It's not easy being an international relations scholar [Cue world's smallest violin!--ed.] When we're not being compared to AIG executives, we're being told that we are irrelevant to policymakers
swamped with work yesterday, a typically out-of-touch academic, it took me 24 hours to notice Joseph Nye's Washington Post op-ed about out-of-touch international relations scholars (thanks to Laura for flagging it):
While important American scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski took high-level foreign policy positions in the past, that path has tended to be a one-way street. Not many top-ranked scholars of international relations are going into government, and even fewer return to contribute to academic theory. The 2008 Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) poll, by the Institute for Theory and Practice in International Relations, showed that of the 25 scholars rated as producing the most interesting scholarship during the past five years, only three had ever held policy positions (two in the U.S. government and one in the United Nations). The fault for this growing gap lies not with the government but with the academics.
But... but... but what about hip IR scholar-bloggers?!
Even when academics supplement their usual trickle-down approach to policy by writing in journals, newspapers or blogs, or by consulting for candidates or public officials, they face many competitors for attention. More than 1,200 think tanks in the United States provide not only ideas but also experts ready to comment or consult at a moment's notice. Some of these new transmission belts serve as translators and additional outlets for academic ideas, but many add a bias provided by their founders and funders. As a group, think tanks are heterogeneous in scope, funding, ideology and location, but universities generally offer a more neutral viewpoint. While pluralism of institutional pathways is good for democracy, the policy process is diminished by the withdrawal of the academic community.
The solutions must come via a reappraisal within the academy itself. Departments should give greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promoting young scholars. Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions. Studies of specific regions deserve more attention. Universities could facilitate interest in the world by giving junior faculty members greater incentives to participate in it. That should include greater toleration of unpopular policy positions. One could multiply such useful suggestions, but young people should not hold their breath waiting for them to be implemented. If anything, the trends in academic life seem to be headed in the opposite direction.
Nye is -- mostly -- preaching to the converted here. Right now, the strictures against junior faculty taking an interest in the policymaking world are very, very strong. A decade ago, for example, I received a fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in the government. At the time, a senior member of my old department flat-out advised me against taking it because it would taint my career with the whiff of policy. I showed him. Oh, wait...
That said, just to throw some sand in Nye's gears, I don't accept that this is only the academy's fault. Even when IR scholars try to speak with one loud voice, the result is often a deafening silence in the policy world.
As for individual scholars, the political barriers to government service by aspiring academics are pretty high at this point. Academics have long paper trails that are easy to manipulate, and politicians are well aware of this Achilles Heel. Exhibit A: the Obama administration's vetting process. Exhibit B: Harold H. Koh.
Note what I've just done here. Rather than offer my full-throated support for Joe's eminently sensible advice, I thought about this critically and then offered some... criticisms. This skill lets academics excel at cutting down other ideas to size. It makes it far harder, however, for IR scholars to offer constructive, useful policy advice.
Which is why Joe is so unique.
It's "top ten" week here at Foreign Policy, and the powers that be have asked me to chip in with a list of my own.
The thing is, Steve Walt poached a lot of the books I would have named on my own list of top ten international relations books (if there's real demand for a "top 10" books in international political economy specifically, let me know in the comments and I'll put one up next week).
So, rather than replicate Steve, let's have some fun -- what are the ten worst books in international relations?
In one sense, this question is difficult to answer, in that truly bad books are never read. Smply putting down books by bad people -- Mein Kampf, etc. -- is kind of superfluous. The books matter less than the person.
So, let's be clear on the criteria: to earn a place on this list, we're talking about:
In chronological order:
1. Norman Angell, The Great Illusion. This book has been widely misinterpreted, so let's be clear about what Angell got right and got wrong. He argued that the benefits from international trade vastly exceeded the economic benefits of empire, and therefore the economic motive for empire no longer existed. He was mostly right about that. He then argued that an enlightened citizenry would glom onto this fact and render war obsolete. Writing this in 1908, he was historically, spectacularly wrong.
