers exaggerate how important these methodologies are to economic policymakers. Or maybe it's something different: it's that economic policymakers have imbibed the methodology and jargon of economists in a way that foreign policymakers have not with international relations. They don't reflexively pre-judge such scholarship in a negative light.
What do you think?
So this happened last night:
As a diehard Red Sox fan, this worst-to-first season was particularly sweet. However, not all political scientists have been thrilled with this October playoff season:
God, the baseball tweets make them stop make them stop.— The Monkey Cage (@monkeycageblog) October 31, 2013
The baseball tweets are turning me into Jonathan Franzen.— The Monkey Cage (@monkeycageblog) October 31, 2013
I must say I'm disappointed with my political science colleagues. A good political scientist can find interesting research questions in any sphere of life -- and the Monkey Cage is populated by good political scientists. So, as my way of saying goodbye to a wonderful 2013 baseball season, here are three suggestions for more in-depth research:
1) "Does the Eastern Establishment Still Exist in Politics? A Social Media Analysis." As their first tweet suggested, the Monkey Cage was sick and tired of the baseball tweets littering their Twitter feed. One wonders though -- was this a function of the baseball playoffs, or the fact that the Boston Red Sox were in the playoffs? It shouldn't be that hard to cull the Gang of 500 Twitter feeds and compare their content during this World Series with last year's, which featured the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers. Are DC politicos and journalists more likely to be fans of East Coast teams? Is there an East Coast bias in the American body politic as well as sports?
2) "Does Soft Power Matter in Baseball Success? A Statistical Analysis of the 2013 Boston Red Sox." If I have to read one more story about how Red Sox GM Ben Cherrington re-stocked the Red Sox roster with "character guys" and how that was the difference this year, I might vomit as well. That said, even 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz told reporters that, "We probably didn't have the talent we had in 2007 and 2004." This is dying for a John Sides/Lynn Vavrek reunion book. Did the Red Sox win because they had better talent, or because they somehow lulled other teams into rolling over and wanting what the Red Sox wanted?
3) "Creative Destruction or Mimetic Isomorphism? Examining Hot Stove Strategies in 2013-2014." Social scientists ranging from Joseph Schumpeter to Kenneth Waltz have argued that failing actors will copy the winning strategies of successful actors. Sociological institutionalists like John Meyer, however, would argue that these strategies are copied in form rather than content. The dominant narrative of the Red Sox success was "dumping high-priced free agents and signing mid-level 'character guys' to short-term deals." This is pretty much the opposite of, say, the 2008 New York Yankees strategy that enabled them to win the 2009 World Series
and lash themselves to Alex Rodriguez for the rest of this decade. We're already seeing dubious essays about how investors can use the Red Sox strategy to make more money. Will the 2013/14 off-season show genuine adaptation by baseball GMs -- or merely superficial adaptation. An excellent crucial case: whether Willie Bloomquist is in high demand.
Readers are strongly encouraged to suggest additional research topics -- the social effects of a beard subculture in urban politics, the 'natural experiments' created by an entire region staying up way too damn late for an entire month -- in the comments.
There's an awful lot being written about the myriad ways in which political science and international relations scholarship skews this way and that way, but not the meritocratic way. To underscore that note, Peter Campbell and Michael Desch have an essay titled "Rank Irrelevance" over at Foreign Affairs. Their target is the National Research Council (NRC) rankings of graduate programs in political science. It's also part of their larger Carnegie-financed research project on policy relevance in the academy. As they explain at their website, a key component of their research program focuses on:
[H]ow traditional academic disciplinary rankings might skew the sort of work scholar undertakes and highlight how different sets of criteria based upon sub-field criteria and broader relevance could produce very different rankings. To illustrate this, we have ranked the top fifty political science departments based on 37 different measures of scholarly excellence and broader policy relevance of their international relations faculty. We have also done the same thing for the 442 individual scholars in that group.
So, how are the NRC's academic disciplinary rankings skewed? Campbell and Desch explain:
[T]he NRC measured academic excellence by looking at a variety of parochial measures, including publications per faculty member and citations per publication. But the NRC only counted work published in disciplinary journals, while excluding books and non-peer-reviewed magazines (like Foreign Affairs). The NRC also calculated faculty productivity and intellectual impact exclusively by tallying scholarly articles (and limited it to those covered by the Web of Science, the most well-known index of this type). In addition, the NRC considered percent faculty with grants, awards per faculty member, percent interdisciplinary faculty, measures of ethnic and gender diversity, average GRE scores for admitted graduate students, the level of financial support for them, the number of Ph.D.s awarded, the median time to degree, and the percentage of students with academic plans, among other factors.…
The NRC’s methodology biased its rankings against two kinds of scholarship: international relations scholarship, which is often book-oriented; and policy-relevant scholarship, which often appears in non-peer-reviewed journals. That leads to vast undervaluation of many leading scholars and, accordingly, their schools.… It also discourages ranked programs from promoting authorship of in-depth policy relevant work.…
[W]e believe that broader criteria of scholarly excellence and relevance ought to be part of how all departments are ranked. We are not advocating junking traditional criteria for academic rankings; rather, we urge that such narrow and disciplinarily focused criteria simply be balanced with some consideration of the unique aspects of international relations and also take account of the broader impact of scholarly work.
My FP colleague Stephen Walt has already praised the value-added of Campbell and Desch's approach:
Their point -- and it is a good one -- is that the standards and methods used to evaluate graduate programs are inherently arbitrary, and if you reward only those publications that are least likely to generate policy-relevant research, you are going to get an academic world that tends to be inward-looking and of less practical value.
I have a slightly different take. To be sure, Campbell and Desch raise one valid point: The NRC, by ignoring books, discriminates against fields that place more importance on them -- namely, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. Incorporating university press books would seem to be a relatively quick and easy fix to that problem. Even here, however, it's not clear to me why international relations is particularly "unique" within political science. If anything, it's the Americanists who are unique with such an overwhelming emphasis on journal articles.
The thing is, Campbell and Desch do not want to stop there. They also suggest that an appropriate ranking system should include factoring in policy relevance. This could be done through counting policy publications (in Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs), serving in the government with a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship, or congressional testimony.
Now, I'm a big fan of policy relevance. I've published in both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. I've had the CFR fellowship. Hell, I even testified before Congress a few times. Throwing false modesty aside, if I were included in Campbell and Desch's individual scholar rankings, I'd kick ass and take names.
That said, incorporating all of these policy-relevant factors would be a pretty bad way to rank political science departments.
The obvious problem with these metrics is that they discriminate against the other political science fields way more than the status quo discriminates against international relations scholars. But let's assume that Campbell and Desch would include, say, testifying before state legislatures or advising foreign governments into their metrics as well. Logically, this proposal still doesn't hold together.
On the one hand, their definition of "policy relevance" is exceedingly narrow. It consists primarily of actions or publications that service the U.S. government. It's entirely conceivable that some international relations scholars, for ethical or normative reasons, might decide that they would rather not aid the state with their service, authorship, or testimony. Surely there are other ways scholars can become policy relevant: advising NGOs, jump-starting social movements or campaigns, or even, say, out-and-out partisan blogging. Unless one wants to create a bias that rewards scholars for cozying up to the state, Campbell and Desch would have to devise a much more inclusive formula to calculate "policy relevant activities."
The thing is, if you go that far, you've probably gone too far. You're ranking scholars and departments not for their scholarship, but for their ability to act in a political manner in the service of that scholarship -- or simply asserting policy positions from a position of authority. As Johannes Urpelainen observed:
Academic policy relevance should be defined as the ability to use the scientific method to contribute to policy formulation. Insightful commentary based on a gut feeling or authority is not academic policy relevance. It results from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of academic institutions is in the global society. International relations scholars who feel the need to comment on current events based on their personal views or experiences can do so, but their policy relevance must be evaluated based on their ability to use the scientific method to add value.…
[A]s an academic, I am more than happy to subject my work to peer review. If my arguments are logically flawed or my identification strategy weak, I should not be rewarded just because some policymaker out there wants to justify a policy by referring to an Ivy League academic who is of the same opinion. International scholars should work harder than ever before to do the kind of research that survives the difficult process of peer review.
See Steve Saideman on this point as well.
Supporters of Campbell and Desch's argument might say that such an attitude "fetishizes" peer review at the expense of, say, writing for Foreign Policy. And there's no denying that the peer review system is imperfect. But I have seen, up close, the gatekeeping system that operates in order to crack Foreign Affairs or the New York Times op-ed page -- as, I'm sure, Campbell and Desch have. I'm therefore a bit gobsmacked that any academic would claim that this kind of non-peer-reviewed system is somehow fairer than what operates in the academy. In actuality, these other publication outlets stack the deck heavily in favor of name recognition and the prestige of one's home institution. They might do that for valid or invalid reasons -- but those reasons have very little to do with scholarly achievement.
Focusing primarily on peer-reviewed publications is a lousy, flawed, and inefficient way of doing rankings -- until one considers the alternatives.
Campbell and Desch are correct that scholars should not be punished for trying to enter the public sphere. As biases go, however, I'd posit that the one against policy relevance has faded over time and is a far less disconcerting form of bias than, say, this one.
What do you think?
Until yesterday, Elizabeth O'Bagy was a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and an increasingly prominent expert on the Syrian rebel groups. Then the institute announced the following:
The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O'Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O'Bagy's employment, effective immediately.
O'Bagy's exact academic status was unclear in the reportage. According what O'Bagy told Politico, "she had submitted and defended her dissertation and was waiting for Georgetown University to confer her degree." However, according to BuzzFeed, "O’Bagy has a masters from Georgetown University and was enrolled in a Ph.D program, but had not yet defended her dissertation." So there was already some confusion from O'Bagy's initial explanations.
Zack Beauchamp, however, suggests that O'Bagy's "representations" were a bit more extravagant than the distinction between defending a dissertation/receiving a diploma:
O’Bagy was enrolled in the Arab Studies Master’s program, which only partners with three departments for joint doctorate programs: Government, History, and Arabic Language, Literature, and Linguistics. Given her purported topic, she would have partnered with Government — according to one Georgetown PhD student who met O’Bagy, she had claimed a distinguished member of the Government Department as her adviser.
She is not listed as a PhD student on the Government department’s website. She does not exist in the university directory. A search of the entire Georgetown website turns up only one hit, a congratulations notice for her Master’s graduation.
There is “no evidence that she is associated with our department in any way; she’s not among our students as far as we can tell,” Daniel Nexon, a Government Professor who served as the Director of Admissions and Fellowships for all but one of the years she could have applied. The professor who was supposedly advising O’Bagy’s dissertation has never heard of her.
When I asked Kagan about the evidence of O’Bagy’s initial, ongoing deception, she demurred. “That I actually need to refer you to Georgetown for.”
My deep network of
spies sources at Georgetown confirm Beauchamp's account, telling me that there is zero evidence that O'Bagy was ever enrolled in any Ph.D. program at Georgetown.
So what? Why does this matter?