2. E.H. Carr, Nationalism and After. Carr's Twenty Years' Crisis is one of the best books about international relations ever written. This is not that book. Here, Carr argues that nationalism is a passing fad and that eventually the number of nation-states in the world will be reduced to less than twenty. Since this book was published, U.N. membership has at least tripled.
3. Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb. The first of many, many, many books in which Ehrlich argued that the world's population was growing at an unsustainable rate, outstripping global resources and leading to inevitable mass starvation. Ehrlich's book committed a triple sin. First, he was wrong on the specifics. Second, by garnering so much attention by being wrong, he contributed to the belief that alarmism was the best way to get people to pay attention to the environment. Third, by crying wolf so many times, Ehrlich numbed many into not buying actual, real environmental threats.
4. Shintaro Ishihara, The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals Written at the peak of Japan's property bubble, Shintaro argued that Japan was destined to become the next great superpower. Whoops.
5. Kenichi Ohmae, The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies. Plenty of management consultants have tried to write the Very Big Book. And plenty of authors have predicted the demise of the nation-state in their books. Ohmae encapsulates both of these trends. Still, there's something extra that puts him on this list -- over 90% of the footnotes in this book are to... other works by Kenichi Ohmae. It's the most blatant use of the footnote as a marketing strategy that I have ever seen.
6. Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts. Kaplan argued that "ancient hatreds" guaranteed perpetual conflict in the Balkans. According to his aides, this book heavily influenced Bill Clinton's reluctance to intervene in the Balkans for the first two years of his presidency.
7. Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon. Back when I was a grad student, I needed to check out the memoirs of Reagan cabinet officials to see if there was anything that could e gleaned about a particular case. George Shultz's memoirs were chock-full of useful bits of information. This book, on the other hand, was a vast wasteland of barren prose.
8. Warren Christopher, In the Stream of History: Shaping Foreign Policy for a New Era. Makes Weinberger's memoirs seem exciting by comparison. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
9. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire. Ordinarily, this massive exercise in generating non-falsifiable arguments about an actorless empire would have slipped into obscurity a few months after publication. In this case, however, Emily Eakin claimed in the New York Times that it was the "next big thing" in international relations. Which meant this book was inflicted on a whole generation of poor, unsuspecting IR grad students.
10. Kenneth Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case For Invading Iraq. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Pollack's book became the intellectual justification for Democrats to support the invasion. And we now know that result.
Your humble blogger will be posting lightly over the next few days, as he is taking the Official Blog Wife and Official Blog Children to a sunny and warm (but undisclosed) locale.
The Boston Globe has a little piece following up the bogus controversy started by Jonathan Chait when he wrote that Steve Walt did not hurt his career by writing, The Israel Lobby. Chait is wrong, and either foolishly misleading, or fraudulently so. A statement on this matter from the New Republic, which called Walt an antisemite, has the same authority as, say, Roy Cohn's opinion on whether there was a blacklist in Hollywood. Now Daniel Drezner has taken up the issue, in a further motion of deceiving the public about the power of the Israel lobby.
Some day maybe I'll tell these academics about New York journalism...
Weiss doesn't have any contact information on his blog, so I'll just ask him here. Please do tell me about New York journalism. Seriously. I want to know what evidence Weiss has for his claims beyond mere assertion.
And, in the process, I'd love for Weiss to describe exactly what I said in my bloggingheads exchange that was, "a further motion of deceiving the public about the power of the Israel lobby." He seems to think that I was refuting the notion that The Israel Lobby cost Walt a DC job. I'm pretty sure I said that Walt not getting a DC job is an overdetermined outcome, of which publishing The Israel Lobby is certainly one viable explanation. Weiss' evidence for this explanation, a quote from Walt, is not particularly persuasive. There are many other explanations, some of which might be less flattering to my esteemed co-blogger.
Some day, maybe, I'll tell those New York journalists about the academic-policymaker pipeline...
As much as I love doing bloggingheads, this is the second time in two months someone has twisted what I said way out in one of those diavlogs of context. I attribute this to be an occupational hazard of moving to Foreignpolicy.com.
Damn you, Moises Naim!! Damn you to hell!!!
The latest Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey of international relations scholars has been released (I've blogged about a prior TRIP survey here). The part that jumped out at me:
On the policy side, we see several important changes from previous surveys. In 2008, for instance, we see fewer than half as many scholars (23 percent of respondents in 2008 compared to 48 percent in 2006) describing terrorism as one of the three most significant current foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Most surprisingly, while 50 percent of U.S. scholars in 2006 said that terrorism was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United States would face over the subsequent decade, in 2008 only 1 percent of respondents agreed. American faculty members are becoming more sanguine about the war in Iraq, as well: in 2006 76 percent said that the Iraq conflict was one of the three most important issues facing the country, but in 2008 only 35 percent of U.S. respondents concurred. Concern over several other foreign policy issues is also declining markedly: when asked about the most important problems facing the country over the next ten years 18 percent fewer respondents chose WMD proliferation, 12 percent fewer said armed conflict in the Middle East, and 13 percent fewer indicated failed states. At the same time, 17 percent more respondents in 2008 than in 2006 believed that climate change will pose a serious challenge, 6 percent more worried about global poverty, and 4 percent more said that resource scarcity is one of the most significant foreign policy challenges.
Basically, my colleagues have mellowed a bit on the standard threats everyone has fretted about for the past eight years. Now they're more worried about threats emerging from the global political economy.
Which puts them in line with the Director of National Intelligence:
The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.
The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said in prepared testimony.
Mr. Blair’s comments were particularly striking because they were delivered as part of a threat assessment to Congress that has customarily focused on issues like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Blair singled out the economic downturn as “the primary near-term security concern” for the country, and he warned that if it continued to spread and deepen, it would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.
“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.
It's great to get this kind of attention, but I fear that part of it is faddish. All it will take is one conventional interstate war or one spark across the Taiewan Straits, and the focus will shift back towards more conventional security threats.
It's Oscar season, and the general consensus seems to the that the actual Oscar nominations mostly suck eggs.
So, playing off this Tyler Cowen post about economists in the movies, I began to wonder if the problem is that movies need to have more political scientists in them. After all, how many political scientists -- as opposed to politicians -- have been portrayed on film?
The answer appears to be "not many." Some of the people on Tyler's list -- Carl Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted, for example -- qualify for political science as well. Independent of Cowen's list, however, I could only think of three movie characters who were clearly identified as political scientists:
This is pretty thin gruel.
Of course, that could be because our jobs are boring, or it could be because political scientists are "incredibly uncool, socially inept, and about as socially connected to high society as Gomer Pyle on crystal meth."
Question to readers: I'm sure that there are poli sci characters in movies that I am missing. Who are they?
Noam Scheiber has a long story in The New Republic that argues the contrast between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama's leadership styles can be explain by the differences between Harvard law school (Obama's alma mater) and Yale law School (Clinton's alma mater): "The two schools stand on opposite sides of a cultural chasm in the academic world. Even more than that, they stand for different theories of governing."
I always love Scheiber's long-form stuff (full disclosure: Scheiber was my editor when I wrote for TNR online), but this seems like an explanation too far for me. One could reverse the question and ask whether Harvard Business School explains George W. Bush (my guess is no). As PrawfsBlawg puts it, "this is decidely one of those cases where the plural of anecdote is not data, and the whole piece comes off as weakly supported."
There's something else about this essay that gnaws at me, however -- why is graduate school now the formative experience for presidents? I bet more people know that Clinton went to Yale law school than Georgetown as an undergrad. That holds double for Obama's matriculation at Harvard law school, which overlooks his time at either Occidental or Columbia.
Speaking for myself, I undoubtedly learned a lot at my graduate school. If pressed, however, I suspect that my truly formative years were spent at this place. I also suspect that this is true of more professionals than not.
I put it to (well educated) readers, however -- what matters more in your biography, your undergraduate years or your graduate years?
Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that professors have something in common with administrative assistants, baristas and personal trainers: they are all, "careers that have more sex appeal than you probably realize," according to Anthony Balderrama:
Behold the power of intellect: Someone who wasn't even on your romantic radar suddenly becomes the target of your affection when you find out he or she is intelligent -- or at least could be. Being a professor doesn't make anyone an automatic genius, but chances are these academics have expertise in at least one field, can speak a second or third language and have ambition (seeing as they spent a hefty portion of their time earning a few degrees). Plus, if anyone can make glasses go from nerdy to sexy, they can.