A few reasons. First, there's the Syria issue. Back to Politico:
O’Bagy’s Aug. 30 op-ed piece for the Journal, “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War,” was cited by both Kerry and McCain last week. McCain read from the piece last Tuesday to Kerry, calling it “an important op-ed by Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” The next day, Kerry also brought up the piece before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and described it as a “very interesting article” and recommended that members read it.
But the piece had also come under fire for misrepresenting her affiliations. Originally the op-ed only listed O’Bagy, 26, as only “a senior analyst” at the ISW, later adding a clarification that disclosed her connection to a Syrian rebel advocacy group.
“In addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O’Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition,” the WSJ added in its clarification.
Or, as CNN's Jake Tapper pithily put it: "It's all part of the weird world of Washington – a doctor who is not a doctor writes an op-ed testifying for the rebels, without disclosing that she is paid for by a rebel advocacy group, and her words are seized as evidence by experts – Kerry and McCain."
So there's that. It is certainly possible that O'Bagy's WSJ op-ed is 100% accurate. The thing is, misrepresenting one's affiliations and credentials go to credibility, and O'Bagy now has two strikes against her.
The other thing is why O'Bagy felt the need to misrepresent her credentials, and why the hell it took so long for Kagan and the ISW to ferret this out.
To answer this question, let's go to this recent Duck of Minerva blog post about how to land a policy position in D.C. Some telling portions:
All interns in this city are smart. Really. All of them. So there is a lot of competition about “who’s smarter than who” or “who produces more".…
In all reality, you don’t need a Ph.D at this town at first- though an M.A. is a near-must.... The people who need Ph.Ds are at the fellow level- and these are people who also have about a decade of government experience. Coming in with a Ph.D and no government experience means you price yourself out of the Research Associate market without the value added of experience....
Whichever way you go with grad school/law school/experience, start to carve out your own voice. Have a “thing” that you want to claim as your little slice of expertise. The strange thing about this town is that what you claim to be an expert on, your are perceived to be an expert on until proven otherwise (which can be a really good thing or a dangerously bad thing!) (emphasis added)
And here we get to the heart of the matter. In a community where the interns have master's degrees and the competition for remunerative jobs is fierce, the Ph.D. actually does count for something as a credential, no matter how much pundits and textbooks like to mock it. But going to get a Ph.D. in political science comes with lots of sacrifice and great risks as well as great rewards. [And for those of you who immediately react by thinking "this is what's wrong with a pseudo-scientific discipline that values the credential over real-world knowledge," let me assure you of two things: Political science Ph.D.s actually do accumulate a healthy amount of "real-world knowledge," and political science is hardly the only profession where people have exaggerated their credentials.]
O'Bagy is hardly the first person to misrepresent her academic credentials -- nor is she the most egregious example. And everyone "embellishes" their accomplishments on a CV or a résumé. But this episode suggests that maybe, just maybe, think tanks and consulting firms in Washington should do a little more due diligence in their hiring. And for those 20-somethings thinking about faking it so they can make it, bear this parable in mind about the possible consequences.
What do you think?
Barring a last-minute hurricane, your humble blogger is off to the American Political Science Association annual meetings early tomorrow. Now, personal and professional networking aside, there are two other reasons academics like myself like to go to these things. The first is to hear interesting work-in-progress, and the second is to linger over the book room, which has all the latest books about politics from academic and commercial presses. Name the most obscure political science-y topic in the world, and I'd be willing to bet that there's at least one book about it in that room.
Now, one of the perks of my
Klout score academic station is that publishers and authors send some interesting books sent my way. For those readers who are attending APSA and... um... read my blog and are therefore likely to be interested in the same topics that I am, here are the books that I think are worth picking up:
1) Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press). Blyth's book is that rare combination of analytical precision and furious jeremiad against the notion that fiscal austerity is the macroeconomic policy solution for times of uncertainty. If you're interested in economic ideas, this is well worth the read.
2) Ronald J. Deibert, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Signal). Cyber! Cyber!! CYBER!!! It's been that kind of year. Deibert has been looking at these issues for more than a decade now, and this very accessible text looks like it will be a must-read for the fall.
3) Emilie Hafner-Burton, Making Human Rights a Reality (Princeton University Press). Over the past few years, Hafner-Burton has published... let's see... approximately a gazillion pieces on human rights over the past decade. This book represents Hafner-Burton's efforts to distill what she's learned from her research and convert that knowledge into an actionable strategy to improve human rights across the globe.
4) Thomas Hale, David Held and Kevin Young, Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation Is Failing When We Need It Most (Polity Press). Loyal readers are aware of the argument I'm making in my book about the state of global economic governance. This book disagrees with me, but it does so in some very interesting ways -- and also covers a much wier range of issue areas than my own project.
5) Noel Maurer, The Empire Trap: The Rise and Fall of U.S. Intervention to Protect American Property Overseas, 1893-2013 (Princeton University Press). Maurer makes an argument that strikes me as pretty much the opposite of Stephen D. Krasner's Defending The National Interest. He posits that U.S. interventions have been dictated by private rather than national interests, and that military interventions to deal with expropriations have proven to be a costly and unnecessary exercise. As I write some follow-up work to my summer International Security article, it should come in handy.
6) Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Wronged By Empire: Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China (Stanford University Press). It's easy and glib to talk about how countries that were colonized carry that experience into their post-independence foreign policy. It's another thing entirely to explore rigorously how these colonial legacies explain foreign policy behaviors in wars that standard international relations theories do not. Miller looks at China and India in particular, two kinda important countries.
So after I wrote this post about the relatively modest importance of networking at APSA, there were some follow-up posts by Dan Nexon and Erik Voeten that made similar points about networking at APSA. This then triggered cogent counter-posts by Laura Sjoberg, Christian Davenport, and Will Moore about the vital importance of networking at APSA and more generally in the profession -- particularly for scholars who lack "privilege" in one form or another. This in turn, prompted a smart response by Bear Braumoeller.
I encourage political scientists to read all of these posts. Rhetorical kerfuffles aside, I do think there are some swathes of agreement. Both Sjoberg and Davenport note that the "baseline" for success in this field is the caliber of one's research. Davenport's anecdote about "bumrushing" a senior scholar with his packet -- and then prospering from that new network tie -- doesn't happen unless the contents of Davenport's packet are pretty good.
Furthermore, both Davenport and Sjoberg warn against the kind of "networking" that Braumoeller defines/talks about here:
In my experience, when graduate students talk about “networking” at big conferences like APSA, they’re talking about meeting fairly senior and well-known people for the sake of meeting them. My own sense is that there isn’t much value to that practice. Despite being skeptical, I did try it myself once as a graduate student. The response reminded me of stories I’d read about Lyndon B. Johnson. I never tried it again. As a professor, I’ve spent some very pleasant social hours at conferences with various graduate students, but those evenings don’t really have any weight when it comes to hiring decisions and the like.
This is certainly the kind of networking at APSA that I was pushing back on in my original post. But Moore, Davenport and Sjoberg in particular are correct -- there are forms of networking in general that can have value-added to one's career.
Now, onto the emendations and disagreements. First, the reason I've bolded at APSA so far is to stress that this was the scope conditions on the previous posts that were minimizing its importance. Both Sjoberg and Moore, however, stress the potentially significant value of networking as a general rule for particular scholars. I don't disagree -- but since that goes way beyond the scope conditions, this observation is neither here nor there.
Second, in her post, Sjoberg cautions that "I’m not suggesting that networking comes naturally to any of us, or that it is always effective. Certainly, there are more or less effective strategies (ah, the stories I could tell …) and strategies need to be tailored to the situation." I'd challenge Laura to follow up on that caveat, because while she and Davenport stress the benefits of good networking, they don't discuss the risks of bad networking. I have seen ham-handed, anxiety-fueled efforts to connect with senior people at APSA and more generally -- and they can leave some permanent scar tissue on one's career. I have no doubt when Davenport talks about his success in networking, he's telling the truth. But this is because I know Christian, I was colleagues with Christian, and in my experience he could charm Tom Coburn into doubling the NSF's political science budget. The rest of us mortals are a different story. So just as there is an asymmetric distribution of prestige in our small, small world, there's also an asymmetric distribution of social capabilities. I'm curious what Sjoberg and Davenport would advise those who are uncomfortable with schmoozing to do at APSA et al.
A final disagreement: Moore accuses Nexon, Voeten, Braumoeller and me of "believing that advice drawn from [our] experience is universally valuable" when we're all privileged mansplaining white dudes with fancy-pants degrees who work at fancy-pants institutions. We therefore have no comprehension about the utility of networking from a subaltern perspective, and are acting in a pernicious manner by offering a meritocratic fairy tale of focusing just on "the work," when we all know that one's academic station matters.
Now, without going into paroxysms of self-status analysis, let's stipulate that I'm guilty of all those appellations. And I've even pushed this meritocratic point in previous blog posts despite some personal history that suggests other factors might matter in determining one's academic career trajectory. But Will seems to believe that I took my own experiences of networking (or lack thereof) and generalized from them, which suggests that he possesses some Jedi mind tricks with which I'm unfamiliar to get into my head and divine my method and motives. For the record, however, I'd note that my post wasn't based so much on my own grad student experiences as my observations of grad students at my places of employment -- including, hey, those from Will's alma mater -- who twist themselves into neurotic knots trying to ingratiate themselves with their scholarly heroes. At APSA.
That said, I'll concede that, much like blogging, networking can be a possible source of comparative advantage for some emerging scholars, provided you have the tools for it -- and provided that you have good work to talk about once you've established your social ties. Because without the work, this is all a massive exercise in bullshit.
Normally, this is the point where I'd ask if I'm missing anything. With posts about academic politics, however, there comes a point after which the debate resembles the mutterings of the People's Front of Judea, so I'm not going to ask this time around. But I look forward to reading the practical advice of Sjoberg and others.
I see that earlier this week there was a small kerfuffle on the effect of the internet on journalism/punditry. See Robert Samuelson grumping his way through this column, followed by Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman responding.
You've heard a lot over the past 10 to 15 years about the crisis of American journalism, but it's actually been a crisis for American journalists. A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people have had to work harder, or work in ways they find less pleasant. Journalism has become more competitive and in some ways less prestigious. It's simultaneously more ideological and more commercial than it used to be. There are a lot of reasons journalists gripe. But the journalism is fine. Not just fine, it's fantastic. More people have easier and cheaper access to more great coverage than ever before. You can delve much deeper into issues than ever before, hear from a much wider range of people, and learn about news faster. There really has been an amazing explosion of journalistic productivity, and voracious readers are way better off than they've ever been. The fact that journalists may not like it is neither here nor there. If an explosion of higher education productivity occurs, the people who currently teach in colleges and universities will find it discomfiting and that should not be the relevant consideration.
I bring this all up because, while the debate about MOOCs focuses on the teaching side of the academy, my experience finishing up my book manuscript speaks to the research side. Simply put, the accessibility of data over the internet has improved dramatically just in the time between writing All Politics Is Global and The System Worked. Back in 2006 I don't remember being able to download usable spreadsheets on IMF or UNCTAD or WEF or Transparency International data while I was writing All Politics Is Global. I was able to do all of that inside of twenty minutes last month, and it was wonderful. I was able to collect information in two weeks that likely would have taken me a year to do back in the 1990s. Furthermore, the internet is now generating its own data that can be useful to scholars.
That's a significant increase in research productivity, and it is truly glorious. So I'd like to thank the Internet for all its help during the writing of this latest book. Yes, this technology is going to complicate my profession for quite some time. But, to paraphrase Yglesias: there are a lot of reasons that academic researchers gripe, but the academic research is fine.
Ah, the American Political Science Association annual meetings are coming up. Which means that political scientists are feverishly emailing each other trying to set up times for coffee/alcohol/food with friends/grad student cohorts/book editors/mooseheads.
Over at Duck of Minerva, Brian Rathbun tried to offer some useful advice for the relative newcomers to APSA. Tried. Unfortunately, Brian wrapped up that advice in, possibly, the worst metaphor ever. Here's the cached copy of the post -- Brian has taken it down, and explains why here. The reactions of Duck commenters to Rathbun's initial post has led to additional posts by Dan Nexon and Laura Sjoberg addressing sexual harassment and gender politics in the discipline.
Lost in the controversy, however, is that once you remove the metaphor, Brian made a salient point that bears repeating (see also Steve Saideman). Very often, graduate students and new-mint Ph.D.s approach APSA as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with The Movers and Shakers -- i.e., the senior people in the field who are on important editorial boards, prestigious hiring committees, book series, and attend those cocktail parties that everyone thinks are so damn important. Hell, I certainly approached APSA that way when I was at that stage of professional development
back in the 19th century.
In his post, Brian was trying to suggest that there is a better way to network:
It is almost always the case that the young people are the most creative and the most fun to be around. You will learn more. Young people haven’t settled into their intellectual habits and do not take themselves so seriously.... Ask yourself not, WWLT (“What Would Lake Think?), but rather, who is going to be the David Lake in the next ten to fifteen years? When I was an assistant, I found my exchanges with other assistants and associate professors so much more fun than any awkward exchange with the old farts. Never trust anyone under 40! Well, maybe 45.
As a newly-minted member of old fartdom, I wouldn't go quite this far. The key metric here isn't age per se -- it's the extent to which the person is better known for their past work rather than their current work. This tends to be correlated with age -- but it's hardly a lock.
That said, there are the seeds of a sound point here. More generally, I would recommend that younger scholars realize the following when it comes to networking at APSA:
1) The best kind of networking is always -- always -- to research, write and present really good papers. Really.
2) There is a small arbitrage opportunity to be had with the kind of networking that Rathbun is discussing. You can try to make the Milners and the Keohanes and the Lakes of the world remember you. That's a very crowded market, however, and they are bombarded with people trying to Get to Know Them. Instead, connect with the people who seem to be writing/presenting the work that you find to be the most interesting. That's how you'll improve your own ideas -- and then see (1) above.
3) You don't have to network at all. It likely helps your professional development a little bit on the margins, but not nearly as much as you would think. The opportunity costs are small compared to researching and publishing good work. Pour your manic energy into the latter far more than the former, and don't fret that you're missing all the cool parties if you don't feel like schmoozing.
Am I missing anything?
Just before 4 p.m. today, your humble blogger handed in the manuscript for The System Worked: Global Economic Governance During the Great Recession to his publisher. Which means…
Now, book writing is a grueling process, so one of the things I save until the end is the acknowledgments. Now, of course, it's fun to say thank you to people, especially when they've made your book easier to write or better to read. But it got me thinking: What if, like author tag lines, a foreign-policy book's acknowledgments were just brutally honest? Here are some possibilities that came to me way too damn easily:
1. "I am grateful to Ted Feldstein, who wrote a really awful column about a year ago that was just the perfect straw man idea for me to take down in this book."
2. "I thank Margaret Collins, a titan in my field, who foolishly tried to write a policy piece that was an even easier straw man to take down. I expected this kind of thing from Ted Feldstein, but, Margaret, you gave this stupidity some heft, which is just awesome for me."
3. "I should acknowledge my editor, Cecil Longbottom, for sending me into paroxysms of guilt from even his most tentative queries about whether my book would be two years or three years late."
4. "I thank Timothy Bottoms III for his sage advice, especially since I blurbed his thinly sourced book a few years ago and, oh, now it's time to collect."
5. "I am grateful to Louis Cooperman for having absolutely no game, awkwardly and drunkenly hitting on me at a conference, and then pretending like it never happened. This is the best explanation for his gushing referee report."
6. "The Pepzi Foundation generously supported this project, and I can only hope that they don't read it, since I wound up in a very different ideological place after doing the research."
7. "Lily Romanova provided invaluable research assistance, and by 'invaluable' I mean I had to double-check her work and came damn close to pulling a Doris Kearns Goodwin cutting and pasting one of her memos."
8. "My colleague Michael Pfeiffer is a gasbag who never says a sentence when a long stemwinder will do. I'd like to thank him for finally reading my death stares accurately and staying the hell away from my office while I was working on this book."
9. "Joe McNiff is a tech support guy I yelled at for 10 minutes straight because I thought my computer had erased my files, when actually I had forgotten that I'd renamed them. I'm thanking him here as a pure act of appeasement."
10. "My family was my rock during the drafting of this book. And by 'rock,' I mean they guilted the living hell out of me while describing my book incorrectly -- every … single … time -- at neighborhood barbeques."
11. "I'm grateful to Peter Klugman, a Big Shot in my field who made a useful offhand comment to me once. People reading this will hopefully think I really know him and therefore be impressed."
12. "Neal Weisen is a hack writer who has no substantive knowledge about my topic but more than 100,000 Twitter followers, so people listen to him. My hatefire for him fueled this project."
13. "Helen Hiscox is smarter than me, better trained than me, and can write rings around my prose. I'd like to thank her for focusing her energies on other topics instead of mine."
14. "I would like to thank Vin Diesel, who made a God-awful film, The Chronicles of Riddick, that was playing late-night on HBO as I was putting this manuscript to bed. It was a galactically stupid film and the only thing my brain could process as it winded down from writing each night."
15. "Daniel Drezner is a senior colleague who, when I talked about this project, would start mansplaining it to me and close with things like 'you should totally read this essay of mine!' and then gave me a paper that was relevant -- back in 2002. I'm thanking him because I want to get tenure."
Readers are encouraged to come up with their own ideas in the comments.
Your humble blogger will be spending the last days of this month wrestling with his nearly-completed book manuscript on global economic governance during the Great Recession. To those readers who aspire to write books, this must sound very glamorous. To those readers who have actually written books, however, you know the truth, and it's about as far from glamorous as one can get.
There are piles of paper everywhere in my office. Some of those piles have been undisturbed for weeks, but some get torn apart as I search frantically for that article that has that telling piece of data that I can put into that chapter and where the f**k is that article anyway??!! Some of those piles hide crumb-filled plates and coffee mugs that should have been cleaned out days ago. I have something like forty different tabs of .pdfs, spreadsheets, word processing documents and web pages open on my computer, and all of them are necessary. My exercise and sleep regimens are shot to hell. With declining amounts of natural energy, my coffee and sugar intakes have spiked, as has my waistline. Maybe, just maybe, all of this is making me crabbier than usual with my friends and family. I've been avoiding most face-to-face intercourse for the past few weeks so I can get this goddamn thing done. And all of this for a manuscript that, one-third of the time, makes me think, "what a steaming pile of horseshit."
So, to sum up, this is the place where I'm at right now:
Now, to be fair, two-thirds of the time I do think, "hey, I think I've got something here!" And there's a certain satisfaction that will come when I press "send" and this manuscript wings its way to my editor and publisher. My point, however, is that things like books and dissertations require a fair amount of sweat, anguish, and fortitude. So when someone claims to have done something like this when they really haven't, it pisses me off to no end.
My other point is that I'm a wee bit busy at the moment, so blogging will be light until August rolls around.
There's some interesting stuff a brewin' in the world politics blogosphere.
Over at Duck of Minerva, Daniel Nexon notes that world politics journals have done a pretty piss-poor job of addressing Big Issues -- you know, things like the 2008 financial crisis. He then asks how political science journals can properly address such questions:
[N]ot a few people argue that the whole point of academic international-relations work is to avoid faddishness and overly speculative claims about unfolding events. Anyone who has ever heard “journalism” used as an insult knows one version of this line of argument. Still, the fact that international-relations articles usually genuflect in the direction of policy relevance suggests that even those in this camp think journals should have contemporary salience.
I’m not visiting this well-trod terrain to provoke a meta-argument about scholarship. Rather, I’m curious what “big” questions deserve more attention in our journals. The nature and dynamics of contemporary economic order strikes me as an obvious candidate, but what else is out there? And how ought such questions be addressed in a way that maintains a commitment to scholarly rigor–in its myriad forms?
As it turns out, I think Tom Pepinsky gets at one answer in his wish list of how he'd like to reform political science journals. One of his requests is a return to the long review essay -- that is, a full paper devoted to just one Big Book:
I’m not sure if the practice of writing long peer-reviewed essays on major books has disappeared because no one wants to write such essays, or because journals won’t publish them anymore, or won’t subject them to peer review. But I do know that in the humanities, and especially in disciplines like history which remain book fields, the practice of writing long, peer-reviewed reviews of major books has survived....
My experience writing long review essays is limited (I have done precisely one). But that essay made a key theoretical point, and so long as books continue to be published in political science—and they will—we should give professional credit to long, serious, and peer-reviewed essays that strive to make similar theoretical contributions in response to recent scholarship. Even if they concentrate on just one major work. After all, that is the natural way to foster the rigorous and critical exchange that drives the discipline forward.
So, to answer Dan's question, I think one way that journals can engage in Big Topical Questions that have a dearth of rigorous scholarship is to engage in the Big Books that are out there in a critical way. Looking at my library, for example, I see the following ten books that I'd argue merit a full-blown review essay in World Politics, International Organization, or Perspectives on Politics:
1. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time Is Different.
2. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature.
3. Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox.
4. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail.
5. Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats.
6. Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire.
7. Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here.
8. G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan.
9. Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion.
10. Mark Blyth, Austerity.
Now, note a few things about this list. First, they're all tackling big topics: the secular decline in violence, the persistence of financial crises, the limits of technological solutionism, the rise of global inequality, and the significance of economic ideas. These are big, meaty, enduring topics that are not going to disappear anytime soon. These are not faddish books.
Second, political scientists did not write most of these books -- even though they cover topics pertaining to political scientists. One way to look at this is to sniff at such foolhardy outworlders and go about one's business. I'd suggest that a better way of responding is to imbibe these works but point out the ways in which pre-existing political science scholarship addresses or exposes some of flaws or weaknesses in their approaches -- and vice versa.