This is all clearly true. I would add that all professors are also snappy dressers and unusually punctual in their daily lives. Our hygeine is impeccable as well.
Seriously, however, if people underestimated the sexiness of "personal trainers," then maybe the misperception is not the fault of the professions, but the fault of people who use CareerBuilder.com.
I've been trying not to wade into The Israel Lobby waters, but this argument from Stephen Walt about why the book was panned in the United States caught me short:
Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book [in the United States] were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it. Given the hot water that Zbigniew Brzezinski got into when he said a few nice things about our original article, one can understand why people who liked the book might have been reluctant to say so in print.
In fact, the pattern of reviews does allow for an admittedly crude test of one of our arguments. We showed that people who criticize Israeli policy or the influence of the Israel lobby are virtually certain to face a firestorm of criticism and personal attacks in the United States. This is partly because such tactics are part of the standard MO for some key actors in the lobby, but also because mainstream media in the United States have tended to be protective of Israel in the past (this may be changing somewhat now). If we are right, one would expect mainstream reviews of our book in the United States to be negative, but reviews elsewhere should be more favorable. And that proved to be the case.
Let's label the above explanation the Cliff Poncier Hypothesis. This certainly could be one explanation for why The Israel Lobby got panned in the United States. To be sure, some of the reviews didn't seem to understand how political science works.
Just for the sake of argument, however, I can think of at least two other possible explanations for this particular distribution of reviews:
I'll let the readers be the judge of which hypothesis best explains the pattern of reviews.
Sweeping and icy statements dominate Huntington's books. These blunt judgments contrast sharply with Huntington's unimposing physical presence and unaffected demeanor. He looks like a character from a John Cheever story, someone you might forget that you had ever met. He blinks. He plays nervously with keys. He is balding, and stares intently at his palms as he talks. The fragile exterior conceals a flinty core. "Sam is very shy," Brzezinski says. "He's not one of those guys who can shoot the breeze at a bar. But get him into a debate and he is confident and tenacious." A former student says, "Sam is a geek with a backbone of steel." Another of his students demurs: "Sam isn't a geek. He's a quintessential Victorian man of honor—very quiet and contained, yet extraordinarily tough when the occasion demands."I don't know if there's an afterlife, but if there is I hope that Wolf and Huntington are having a rip-roaring debate. UPDATE: Here's the Boston Globe's obituary (surprisingly, the New York Times just runs the AP version). As pointed out in the coments, most of the write-ups of Huntington focus on The Clash of Civilizations, which is unfortunate, since The Soldier and The State is probably his best book. Of course, even if Soldier had the greatest effect on political science, Clash has probably had the greatest effect on world politics. ANOTHER UPDATE: Foreign Affairs has a nice tribute page to Huntington, consisting of his Foreign Affairs articls and reviews of his major books.
Students are applying to the state's public colleges and universities in record numbers, as the nation's financial crisis forces more families to consider less expensive schools. The new application figures confirm a widely forecast "flight to price" among students. They also follow a sharp increase in fall enrollment in the public system, which consists of 15 community colleges, nine state colleges, and the five University of Massachusetts campuses. The increase will sharpen competition for spots in this fall's freshman classes, bumping some students who in previous years could have counted on being admitted, college counselors say. Applications for early admission to UMass-Amherst, the state's flagship campus, rose 29 percent over last year, and applications for regular admission have climbed 23 percent at UMass-Lowell. Framingham State and Westfield State colleges have seen more than 40 percent increases in applicants from this time a year ago, while the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams has seen a 60 percent jump. Early-action applications at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston have risen 75 percent.... With most four-year public colleges unable to handle a significant increase in enrollment, the heightened competition will probably have a ripple effect across the state, college officials and high school guidance counselors say. The shift toward public colleges takes place as small private colleges in Massachusetts, which educate a sizable portion of the state's low- and moderate-income students, grapple with heavy financial losses from stock market declines, jeopardizing their ability to award financial aid. "You might have a perfect storm where public colleges will be the only place to get your foot in the door, and they don't have enough seats," said Bob Giannino-Racine, executive director of ACCESS, a Boston nonprofit that helps students find ways to afford college. "They've always been a fail-safe, but now they have a real challenge to remain places of access."I seriously doubt that this phenomenon is limited to the state of Massachusetts.