Finally, many of these books would not qualify as "rigorous" in the social science-y sense of the word. And that's OK -- the point of a good review essay is to apply rigor to ideas and theses that might be compelling but also might be eliding logical inconsistencies. Pointing out the ways in which political scientists can rigorously test sweeping claims is in and of itself useful. Projects born out of such efforts -- say, Giacomo Chiozza's Anti-Americanism and the American World Order -- are extremely valuable. Indeed, this might be the best way for journals to wrestle with big and topical ideas without losing their rigor.
So that's my (poached) suggestion. Offer up your own in the comments.
Your humble blogger has been hearing about MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- for the past few years now. Among the foreign-policy community, Walter Russell Mead has been banging on about these things for quite some time: See here and here and here and here and here and … you get the idea. Your humble blogger has been, well, let's say MOOC-curious, but not completely persuaded.
Dotcom mania was slow in coming to higher education, but now it has the venerable industry firmly in its grip. Since the launch early last year of Udacity and Coursera, two Silicon Valley start-ups offering free education through MOOCs, massive open online courses, the ivory towers of academia have been shaken to their foundations. University brands built in some cases over centuries have been forced to contemplate the possibility that information technology will rapidly make their existing business model obsolete. Meanwhile, the MOOCs have multiplied in number, resources and student recruitment—without yet having figured out a business model of their own.
Besides providing online courses to their own (generally fee-paying) students, universities have felt obliged to join the MOOC revolution to avoid being guillotined by it. Coursera has formed partnerships with 83 universities and colleges around the world, including many of America’s top-tier institutions.…
On July 10th Coursera said it had raised another $43m in venture capital, on top of the $22m it banked last year. Although its enrolments have soared, and now exceed 4m students, this is a huge leap of faith by investors that the firm can develop a viable business model. The new money should allow Coursera to build on any advantage it has from being a first mover among a rapidly growing number of MOOC providers. “It is somewhat entertaining to watch the number of people jumping on board,” says Daphne Koller, a Stanford professor and co-founder of Coursera. She expects it to become one of a “very small number of dominant players”.
The industry has similar network economics to Amazon, eBay and Google, says Ms Koller, in that “content producers go to where most consumers are, and consumers go to where the most content is.” Simon Nelson, the chief executive of FutureLearn, disagrees. “Anyone who thinks the rules of engagement have already been written by the existing players is massively underestimating the potential of the technology,” he says.
Sounds game-changing … or it sounds like the mania that gripped dotcom world circa 1999-2000. Mead and the Economist clearly think it's the former. Are they right?
I'm not so sure. One can point to individual MOOC flame-outs or surveys of MOOC profs and conclude that it's not a game-changer, not really -- but I'm not sure those individual data points rise to the level of falsification.
This Inside Higher Ed piece by Ry Rivard, however, is a bit more telling.
As scores of colleges rush to offer free online classes, the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down. Even top proponents of MOOCs are acknowledging critical questions remain unanswered, and are urging further study.
Dan Greenstein, the head of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now wonders aloud if MOOCs are a “viable thing or are just a passing fad.” Gates has agreed to spend $3 million for wide-reaching MOOC-related grants. But Greenstein said higher ed is suffering from “innovation exhaustion,” and MOOCs are part of the problem.
“It seems to me, at least with respect to MOOCs, that we have skipped an important step,” he wrote in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed last week. “We’ve jumped right into the ‘chase’ without much of a discussion about what problems they could help us to solve. We have skipped the big picture of where higher ed is going and where we want to be in 10 or 20 years.”....
If anything, MOOCs are going through what the technology consulting firm Gartner has identified as the “hype cycle.” The firm says any much-hyped product goes from a “peak of inflated expectations” to a “trough of disillusionment” before institutions figure out how to really use and benefit from a new technology.…
The new rhetoric in discussion of MOOCs may also be showing up from MOOC providers themselves. Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Udacity, predicted last year that within a half-century there would only be 10 institutions of higher education left in the world.
Now, Thrun is a bit more modest. "Upfront, I believe that online education will not replace face to face education, and neither is it supposed to," he wrote in a blog post last month. "Just as film never replaced theater plays and many of us prefer to watch sports live in big stadiums, online will not abolish face to face interaction." He also said ed tech innovators should be "willing to learn from our failures and to forge on."
OK, give me a second, I'm just going to take a moment and savor the irony of Gartner's discovery of the "hype cycle," given that a decade ago they pretty much claimed offshore outsourcing was the second coming of the Industrial Revolution and then … it turned to be juuuuust a little overhyped.
That said, I suspect that Gartner is likely correct this time. Evangelists like Mead or the Economist are way overselling the immediacy of any change in higher education because of MOOCs. Pro tip: If the biggest evidence that something is a game-changer is a firm can raise capital, then there ain't any there there just yet. It's promise and nothing more, as the owners of Pets.com will tell you.
That said, I do suspect that over time, some departments and some courses in some schools will make this kind of adaptation. If I had to predict, however, I'd say that there would be two trends. The first is that more state schools will be forced to embrace this option by budget-conscious state legislators. This doesn't mean that state students will get a better education. Indeed, I'd predict the opposite. My hunch is that sitting in a classroom with other students listening to a pretty good in-person lecturer provides far more educational value-added than a student watching the best MOOC instructor alone in their room. But even if it won't be a better education, it should be a cheaper one.
The second, and more important, trend is that global students should be the biggest beneficiaries, simply by expanding the supply of available educational options. And MOOCs might solve that pesky question of how to handle setting up satellite campuses in countries with questionable regimes.
What do you think?
Well, Richard Perez-Pena has quite the New York Times front-pager, doesn't he?
America’s research universities, among the most open and robust centers of information exchange in the world, are increasingly coming under cyberattack, most of it thought to be from China, with millions of hacking attempts weekly. Campuses are being forced to tighten security, constrict their culture of openness and try to determine what has been stolen.
University officials concede that some of the hacking attempts have succeeded. But they have declined to reveal specifics, other than those involving the theft of personal data like Social Security numbers. They acknowledge that they often do not learn of break-ins until much later, if ever, and that even after discovering the breaches they may not be able to tell what was taken.
Universities and their professors are awarded thousands of patents each year, some with vast potential value, in fields as disparate as prescription drugs, computer chips, fuel cells, aircraft and medical devices.
“The attacks are increasing exponentially, and so is the sophistication, and I think it’s outpaced our ability to respond,” said Rodney J. Petersen, who heads the cybersecurity program at Educause, a nonprofit alliance of schools and technology companies. “So everyone’s investing a lot more resources in detecting this, so we learn of even more incidents we wouldn’t have known about before.”....
Analysts can track where communications come from — a region, a service provider, sometimes even a user’s specific Internet address. But hackers often route their penetration attempts through multiple computers, even multiple countries, and the targeted organizations rarely go to the effort and expense — often fruitless — of trying to trace the origins. American government officials, security experts and university and corporate officials nonetheless say that China is clearly the leading source of efforts to steal information, but attributing individual attacks to specific people, groups or places is rare.
What's interesting is the difference in how universities are responding to these threats as opposed to corporations:
Like major corporations, universities develop intellectual property that can turn into valuable products like prescription drugs or computer chips. But university systems are harder to secure, with thousands of students and staff members logging in with their own computers.
Mr. Shaw, of Purdue, said that he and many of his counterparts had accepted that the external shells of their systems must remain somewhat porous. The most sensitive data can be housed in the equivalent of smaller vaults that are harder to access and harder to move within, use data encryption, and sometimes are not even connected to the larger campus network, particularly when the work involves dangerous pathogens or research that could turn into weapons systems.
“It’s sort of the opposite of the corporate structure,” which is often tougher to enter but easier to navigate, said Paul Rivers, manager of system and network security at the University of California, Berkeley. “We treat the overall Berkeley network as just as hostile as the Internet outside.”
Now, far be it for me to suggest an alternative strategy to counter these kind of cyberattacks, but I do wonder what would happen if academic institutions decided to simply throw open almost all of their Internet traffic to outside observation. The idea here would be to drown cyberspies in so much minutiae that the following would happen:
SETTING: NONDESCRIPT BUILDING, SHANGHAI, CHINA, AT LEAST TEN PEOPLE SURROUNDING ONE COMPUTER TERMINAL
ENTER GENERAL CHANG INTO THE ROOM.
CHANG: Well, Comrade Li, what valuable information have you extracted from Tufts University? Anything valuable?
MAJOR LI SEES CHANG, STANDS UPRIGHT, SALUTES.
LI: Oh, it's very exciting, General. I've been monitoring their Central Committee exchanges, although they use the bourgeois term "faculty governance" instead.
CHANG: Major, I think we were more interested in whether Tufts had any technical---
LI: Apparently, the Tufts faculty has splintered into many, many factions, sir! Some of the splittists are waging a fierce online guerilla campaign to secure coveted parking spots!!
CHANG: Major, maybe it's time you took that holiday we talked about---
LI: No, sir!! Then I wouldn't be able to see which faculty members manage to avoid membership in the accursed admissions committee!!
CHANG: You fool, Li!! Can't you see that is distracting you from your real purpose?! Is this all you've found out, Li?
LI: No, sir, I've also hacked into the New York Times server and have acquired all the necessary metadata to produce a detailed graph function of who is sleeping with who, sir.
CHANG: Well done, Li!! With this information, we will continue our peaceful rising no matter how badly the Americans try to stifle us!
Seriously, beyond the few precautions discussed in the article, I'm dubious that much can or should be done about this. Perhaps some intellectual property would be preserved by cracking down on the openness of the university system. I suspect, however, that far more would never be created in the first place.
What do you think?
Yesterday Jackson Diehl wrote quite the jeremiad against American universities. Not a Walter Russell Mead it's-the-end-of-higher-education-as-we-know-it one either. Diehl's beef is the extent to which U.S. universities are ostensibly sacrificing their core values to engage in the nonprofit version of foreign direct investment:
[New York University] is at the forefront of an exploding trend: the expansion of U.S. universities, think tanks and other cultural institutions not just to London and Paris, but to unfree countries whose governments are spending billions of dollars to buy U.S. teaching, U.S. prestige — and, perhaps, U.S. intellectual freedom. China is one of them: In addition to NYU, it is partnering with Duke to build a satellite campus, hosts smaller programs from schools including Harvard, Yale and Princeton and sent 193,000 of its own students to U.S. universities last year.
In September a joint venture between Yale and Singapore will open on a campus built and paid for by that autocracy. Then there are the Persian Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates hosts branches of Paris’s Sorbonne and the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in addition to NYU. While funding jihadists in Syria and Libya, Qatar is on its way to spending $33 billion on an “education city” hosting offshoots of Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon.
Is it possible to accept lucrative subsidies from dictatorships, operate campuses on their territory and still preserve the values that make American universities great, including academic freedom? The schools all say yes, pointing to pieces of paper — some of them undisclosed — that they have signed with their host governments. The real answer is: of course not.
Now, right at the start, there needs to be a little bit of pushback. First, it's a good thing that China is sending so many of its students to the United States, so I'm not sure why Diehl is painting it as some sinister action. Second, last I checked, Qatar was funding rebel movements that, at some point, had the tacit endorsement of the United States. So that seems kinda extraneous to his argument.