For a lot of very boring reasons having to do with “ethics,” political scientists are not allowed to conduct real experiments in world politics. We can’t tell a head of state, “say, would you mind invading this neighboring country to see if a balancing coalition forms against you?” Our lot in life is hard this way. The best that international-relations scholars can hope for is a “natural experiment.” This is when events change the value of a particularly important variable, and we can then closely observe the effects of that change on world politics. We’re about to experience a natural experiment on the causes of war, and the results may or may not be pretty.Go check it out.
QUESTION: Do you regret your role in the Iraq war? SECRETARY RICE: I absolutely am so proud that we liberated Iraq. QUESTION: Really? SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, that this different Iraq under democratic leadership (emphasis added).Both Matt and Ryan make the argument that since most political scientists opposed the war in Iraq -- and they did -- Rice is out of bounds here. The CAP boys have half a point, but let's not go overboard. First, their half-a-point --I agree with Matt and Ryan that Iraq was not a geostrategic threat. It is worth remembering, however, that Iraq was causing some major strategic headaches at the time of the invasion. That said, I also think Matt and Ryan are misreading Rice a little here. In the follow-up to the excerpted portion above, Rice says, "we are at a place now where because of difficult decisions that the President took we have an Iraq that is well on its way to being a multiethnic, multiconfessional democracy." So what Rice is talking about is the potential benefits of having a democracy spanning the Tigris and Euphrates. And on this point, Rice is correct to assert that there were/are political science-y reasons for thinking that a stable, democratic Iraq was a Good Thing for the United States and the rest of the world. Don't just take my word on this -- let's go to Shadi Hamid:
Middle Eastern states, almost all of them dictatorships, constantly bicker amongst themselves and enter into relatively childish diplomatic rows over perceived and personal slights. There is no common Arab policy to any regional or international problem, because there seem to be little structural incentives to induce Arab leaders to make an effort to agree on big issues. Part of the problem is when foreign policy is largely determined by either one person, or a very small coterie of elites around the royal court, then foreign policy initiatives have less force of legitimacy and are less sustainable because they can always be reversed fairly easily. One could posit - as I will right now - that if Middle Eastern countries were relative democracies, they would be much more willing to cooperate with each other, and would be more willing to play strong, confident leadership roles in tacking difficult regional issues. Turkey, of course, is a good example of how this might look in practice.Now, let me stress that the political science consensus on this point is hardly uniform. Most realists would dismiss the notion that regime type matters all that much. And even some democratic peace proponents would point out that while consolidated democracies are just peachy, consolidating democracies are often more trouble than they are worth. That said, however, based on these comments Condi Rice does not need to turn in her APSA card anytime soon.
Here’s what I used to do, way back, oh, seven years ago when I was writing a book about the sex lives of animals. When I wanted to do research on a topic, I would go to the university library — how quaint! — and photocopy the scientific papers I wanted to read.... Having collected the papers, I would take them back to my office, type the bibliographic details (authors, title, year published and so on) into my computer and put the photocopies into folders with other papers on the same general topic. In the case of the Acanthocephalan worms, it was a folder labeled “sabotage”; for the deformed sperm, it was “other sperm.” When the time came to write up my discoveries and thoughts on the subject of sperm evolution, or how males sabotage their rivals, I went to the relevant folder, read the papers, made notes on them and started writing. As a system, it was a little clumsy — photocopying was a bore, and if I wanted to spend a couple of months writing somewhere other than my office, I had to take boxes of papers with me — but it worked. I knew what I had and where it was. Then the scientific journals went digital. And my system collapsed. On the good side, instead of hauling dusty volumes off shelves and standing over the photocopier, I sit comfortably in my office, downloading papers from journal Web sites. On the bad side, this has produced informational bedlam. The journal articles arrive with file names like 456330a.pdf or sd-article121.pdf. Keeping track of what these are, what I have, where I’ve put them, which other papers are related to them — hopeless. Attempting to replicate my old way of doing things, but on my computer — so, electronic versions of papers in electronic folders — didn’t work, I think because I couldn’t see what the papers actually were. And so, absurdly, it became easier to re-research a subject each time I wanted to think about it, and to download the papers again. My hard drive has filled up with duplicates; my office, with stalagmites of paper. And it isn’t just that I have the organizational skills of a mosquito. Many of my colleagues have found the same thing. (Yes, we talk about it. Oh, they are lofty, the conversations in university common rooms.) In short, access to information is easier and faster than ever before (for a caveat, see the notes, below, but there’s been no obvious way to manage it once you’ve got it.Judson then discusses some new software that can organize this chaos. Speaking for myself, however, I have found that I avoided the problem Judson has run into with .pdfs with a very lo-tech but trusty procedure -- I always rename a .pdf of an article when I save it to my hard drive. So, rather than "456330a.pdf," I would have, say, "Lektzian and Sprecher on sanctions and war." And though there's been some duplication, this system has worked pretty well for the last five years. I recommend grad students check out Judson's post, because it's better to develop good habits on this kind of stuff sooner rather than later. More mature academics, however, are encouraged to discuss their own techniques for organizing their electronic article collection in the comments section.
Harvard will have to take a “hard look at hiring, staffing levels and compensation”, wrote Drew Faust, the university president, on December 2nd in a surprise letter to Harvard deans. The Harvard endowment, which was worth $36.9 billion at the end of June, has since lost at least 22%, says Ms Faust. The university should brace itself for losses of 30% in the fiscal year to next June, she adds, although even that may prove far too optimistic. Its ambitious plans for new buildings on the other side of the Charles river seem likely to be scaled back, or at least slowed down. Harvard is not alone. At Stanford University, the president, provost and other senior executives have taken a 10% pay cut. There is speculation that its endowment, which at $17 billion in June was third only to Harvard’s and Yale’s, has performed horribly since then. Many smaller endowments—only six were bigger than the $8 billion that Harvard says it has lost so far—have suffered too. Williams College has seen its endowment plunge by 27%, from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion, while Wesleyan University’s has tumbled by 24% to $580m.The scary thing about the article is that these schools did not follow the "Yale model" of portfolio investment -- a model that will sound familiar to those who know anything about sovereign wealth funds:
The creator of the Yale model is David Swensen, who was persuaded by James Tobin, a Nobel-prize winning economist, to become the university’s chief investment officer in 1985, when the endowment stood at just over $1 billion, and increased it by June of this year to $22 billion. As Mr Swensen explains in his influential book, “Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment”, which was published in 2000, the “permanent” endowments of universities (and of some charitable foundations) meant that they could be the ultimate long-term investors, able to ride out market downturns and liquidity droughts. By investing heavily in illiquid assets, rather than the publicly traded shares and bonds preferred by shorter-term investors, an institution with an unlimited time horizon would earn a substantial illiquidity premium. By 2006, Yale was aiming to invest a staggering 69% of its endowment in illiquid alternative asset classes such as hedge funds, private equity, property and forests. Others followed. According to “Secrets of the Academy: The Drivers of University Endowment Success”, a new study by Josh Lerner, Antoinette Schoar and Jialan Wang in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Ivy League endowments increased their allocation to illiquid assets from 9.3% to 37.1% between 1993 and 2005. On average, universities raised their allocation from 1.1% to 8.1%. (emphasis added)This suggest suggests another arena where the state is going to be playing a larger role than it has recently. Until recently, the standard lament from the "public Ivies" on down had been that the endowment explosion from the elite private schools had opened up an appreciable gap in resourcesbetween public and private schols. No longer. The downturn is going to hammer the schools with the biggest endowments. Those with the smallest -- that would be public schools -- should be better equipped to ride out the downturn.