That said, the overall question Diehl raises is vexing. He also links to a very informative Anya Kamenetz piece in Newsweek that provides more context, including this:
While the number of prospective students is part of the problem, cultural preferences also play a role. When liberal-arts courses are offered on these foreign campuses, for instance, interest is low. “NYU Abu Dhabi was founded on the premise of providing a real humanistic liberal-arts education—different from what goes on at the Emirati universities,” says Linda Gordon, an NYU historian who taught at the Abu Dhabi campus in 2011 and published an article in Dissent magazine critical of the expansion. “But I know from colleagues that in the last year, there’s been very low enrollments in liberal-arts courses beyond those that are required. The overwhelming number of students want to study science or technology.” (NYU's Abu Dhabi campus has provided information indicating that to date, 64 percent of students at that school who have declared majors have declared one in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.)....
Financial arrangements vary greatly from host country to host country. The Emirates’ deal with NYU, beginning with an initial $50 million donation to the home campus from the principalities, is one of the most generous among all branch campuses. The state offers scholarships up to $65,000 for nearly every student, with no loans, including room, board, spending money, and travel home. There are research stipends for professors who agree to teach there. The emirs are building a brand-new campus for NYUAD, set to open in 2014, 1,600 feet off the coast of Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, an ultraluxury residential and commercial development that will also feature branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. Besides these investments and operating expenses, an undisclosed percentage of funds travels directly from NYU Abu Dhabi back to New York. Shanghai’s government is also paying for the NYU campus in that city, and funding research for faculty back in New York. (The story in Qatar is similar: Education City will be a $33 billion project 20 years in the making when it is completed in 2016—and that’s the bill for architecture and construction alone, not counting scholarships, financial aid, and other subsidies.)
At the risk of wading into an intellectual mine field, I'd suggest that one's attitude about this phenomenon depends on whether you're concerned about a particular American university or about U.S. foreign policy. If you care about the intellectual integrity of, say, NYU or Yale, then Diehl and Kamenetz raise some pretty valid concerns. Clearly, intellectual life in these satellite campuses is different from intellectual life in the home institution. I'm more dubious about assertions that these differences will somehow "infect" the state of academic free speech in the United States, however. Sure, these campuses are moneymakers for U.S. universities, but the bread and butter of higher ed's revenue stream remains tuition and research dollars from the advanced industrialized states. I suspect administrators in state schools fear their own legislatures more than the implications of going overseas.
On the other hand, from a U.S. foreign policy perspective, matters are less clear. Diehl's worldview is sympatico with the idea of spreading American values across the globe. His column provokes a question: is the likelihood of that spread of liberal values stronger or weaker with these kind of activities? The counterfactual of no U.S. higher education involvement in authoritarian capitalist economies would be less discussion of the liberal arts in these venues. And based on the Kamenetz article, there is more interest in these topics than one might suspect.
From a U.S. foreign policy perspective, these kind of activities are long-term investments in soft power values that might or might not make the rest of the world want what the United States wants. So it could be that your cost-benefit analysis is that compromising a particular university's values is not worth the nebulous benefits of this kind of overseas foreign direct investment. Speaking for myself, however, I think I'm in the strange situation of being glad that these arrangements are taking place, but equally glad that the Fletcher School is not imbricated in any of them.
What do you think?
So last week was a pretty interesting one in wonkworld. Whether it was a disturbing week is in the eye of the beholder.
To recap: Last Monday the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that proposed immigration reforms would cost north of $6 trillion. This report received a lot of pushback from liberal, libertarian, and conservative policy analysts.
As the debate fragmented into myriad sub-debates, one eddy focused on one of the co-authors, Heritage senior policy analyst Jason Richwine. As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews unearthed, Richwine's Harvard University dissertation was titled "IQ and Immigration Policy." In it, he made the arguments that 1) Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than white Americans, 2) that difference is partly due to genetic differences between the races, and 3) these differences will not dissipate with successive generations. You can figure out Richwine's policy conclusions for yourself. Dave Weigel at Slate also discovered that Richwine had contributed to a "white nationalist magazine" on the side.
Needless to say, Heritage started backpedaling as furiously as possible from Richwine. They made it clear that Richwine's dissertation was not a Heritage work product and that they didn't endorse it. Then, last Friday, the final boom came: Richwine "resigned" from Heritage. I put that in quotes because, given the circumstances, there's no earthly reason he would have resigned without some serious pressure from those above him at the think tank.
So, what does this all mean? Three thoughts:
1) Hey, so it turns out that ideas do matter in public policy. Not just any ideas either, but the quality of the ideas. This isn't to say that politics aren't involved in what happened this past week -- this is totally about political self-interest as well -- but the incomplete and distorted analysis that Heritage provided left it very vulnerable to pushback.
2) A few immigration skeptics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, have decried what they see as intellectual PC-thoughtcrime run amok. Malkin in particular decries the "smug dismissal of Richwine's credentials and scholarship." Now, to be blunt, this is just a little rich coming from someone who has not been shy when it comes to smug dismissals of Ivy League credentials in the past. That said, whenever someone goes from anonymous to the focus of a white-hot media scrum to fired inside of a week, I get queasy. Was there a rush to judgment here?
I'd break this down into two steps: First, whether Heritage acted appropriately, and second, whether Richwine's work merits the mantle of brave truth-teller. On the former, well, this is a key difference between a think tank and a university. Think tanks are trying to influence public policy, and the taint of having someone dabbling with the racist fringe on the payroll is a difficult one to erase. So, yeah, it shouldn't be all that shocking that Richwine is no longer working at Heritage, whereas university professors who say or write controversial things stay on the payroll.
As for the quality of Richwine's dissertation, the primary defense that Malkin et al. offer appears to be the caliber of Richwine's dissertation committee. From Malkin's post:
No researcher or academic institution is safe if this smear campaign succeeds. Richwine’s dissertation committee at Harvard included George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy. The Cuban-born scholar received his PhD in economics from Columbia. He is an award-winning labor economist, National Bureau of Economic Research research associate, and author of countless books, including a widely used labor economics textbook now in its sixth edition.
Richard J. Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at JFK, also signed off on Richwine’s dissertation. Zeckhauser earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He belongs to the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences).
The final member of the committee that approved Richwine’s "racist" thesis is Christopher Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard's JFK School. He is a renowned left-wing academic who has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He edited the liberal New Republic magazine in the 1960s and has written several scholarly books tackling poverty, economic inequality, affirmative action, welfare reform, and yes, racial differences (The Black White Test Score Gap).
The willingness of Republican Gang of 8'ers to allow a young conservative researcher and married father of two to be strung up by the p.c. lynch mob for the crime of unflinching social science research is chilling, sickening, and suicidal.
These are serious people doing serious work.
I must confess that Malkin's lament made me think of this:
This is not to denigrate Richwine's dissertation committee. Still, as someone all too familiar with the Ph.D. life, let's just say that an argument based solely on authority is not convincing. I've perused parts of Richwine's dissertation, and … well … hoo boy. Key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I'm familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good. It's therefore unsurprising that, until last week, Richwine's dissertation disappeared into the ether the moment after it was approved. According to Google Scholar, no one cited it in the four years since it appeared. Furthermore, Richwine apparently didn't convert any part of it into any kind of refereed or non-refereed publication. Based on the comments that Weigel and others have received from Richwine's dissertation committee, one wonders just how much supervising was going on.
3) This whole affair should be a cautionary tale to Ph.D. students and profs alike. For the grad students -- particularly those planning on going into the policy world -- your dissertation will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't think you can just grind one out barely above the bar and it won't matter. And if you're puzzled why your advisor or a member of your dissertation committee is acting all anal retentive about some aspect of your thesis, there's a good reason. Our dissertation students follow us for the rest of our careers. The last thing we want as advisors is to get a phone call from a reporter asking us why we let some dubious piece of work skate through. It's our asses on the line as well.
Am I missing anything?
Over the weekend Niall Ferguson got himself into intellectual hot water over an off-the-cuff response to a question about Keynes in which he suggested that Keynes didn't value the future too much because he was gay, had no heirs, and therefore didn't care about future generations. Now, Keynes's writings here and here would betray the claim that he didn't care about the future. And the whole "someone who's gay must have a reduced shadow of the future" stereotype is hackneyed in the extreme. So, Ferguson was doubly wrong -- and to his credit, he offered up a real apology (not an "I'm sorry if this offended anyone" variant) pretty quickly.
Critical wounds run deep, however. In response to a lot of online discourse that noted his prior observations on Keynes's sexual orientation, Ferguson penned an open letter in the Harvard Crimson. Some highlights:
I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics, who insisted that I was guilty not just of stupidity but also of homophobia. I have no doubt that at least some students were influenced by these allegations. Nobody would want to study with a bigot. I therefore owe it to students—former and prospective—to make it unambiguously clear that I am no such thing.
To be accused of prejudice is one of the occupational hazards of public life nowadays.…
Not for one moment did I mean to suggest that Keynesian economics as a body of thought was simply a function of Keynes’ sexuality. But nor can it be true—as some of my critics apparently believe—that his sexuality is totally irrelevant to our historical understanding of the man. My very first book dealt with the German hyperinflation of 1923, a historical calamity in which Keynes played a minor but important role. In that particular context, Keynes’ sexual orientation did have historical significance. The strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath.…
What the self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere forget is that to err occasionally is an integral part of the learning process. And one of the things I learnt from my stupidity last week is that those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it, are among the most insidious enemies of academic freedom.
Now there are two things going on here. First, to what extent does a person's biography affect his or her role in history? And second, just who are these "self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere"?
Ferguson is correct on the first point in general, though I'm not so sure about this particular instance. I'm in the middle of Jeremy Adelman's magisterial biography Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, for example. One would be hard-pressed to suggest that Hirschman wrote what he wrote about without paying some attention to his life story. So it is entirely appropriate for a historian to talk about Keynes's personal background in trying to suss out why he argued what he argued.
The thing is, Ferguson keeps eliding important details when he talks about the effect of Keynes's sexual preferences on his policy pronouncements. Take the claim that Keynes's attraction to Melchior affected his views on Versailles. Eric Rauchway points out some additional facts not in evidence:
Keynes made early calculations for what Germany should pay in reparations in October, 1918. In “Notes on an Indemnity,” he presented two sets of figures – one “without crushing Germany” and one “with crushing Germany”. He objected to crushing Germany because seeking to extract too much from the enemy would “defeat its object by leading to a condition in which the allies would have to give [Germany] a loan to save her from starvation and general anarchy.” As he put in a revised version of the same memorandum, “If Germany is to be ‘milked’, she must not first of all be ruined.”
Keynes also worried that too large a reparations bill might distort international trade. “An indemnity so high that it can only be paid by means of a great expansion of Germany’s export trade must necessarily interfere with the export trade of other countries.”
The point of mentioning it is that Keynes developed these concerns prior to going to the negotiations and meeting Carl Melchior.