Ever asked an academic about their research only to be subjected to 20 minutes of nonsensical droning? Thanks to YouTube, it just got a whole lot easier to explain a complicated thesis at a cocktail party. In early October, Ph.D. students worldwide were challenged by Gonzo Labs/AAAS to re-create their dissertations through interpretive dance and post the videos on YouTube. Dozens of performances were submitted, ranging from tangos to Lindy Hops to night-vision hula-hooping. The choreography was scored on its ability to bridge the gap between art and science, though you should feel free to judge based on levels of jubilation and pure absurdity.I think "The Role of Vitamin D in Beta-Cell Function" was my personal favorite: I would have loved to have seen some social science contributions. Think of these possible topics for interpretive dance:
A Wal-Mart employee in suburban New York was trampled to death by a crush of shoppers who tore down the front doors and thronged into the store early Friday morning, turning the annual rite of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting into a Hobbesian frenzy. At 4:55 a.m., just five minutes before the doors were set to open, a crowd of 2,000 anxious shoppers started pushing, shoving and piling against the locked sliding glass doors of the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York, Nassau County police said. The shoppers broke the doors off their hinges and surged in, toppling a 34-year-old temporary employee who had been waiting with other workers in the store's entryway. People did not stop to help the employee as he lay on the ground, and they pushed against other Wal-Mart workers who were trying to aid the man. The crowd kept running into the store even after the police arrived, jostling and pushing officers who were trying to perform CPR, the police said.Let's hope that Healy and Macropoulos find a story where they manage to use the phrase "Kantian bliss" appopriately. Readers are encouraged to write their own lead paragraph for a story that involves their favorite philosophical concept -- Lockean civility, Nietzschean absurdity, Machiavellian lust, etc.
The top tier of public intellectuals has come to speak mainly through upmarket news media such as the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, the New York Review of Books and the BBC. But the rise of blogs has greatly enlarged and confused the market. A disparager would say that anybody can be a blogger, and anything can be a blog: is this not proof of low standards? And yet, top bloggers include academics and commentators whose work would qualify them as public intellectuals by any traditional measure—for example, Tyler Cowen, Daniel Drezner, James Fallows, Steven Levitt, Lawrence Lessig and Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, it seems fair to say that if you have the quick wit and the pithy turn of phrase traditionally needed to succeed as a public intellectual, then you are one of nature’s bloggers. If you cannot quite imagine Berlin posting to Twitter, then think how well he would put, say, Hannah Arendt in her place, on bloggingheads.tv.... Whatever their provenance, the public intellectuals of 2009 will want to be fluent in the obvious issues of the moment: environment and energy, market turmoil, China, Russia, Islam. On that basis it looks like another good year for established stars such as Thomas Friedman, Martin Wolf, Bjorn Lomborg and Minxin Pei. But a rising generation of bloggers is terrifyingly young and bright: expect to hear more from Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson and Matthew Yglesias.Of course, the really funny thing about this is that Klein, McArdle, Wilkinson and Yglesias all dwarf my traffic flows.
Disquisitions about public intellectuals usually conclude that they ain't what they used to be. Subtitles from recent books on the topic include A Study of Decline and An Endangered Species? Indeed, the major point of debate is dating the precise start of the decline and fall. For some critics, Götterdämmerung started in the 1950s; for others, the 1930s. More-curmudgeonly writers place the date earlier, stretching back to the heyday of John Stuart Mill or even the death of Socrates.Go check it out.
I’d probably advise the president to read the uber-source for international relations, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Too many people only read portions like the Melian Dialogue, which leads to a badly distorted view of world politics (the dialogue represents the high-water mark of Athenian power — it all goes downhill after that). The entire text demonstrates the complex and tragic features of international politics, the folly of populism, the occasional necessity of forceful action, the temptations and dangers of empire, and, most importantly, the ways in which external wars can transform domestic politics in unhealthy ways.I was torn between Thucydides and Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, but I figured -- correctly -- that Obama was already familiar with that work. I'll put the same question to you that Scott put to me: what one book would you recommend to the president-elect?