So even if Ferguson is right on general principle, he's misleading on this particular point.
It's the last paragraph of Ferguson's letter that's quite … quite … 2004 in its formulation. Just who are these "self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere" anyway? The most damning indictments of Ferguson's past discussions of Keynes's homosexuality, Ferguson's more contemporary and woefully wrong economic predictions, and Ferguson's recent intellectual dust-ups come from either Business Insider or the Atlantic. Other prominent online critics of Ferguson over the past week have been Justin Wolfers, Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Rauchway. That's three full professors of economics and a full professor of history.
Ferguson's rhetorical trick here is to try to denigrate the content of their criticisms by pointing to the medium. It's a cute gambit in public discourse, and I suspect it will make him and his acolytes feel better. Intellectually, however, that dog won't hunt.
As much fun as it is to dissect Niall Ferguson -- and I won't lie, I've had a lot of fun at his expense -- this sort of thing gets tedious after a spell. So, please, Niall, try to wade into more interesting intellectual waters the next time you make a mistake.
Oh, and stop claiming "academic freedom" as a shield to protect you from public critiques of something you said at an investment conference. That's not how academic freedom works.
Am I missing anything?
Six weeks ago I discussed -- as a dispassionate political scientist -- why the field of political science was good and truly f**ked when it came to Congress. Yesterday, Dave Weigel blogged about this at more length. The depressing parts version:
Attacking government-funded social science is popular, especially on the right. Last week, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill that would change the American Community Survey, sent annually to a random selection of 3.2 million people, from mandatory to optional. If Americans didn’t want to fill it out, even if that would render it mostly useless as data, the private sector would do just fine.
When I asked Poe to explain how that information would be collected without the Community Survey, he said, “There are other ways to get the same information about the dynamics of business, and where to locate a business. You can do it through polling. You don’t have to force people to participate.”
Social scientists don’t agree, but it’s difficult for them to justify their own funding in a time of severe government cutbacks....
The new attempts to claw away at research have gone on for months, and the academics haven’t put up a compelling defense beyond one event on the Hill and the yeoman blogging of some professors like John Sides. “Going forward,” Sides wrote after Coburn’s win, “a coordinated lobbying effort is needed not only to roll back the restrictions on political science but to defend the NSF’s core mission as a promoter of scientific research in the public good, broadly defined.”
So far that lobbying effort doesn’t exist. Instead, Republicans are able to challenge NSF funding in order to pursue long-term political goals without too many people noticing.
To understand further why this will be so difficult, let's go to the video clip of the week, which right now is probably the revenge fantasy of every political scientist out there. Via the Military Times, this is General Ray Odierno chewing out House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with the bemused permission of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon. The chewing out part starts at around 3:30.
Now, watching that clip, it's hard not to conclude that Hunter was taken to the woodshed by Odierno for being an ignorant jackass. That's certainly the conclusion that Gawker, Mediaite, and others came to in promoting the clip.
Now, here's a fun exercise -- what if Odierno had been an irate political scientist rather than a four-star general? I guarantee you that the exchange would have been framed and interpreted differently. Because of the high public respect for the military, when Odierno goes off, people will listen. Not so with academics. Instead of "General smacks down House representative," the headline would have looked more like "Snotty academic preens at elected official."
In fact, we don't need to imagine. Remember this little exchange between House Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and historian Douglas Brinkley from about 18 months ago?
Now, Don Young has all the charisma and grace of a three-month old carton of milk. He's far more insulting and contemptuous of Brinkley in that clip than Duncan Hunter was in trying to walk away from Odierno. The overall effect, however, is different. First, Young's chairman, Doc Hastings, protected Young in a way that McKeon did not protect Hunter, thereby preventing Brinkley from going on a rant.
Second, however, as bad as Young looks in that video, Brinkley doesn't look that much better. He comes off too much like a preening, stuffed-shirt academic.
Unfortunately, that's an occupational hazard. We're trained in graduate school to eviscerate counterarguments and the people who make them. It might be the one sector in the world where Aaron Sorkin-rules of debate hold up. But it only works because everyone in the seminar room or lecture hall understands the context of the debate. That rarely happens when the public peeks in at a YouTube clip of a congressional hearing.
Are there some political scientists who could pull off an Odierno-level smackdown? I suppose it's possible, but I confess to being dubious about its likelihood (suggestions welcomed in the comments section please).
Now, as a political scientist, I should warn you that viral-video-friendly exchanges like the ones linked above rarely shift public opinion. They are one way to frame the stupidity of a particular Congressional jihad, however. And as much as I might fantasize about a Beth Simmons or a Scott Sagan sticking it to Tom Coburn, I'm not confident that it will ever happen.
Am I missing anything? Please tell me I'm missing something...
UPDATE: I received a call in the last hour from Representative Duncan Hunter's deputy chief of staff, who lodged a polite protest over the descriptive term "ignorant jackass," referencing this Politico story. Which is fair enough, but this exchange suggests two things:
1) The staffer didn't read the blog post carefully, because I was using that term to describe how the video made Hunter look -- not whether that depiction was accurate or not.
2) Maybe political scientists blogging/writing for the press actually do have an effect on member of Congress.
While your humble blogger
remains jet-lagged out of his gourd adjusts back to the Western hemisphere, he strongly encourages you to read this fantastic David Barboza story in the New York Times on the predilection in China to use cash for ... well ... everything:
Lugging nearly $130,000 in cash into a dealership might sound bizarre, but it’s not exactly uncommon in China, where hotel bills, jewelry purchases and even the lecture fees for visiting scholars are routinely settled with thick wads of renminbi, China’s currency.
This is a country, after all, where home buyers make down payments with trunks filled with cash. And big-city law firms have been known to hire armored cars to deliver the cash needed to pay monthly salaries.
For all China’s modern trappings — the new superhighways, high-speed rail networks and soaring skyscrapers — analysts say this country still prefers to pay for things the old-fashioned way, with ledgers, bill-counting machines and cold, hard cash.
Many experts say it is not a refusal to enter the 21st century as much as wariness, of the government toward its citizens and vice versa (emphasis added).
Now you should definitely read the whole thing, but a few thoughts here:
1) From a personal perspective, as the occasional visitor to China, I can confirm the wads of cash thing -- but it's a bit more complicated than Barboza suggests. First of all, for U.S. academics at least, the payment isn't in renminbi, but in U.S. dollars. Renminbi is sometimes dispensed for things like per diem reimbursements, but not for honoraria. After all, officially, the RMB is still not convertible to dollars outside of the country, so it wouldn't be very nice to get paid in a currency that is technically useless outside the People's Republic.
There are two other qualifiers here. First, at least with respect to academic honoraria, it's not just China that pays in cash -- so does Japan, for example. Second, speaking as an academic who's received the occasional honorarium, it's friggin' awesome. At some point, someone takes you aside and gives you an envelope stuffed with bills. I know it's impolite to say, but every time it happens, I feel like I'm an earner in Tony Soprano's crew. It's soooooo much more satisfying than getting a check (as is the norm in the U.S.) or receiving a bank transfer
three months later than it should be and only after haranguing someone a few times (as is the norm in Europe).
2) The more substantive point of Barboza's story is how the cash-based system reflects the degree of distrust between the government, Chinese citizens, and the financial system. From a global political economy perspective, this cuts in two directions. On the one hand, it suggests that the effects of a real estate bubble popping in China might have a muted effect on the broad mass of Chinese. After all, if they're holding their assets outside the financial system, then their bigger fear will be currency-gnawing rats (read to the end of Barboza's story) than banks closing.
On the other hand, it's worth reading articles like this whenever someone suggests that the renminbi will soon be a challenger to the U.S. dollar as an international reserve currency. For that to ever truly happen, China's capital account will have to be one hell of a lot more transparent and liberal than it is now. As it turns out, even China's Superbank isn't actually that super once one digs into the numbers. And if Chinese citizens are trying to avoid dealing with China's financial system and the renminbi, then I seriously doubt global capital markets are going to embrace the RMB as a rival to the dollar.
With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
Your humble blogger has been knee-deep in chairing, discussing, and attending International Studies Association panels
all of which seem to have the word "diffusion" in the title and SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Now, naturally, with the global financial crisis and its aftermath there's been a lot of talk about debts and deficits. And with the defense sequester and what-not, there's been a lot of talk about rising levels of partisanship. And I've come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of this talk need to stop, like, right now.
Here's the dirty truth about most international studies scholars: They know a fair amount about the high politics of international affairs and almost next to nothing about the rest of life. Of course, the rest of life does impinge on world politics, so there's some natural overlap. The problem starts when, in talking about non-IR stuff, we start to think that we have just as much expertise in these areas. Which we don't. At all.
Last night I tweeted a query about what areas IR scholars should be quiet about and got way too many answers to fit in a blog post. So, here are five things about which I'd really like 99 percent of international relations scholars to shut the hell up:
1) Macroeconomic policy. Should the United States cut its deficit further? Are budget cuts, tax cuts, or tax increases necessary? How can the eurozone escape its current macroeconomic malaise? Most of us have no friggin' clue what the correct answers are for the United States, and that goes double for the euro zone. So unless you're actually publishing scholarly work on global macroeconomic policy, shut up.
2) The role of money in American politics. Foreign policy scholars are far too often shocked -- shocked!! -- when they see interest group politics at work. The Citizens United decision has only amplified this lament. The reaction to this is to either bemoan the general health of the American polity or to start developing simple theories that argue that money or lobbies explain everything about politics. Now I might not be the biggest fan of the American politics subfield, but I'm pretty sure they know more about this topic than we do. So shut up and read what they have to say.
3) Partisanship in the United States. Did you know that it's getting worse? And that it's paralyzing the U.S. government? And that it's getting worse? One of the natural biases of foreign policy scholars is to think in terms of a national interest, and then act appalled when there are different partisan conceptions of that term. Basically, what applies to #2 applies to this point as well.
4) The Internet. As near as I can determine, when asked about this technology affects international politics, most scholars answer with some variation of "networks networks networks cyber cyber cyber." Some scholars do very good work on this subject. The rest of us should shut up for a spell and read them.
5) Diffusion. Never again. Ever.
What else, my dear readers, would you like to see less gabbing about from international affairs scholars?
Blogging will be light for the rest of the week, as I'll be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
If you're also attending but new to these things and therefore unsure of what the informal norms are about such events, check out Megan MacKenzie's indispensable ISA Guide to Newbie Graduate Students. Oh, and come attend the First Ever Official ISA Blogging Reception. I'll be there too, and I'm bringing my #TFC12 finalist flask with me!!
My other piece of advice would be to read Rob Farley's provocative new PS: Political Science and Politics essay, "Complicating the Political Scientist as Blogger." Farley is responding to a 2011 essay by John Sides at the Monkey Cage, which offers what I would label the "standard" narrative about how blogging can be a help rather than a hindrance to good political science -- hell, I wrote something similar to it in 2008.
Farley considers this standard narrative, ponders it for a second, and then puts all his chips into the middle and raises the stakes:
Although I appreciate the effort to “just add blogging” to the discipline of political science, I worry that in making blogging safe, Sides gives away too much of what makes it interesting, influential, and fun. Specifically, I have two major objections to Sides’ characterization of blogging in political science. First, the article heralds an effort to discipline the political science blogosphere, establishing metrics for differentiating between “good” blogs that can contribute to (or at least should not be held against) a political science career, and “bad” blogs that do no one any good. In short, Sides’s article served both prescriptive and proscriptive purposes. Second, by emphasizing the “safe” elements of blogging, Sides has left winnings on the table; blogging could play a larger role in political science than he suggests.
Read the whole thing. I have, and I'm still sorting out how I think about it. On the one hand, I think Farley makes a really good point. There are ways in which the "standard" narrative leaves some things out. Let a thousand IR blogs bloom!
On the other hand ... well, I'm leery of advising junior faculty and grad students to throw caution into the wind and blog outside the box, as it were. Blogs are becoming more mainstream in international relations scholarship and political science, but I wouldn't describe them as truly mainstream just yet. So I have some residual caution.
There's something else, however. If blogs are going to occupy a more central role in the field of political science, then they're inevitably going to be measured, assessed, evaluated, and quantified in any kind of professional assessment. That's what happens when people are hired or promoted in the academy. But for blogging, this is problematic, because the distribution of traffic and linkage in blogs is highly asymmetric. I worry that any kind of assessment will skew against the majority of blogs. More generally, I'm kinda dubious about the metrics we do have to measure blogs. This doesn't mean we shouldn't do it -- but I think we need to be aware of the risks going forward, and I think I'm less sanguine about them than Farley.
Clearly, technology is changing the way we in IR scholarship do business. We're going to need to figure out what that means in the years ahead.
Yesterday an amendment to the continuing resolution funding the U.S. government, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was passed by a voice vote in the Senate. Its purpose?
To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.
Now, from a pure material interest perspective, this should make me happy. I've never received a dime in NSF funding, and I'm sitting on a pretty good grant for the next 5-10 years, so from a strictly relative gains perspective, I acquire more influece in the discipline. Furthermore, the national security exemption means that whatever scraps the NSF throws to political science will go to my preferred subfields like international relations and comparative politics.
The thing is, though, that I love political science. I want to see more quality research being done, and the NSF cutoff pushes things in the opposite direction. So I'm not happy.
If I'm displeased, however, then I think it's safe to say that the American Political Science Association is galactically pissed off at this outcome:
Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.
The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.
Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation's interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.
Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation.
And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world's exemplary democracy.
I've blogged at length in the past on the substantive reasons why a cutoff of NSF funds for political science is really, really, stupid. Another post on that question won't change things. And I vented my frustration at the willful ignorance of Senator Coburn yesterday, so there's no reason to go there now. Yesterday, however, there was rollicking debate on Twitter about the need for political scientists to, well, be better at politics. Folks such as Phil Arena, Jay Ulfelder, William Winecoff, and Jacob Levy observed that APSA's tactical response to Coburn's folly -- encouraging APSA members to email Congress and so forth -- was pretty lame. Only if we used the Dark Arts of political science knowledge could we somehow stymie the Senator from Oklahoma.
Here's the thing, though -- while I'm no expert in American politics, I think I know enough of the Dark Arts to know that we could have the best arguments in the world and still recognize that political science is good and truly f**ked.
From a straight interest group perspective political scientists don't matter. At all. The NSF funding for political science is a $13 million appropriation spread out geographically. There is no concentrated interest in a particular congressional district or state to motivate a member of Congress to fight for this issue with as much ardor as Tom Coburn or Jeff Flake.
Now, one could argue that if you believe in epistemic communities -- i.e., the power of collective expertise -- to influence uninformed members of Congress, then maybe political scientists could function as Weberian activists and educate members about the inherent value of political science. The thing is, as I've argued previously, politicians and pundits do not think of politics as a scientific enterprise. Maybe a few pundits developed a new appreciaion for statistics following the 2012 election, but that's not quite the same thing. So an epistemic community of political scientists won't cut it. Hell, all social scientists would be unlikely to persuade the Senate -- remember, this is a body that was copacetic with a Senator blocking a Nobel Prize winning economist from sitting on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Maybe we could logroll with all the natural and physical sciences too, but if the past decade of climate change policy has proven anything, it's that this won't work terribly well.
Another gambit would be to move public opinion on this issue to the point where Congress had no choice but to accede to the masses ... except the masses likely support the cuts. A mass public that believes the foreign aid budget is a thousand times larger than it actually is likely believes that cutting NSF funding of political science goes a long way toward tackling the deficit. Furthermore, as Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler's research shows, it's next to impossible to correct that misperception.
There are three other ways for political scientists to alter the status quo -- but each of them has issues:
1) A political scientist needs to come up with a killer scientific breakthrough that really advances knowledge in the field in an unambiguous manner. We're talking something Nobel-worthy. Oh, wait, Elinor Ostrom already did that, and it didn't matter. Never mind...
2) A political scientist needs to develop a predictive model that's so powerful that it yields substantial profit -- to the point where the political scientists can afford to set up an endowment that substitutes for NSF funding. The thing is, there already are political scientists who have thrived in the private sector -- but I'm not seeing enough cabbage being earned to create endowments.
3) Finally, maybe a trained political scientist could just run for the Senate, get elected, and apply the necessary counterweight to Coburn et al ... except that one of Coburn's co-sponsors is Arizona freshman Senator Jeff Flake, who has -- wait for it -- an M.A. in political science.
Am I missing anything, or is political science good and truly f**ked?
UPDATE: OK, there's one other possibility that could theoretically shift the status quo. Suppose a rival great power -- say, a country that rhymes with "Dinah" -- were to suddenly throw around huge research $$$ to develop a comparative advantage in poli sci. Say that the money was so good that it started to attract the cream of the political science crop. That might spur Congress to freak out about the existence of a political science gap.
So, any political scientists sitting on fat research offers from China -- now is the time to accept them.
My Twitter feed has been abuzz with a 2009 Justin Logan blog post about the puzzling disconnect between the international relations academy and the foreign policy community in Washington:
[T]he two groups have been wildly at variance in terms of their views on important public policy issues. Take the Iraq war, for example. As anyone who was in Washington at the time knows, the FPC was extremely fond of the idea of invading Iraq. To oppose it was to marginalize oneself for years....
In the academy, meanwhile, there was hardly any debate over Iraq almost 80 percent of IR academics opposed the war. [.pdf] To the extent academics did enter the public debate on the issue, it was to pay for an advertisement in the New York Timeswarning against the war. [.pdf] The only academics who spoke out in favor of the war (to my knowledge, anyway) were IR liberals like Anne-Marie Slaughter, who sought policy positions in Washington....
My sense is that the giant national-security bureaucracy in Washington that has emerged over the last 65 years has shaped incentives in a manner such that it is next-to-impossible to “get ahead” by advocating for restraint. Put differently, restraint isn’t in anybody’s interest except the country’s, and there’s nobody in Washington representing broad national interests as opposed to their own parochial ones. Every neoconservative or liberal imperialist in DC has someone’s interests behind them.
Read the whole thing.
My take: I'm one of the 20% of academics who (regretfully) supported the Iraq War, so feel free to discount my take. First of all, I've always been dubious of that 80% figure -- it's based on a survey conducted in 2005 asking what their attitudes were in 2003. Maybe everyone was honest about this, but I recall a fair number of colleagues voicing some sympathy for Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003. Logan is right to point out the divergence -- I'm just not sure it was as stark as he makes it.
More generally, methinks Logan is trying to fit a structural explanation onto a more transient divergence. My explanations for the divergence are based on a more prosaic three-step explanation:
1) All politicians want to be president;
2) All members of the foreign policy community want to be a foreign policy principal;
3) In 2002, what haunted the memory of politicians were the presidential candidates who self-destructed in 1991 for voting against Gulf War I. Immediately after 9/11, no politician who had a future wanted to be seen as soft on war.
On the other hand, if Logan is right, then the foreign policy community should be united in dispatching military force at every opportunity since Iraq. That's not how it's played out, however. A lot of think-tankers opposed the surge in Iraq, as well as operations in Libya. I don't see overwhelming support for action in Syria either.
Logan says he has a longer paper, which I look forward to reading. But I hope he's able to demonstrate that the gap between the foreign policy community and international relations academy has been long-lasting, and is not merely an artifact of 2002.
Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop.
So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there.
1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress: Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take: In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research.
3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat: Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing.
4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS. My take: definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular.
And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!
Dan Nexon has sparked some online debate among political scientists about whether our hiring process makes any kind of rational sense. Dan expresses particular disdain towards the centerpiece of any campus interview, the job talk -- a format in which a job candidate speaks for 30-45 minutes and then fields questions from faculty and grad students in the audience for 30-60 minutes.
Dan thinks the whole exercise is stupid:
In fact, the job talk is most useful for… assessing the ability of a candidate to give a job talk. The reason we place so much weight on it is that most academics (and I include myself in this category) are too
damn lazypressed for time to skimcarefully read candidates’ portfolios. And why should we? It isn’t like there’s a good chance that the person we hire will become lifetime colleagues… Doh!
I’ve heard rumors of other, more rationale systems. Some say that the University of Chicago conducts an intensive proseminar in which the candidate provides introductory remarks and then everyone discusses an article-length piece of research. This strikes me as a plausible alternative to the modal job talk. But I ask our readers: are there others? And does anyone want to defend the status quo?
OK, first off, for the record, in my experience that's not how the University of Chicago did job talks. Their process involved some criticism of rational choice theory, a lot more hot wax and-- but I can't say anything more because of that darn oath of secrecy.
Seriously, though, Dan's post triggered a whole passel of responses. Tom Pepinsky defended the institution, as did Jeremy Wallace. Nate Jensen wants to know what's the replacement system. Nexon responded by sticking to his guns, and Tom Oatley went so far as to declare that technological change had rendered the original motivation for the job talk obsolete.
I think I have to side with the defenders of the job talk -- or, rather the job talk and Q&A, because the latter part is way more important in my own evaluation of a candidate.
Dan's claim that it serves no purpose other than giving a job talk seems short-sighted to me. In part, a job talk is an act of editing. No one -- well, no one but political theorists -- simply reads their paper verbatim. They have to organize and select what they believe are the most compelling and crucial parts of their argument. They also have to pitch it to a level that's wider than their subfield. An Americanist will know little about Adorno or Agamben; a comparativist is likely to be unfamiliar with work on state legislatures, and a political theorist would have no reason to know much about the Basel Core Principles. This holds with even more force at an interdisciplinary public policy school like Fletcher or SAIS. A job talk lets me see whether this candidate will be able to talk to anyone outside of the five other people on the planet who know this specific topic cold.
If I've read the paper, I'm always curious to see how a candidate crafts his or her presentation. And if the presenter can't hold my attention, that's a bad sign, because if they can't make their own work compelling, good luck keeping the attention of less interested students with work that's not their own.
Truthfully, however, the most important part of a job talk to me is not the talk, it's the question and answer session aferwards. How well can a candidate respond to tough questions? Stupid questions? What are the reservoirs of expertise that lie below the surface? In my professional experience, I can only think of a handful of candidates that blew their chances with the actual job talk. I can think of a LOT of them, however, that deep-sixed their chances because they couldn't handle good questions. I'd also add that while I often have questions after reading the paper, I wind up with different questions when I hear the talk -- in no small part because the presentation reveals what the candidate thinks is mportant.
Good political scientists have to give a LOT of talks in their career -- large lectures to undergraduates, draft paper presentations to graduate students, invited talks at other universities, APSA panels, smaller field conferences, symposium conferences, workshop talks, think tank presentations, and even the occasional public lecture. In my experience, the job talk is the format that best covers all of these other types of presentations.
Am I missing anything, fellow political scientists?
Your humble blogger has been following the raging debate about online education for a number of reasons. First, like offshore outsourcing last decade, it's a phenomenon that has finally spread to a profession that is pretty traditional -- in no small part because higher education has not thought of itself as a tradeable good. Second, it's a fascinating development without any consensus about the end point. And third, as a prof, I have some skin in this game.
Now I have a little more... er... skin in this game. Over the past year I have been working with The Teaching Company to prepare one of their Great Courses, and it's now available for order. The course is modestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Prosperity." Here's a brief description:
Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.
A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.
But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.
Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres....
Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.
Buy the whole thing and
help me pay for my children's college education learn about the political economy of prosperity.
Now, this is not a course for credit, or a MOOC, or anything that's bandied about as the future of higher education. After spending the past year designing and making this course, however, let me say that those who believe that it will be easy to "scale up" existing lecture courses into the online world are kidding themselves. Teaching to a classroom audience requires a very different pedagogy than teaching to a captive online audience. The former can provide instantaneous feedback, which is crucial for a professor. They can ask for a concept to be repeated, or ask a follow-up question, or query about how the abstract concept under discussion connects to a headline of the day. None of these things are easy to pull off for an online audience.
I will also add that the amount of effort I put into the Foundations of Economic Prosperity easily exceeded anything I've had to do for my traditional lectures or seminars. This is not because I slack off with my Fletcher students -- rather, it's because teaching those courses is a collaborative exercise between me and the students. With a strictly online course, the professor has to do a lot more work to keep it engaging.
University professors have a lot less stress than most of us. Unless they teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year’s and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don’t spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.
Another boon for professors: Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS. All of those attributes land university professor in the number one slot on Careercast.com’s list of the least stressful jobs of 2013....
The other thing most of the least stressful jobs have in common: At the end of the day, people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five.
Let's take a brief pause here so the academics in the crowd can recover from either A) throwing things at their computer screen; or B) melting to the floor in puddles of uncontrollable semi-hysterical laughter.
Now let's immediately concede that Adams -- as she later admitted as much in an update to the post -- knows next to nothing about the life of an academic. Almost every specific claim in the quoted paragraphs above about the life of a professor is either wildly inaccurate or radically incomplete. For some pointed rejoinders, see here and here and here. Also check out the #RealForbesProfessors hashtag on Twitter. Indeed, this whole kerfuffle mirrors this old Marketplace exchange that I had with my Fancy-Pants Brother Who Used to be an Investment Banker/Hedge Fund Manager. What's annoying about the Forbes column is the clear lack of understanding that
outworlders civilians people who are not academics possess about our profession.
Now, that said, and despite Adams having very little clue about the nature of my job, could it be that Careercast is onto something? Even if it's wrong about every little thing, is it wrong about the big thing? Dan Nexon points out the following:
Most tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy:
Some modicum of administrative self-governance; Their own office, complete with a door that shuts and locks; Generally flexible deadlines; Tremendous flexibility in how they allocate their time; Spending most of their time engaged in ideas and activities that they enjoy; and The ability to spend significant time in situations in which power asymmetries favor them.
These factors more than counterbalance the negatives.
These are not small positives, and I, for one, revel in them every day of my professional career. Furthermore, whenever this kind of debate comes up, I always recall my brother's look of bemusement at a Thanksgiving dinner when a colleague was bitching and moaning about staying up late to finish a paper. This was something he had to do on a semi-regular basis when he was working on Wall Street.
So, let's do some realkeeping here and conclude with the following true statements:
1) Adjunct professors who earn their primary means of income through teaching win the stress game easily, and are excluded from the points I make below.
2) Compared to most professions that pay a comparable or greater salary, tenured and tenure-track academics possess far greater levels of autonomy and flexibility of hours. Not less overall work, mind you, but more ability to determine when in the day that work has to be done;
3) There's a lot of useful sorting that takes place among jobs. Activities that academics often find stressful -- like, you know, talking to other people -- are often viewed as less stressful by those people who do it more often. On the other hand, things we like to do -- like, you know, writing down stuff that we think about -- others can find to be incredibly stressful.
4) The shifting nature of the academic job market means that there are HUGE amount of stress at key moments in an academic career. If those moments go badly, well, there can be a fair amount of stress.
5) There's something vaguely comic about everyone trying to brag about how stressful their job is. Personally, I blame television. Shows like ER, The West Wing, and Scandal have glamorized the notion that killer jobs are friggin' awesome and super-sexy. You know what's really awesome? Doing your job so well that you can relax on a regular basis.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, I probably am missing something, so feel free to mention it in the comments.
This month Merriam-Webster highlighted their most looked-up words of 2012, with the rather boring conclusion that "capitalism" and "socialism" were the words of the year. To spice things up a bit for those philologists in the crowd, I would like to suggest that every years, some words get temporarily "retired." Not permanently, just for a yar or so. Think of it as a word vacation.
I don't make this suggestion lightly -- no writer wants to constrain their options as they craft their arguments. Some words, however, find themselves abused to the point where, no matter how scintillating they might have been in the past, they need some time in rehab. Think Ryan Lochte after the post-Olympics publicity tour or Lindsay Lohan after making a Lifetime movie.
So the worst word of 2012, the word that desperately needs a break is... bubble.
Since 2008, analysts, commentators, pundits et al have been on the lookout for the next bubble. To provide one example of how this search for the next bubble abuses the term, let's look at the brouhaha surrouding the "higher ed bubble." It was brewing in 2011, but this year, with the rise of online education, it's been just lousy in the blogosphere: Megan McArdle, Glenn Reynolds, and Walter Russell Mead have been hammering away at this concept.
It is Mead's latest post on the subject that has me thoroughly annoyed. He links to the lead essay in The American Interest by Nathan Harden that opens as follows:
In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
We’ve all heard plenty about the “college bubble” in recent years. Student loan debt is at an all-time high—an average of more than $23,000 per graduate by some counts—and tuition costs continue to rise at a rate far outpacing inflation, as they have for decades. Credential inflation is devaluing the college degree, making graduate degrees, and the greater debt required to pay for them, increasingly necessary for many people to maintain the standard of living they experienced growing up in their parents’ homes. Students are defaulting on their loans at an unprecedented rate, too, partly a function of an economy short on entry-level professional positions. Yet, as with all bubbles, there’s a persistent public belief in the value of something, and that faith in the college degree has kept demand high.
The figures are alarming, the anecdotes downright depressing. But the real story of the American higher-education bubble has little to do with individual students and their debts or employment problems. The most important part of the college bubble story—the one we will soon be hearing much more about—concerns the impending financial collapse of numerous private colleges and universities and the likely shrinkage of many public ones. And when that bubble bursts, it will end a system of higher education that, for all of its history, has been steeped in a culture of exclusivity. Then we’ll see the birth of something entirely new as we accept one central and unavoidable fact: The college classroom is about to go virtual.
Now, let's stipulate that higher education may well be on the cusp of some interesting changes. Let's also stipulate that some colleges appear to have gone on a borrowing binge (though the linked story fails to note that these debt loads have been declining for the past few years). Let's further stipulate that Harden's prediction might well be correct -- though even he acknowledges later in the essay that traditional classroom instruction is a necessary component to a good higher education.
Here's the thing, and it's worth repeating: This. Is. Not. A. Bubble.
When the prices of securities or other assets rise so sharply and at such a sustained rate that they exceed valuations justified by fundamentals, making a sudden collapse likely - at which point the bubble "bursts".
I think it's possible that the first part of this definition might be happening in higher education -- though I'd wager that what's actually happening is that universities are engaging in greater price discrimination and trying to capture some of the wage premium effects from higher education that have built up over the past three decades.
It's the second part of that definition where things don't match up. Unless and until there is a sudden and dramatic shift in the valuation of a college degree, this is simply not like a bubble. From a knowledge perspective, there are far too many professions in the economy where degrees are still considered a necessary condition. From a sociological perspective, there are also far too many people who got to where they are in their careers because of the social capital built up at universities.
I think it's possible that the American system of higher education might be facing what happened to American manufacturing over the past fifty years, in which structural and technological forces caused a slow, steady reduction in the workforce and dramatic improvements in productivity and output. That's something important -- but it's not a bubble.
[Don't you have some skin in this game? Aren't you just defending your interest group?--ed. I teach at a graduate school in which demand for my courses has spiked rather than slowed over the past decade. I'm also a full professor at an elite school. I would personally benefit from the changes that Mead et al are describing. So if I was arguing my own self-interest, I'd be nodding vigorously at what the higher ed bubble gurus are selling.]
Please, let's give "bubble" a break before the term loses all meaning.
You humble blogger has, on occasion, waxed poetic about Hirschman's accomplishments as a scholar and a writer. His primary area of expertise was in development economics, particularly in Latin America. He was a true giant in the larger study of political economy -- which is why my best-global-political-economy-of-the-year awards are named The Albies. The Social Science Research Council also named a prestigious award after Hirschman:
The Prize recognizes Albert Hirschman's pioneering role in contemporary social science and public policy as well as his life-long commitment to international economic development. Exploring theory and practice, the history of ideas - economic, social or political - and innovative approaches to fostering growth, Hirschman has seen scholarship both as a tool for social change and as an inherent value in a world in need of better understanding. He has written in ways that help social science effectively inform public affairs. His work stands as an exemplar of the necessary knowledge that the Social Science Research Council seeks to develop and the interdisciplinary and international approach in which it works.
What did Hirschman write to earn such honorifics? Well, Exit, Voice and Loyalty is one of those books that you have to read if you're earning a Ph.D. in any social science; as I've said before, that book was crucial to some of my thinking behind All Politics is Global. Beyond that book, however, Hirschman wrote must-read books on international economic power (National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade), economic ideas (The Passions and the Interests), political rhetoric (The Rhetoric of Reaction), and the evolution of the social sciences themselves ("Paradigms as a Hindrance to Understanding").
Hirschman's ideas ere important, but I'd argue that his writing style was equaly important -- clear, lucid, vivid, never a word wasted. As a grad student, I dozed off a lot reading a necessary but abstruse journal article. One did not fall asleep reading Hirschman -- hell, he was better than any energy drink in boosting one's intellectual energies.
He will be missed -- but not forgotten.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.