The widespread feeling that our schools are losing out to the rest of the world, that we are not producing enough scientists and engineers, is a misunderstanding fueled by misleading statistics. Reports regularly conclude that the United States is falling behind other countries - in the number of engineers it produces, in the performance of its students in reading or in mathematics. But closer examinations of these reports are showing that they do not always compare comparable students, skewing the results.He's got some persuasive evidence, but I'm not sure about everything in this paragraph:For those who look carefully at the performance of our schools, the real problem is not that the United States is falling behind, or that the entire system is failing. It is the sorry shape of the bottom 30 percent of US schools, those in urban and rural communities full of low-income children. We have seen enough successful schools in such areas to know that these children are just as capable of being great scientists, doctors, and executives as suburban children. But most low-income schools in the United States are simply bad.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) of 1999, for instance, seemed to show that American high school students were far behind in advanced math. But the alarming news accounts that followed the study's release - and the politicians who echoed them - failed to note an important caveat. A significant portion of the US test takers, unlike the overseas students, had not yet gotten beyond precalculus. When the TIMMS experts later reanalyzed the data, comparing overseas students only with American high schoolers who had taken Advanced Placement calculus, the United States did much better. Perhaps more American students should be taking calculus, but when they did, they did well in comparison to foreign calculus students. Bracey found other differences that distorted international comparisons. In Europe, many teenagers who hold jobs are tracked into technical schools, but American youngsters commonly combine traditional school and work. Many of the European students on this track were not tested, but their American counterparts were, warping the comparisons.Now the point about vocational schools is well-taken. The point about calc vs. pre-calc students, on the other hand, does not. You can't say that a study showing Americans are behind in 12th grade math is biased because lots of foreign students have already taken calculus but American students have not -- and you sure as hell can't then alter the results by selecting on students smart enough to take calculus in high school. That caveat aside, do read the whole thing.
I was at a reception the other day and was graciously introduced by a famous senior sociologist to a visiting senior sociologist as an “[insert some very kind words] scholar who studies the social aspects of Internet use”. The visitor laughed. No one else laughed though so quickly, smile wiped from his face, he said: “oh, you’re serious.”In poli sci, the arc of reaction to studying blogs moved very quickly from, "tee hee, you're taking this seriously," to "you might be onto something by looking into blogs" to "gee, your blog essay seems to get cited a lot" was pretty quick, actually -- at least by academic standards.
Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said. But, especially in America, there has always been a separate, populist, strain. For those in this school, book knowledge is suspect but practical knowledge is respected. The city is corrupting and the universities are kindergartens for overeducated fools. The elitists favor sophistication, but the common-sense folk favor simplicity. The elitists favor deliberation, but the populists favor instinct.... I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice. And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.This is certainly one reason why the founders wanted a republic and not a democracy -- in republics, leaders do have the ability to resist the populist temptation a little more. What's interesting is how this resistance to experts plays out in campaign tactics. Consider, for example, this Washington Post story by Shamkar Vedantum (hat tip: Kevin Drum):
[A]a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunked -- even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information. In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber." A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation. Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent. Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the first place.... Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse. A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.This suggests:
[T]he gulf between academia and practitioners of politics is very wide. Too wide. So why the heck would the American Political Science Association hold their annual convention during the Democratic National Convention... ... in Boston? Want to bridge the gap? Try holding the conference in the same city as a convention...the week before the convention.There are some pretty good reasons for why this is the case, including:
That explains, but doesn't really excuse, from an institutional point of view, the idea that, in politics, theory and practice could not be more alienated from each other.Here's my question to Ambinder -- what, exactly, does that mean? Political scientists aren't providing better tactical or strategic advice to politicians? Political scientists aren't studying real-world phenomena? We're not making impassioned pleas for reform? What? I mean this seriously, because, from where I sit, a certain amount of alienation is a good thing. It's not good for political scientists to disdain politics -- but it is a good thing for political scientists to be outside observers, beholden to no powerful interest, providing dispassionate (and occasionally passionate) commentary. Seriously, Marc -- what do you want political scientists to do? I'll throw that last question open to readers as well.
In most countries, academic pay is independent of discipline, thus ignoring differences in labor market opportunities. Using some unique data from a comprehensive research assessment exercise undertaken in one such country -- New Zealand -- this paper examines the impact of discipline-independent pay on research quality. I find that the greater the difference between the value of a discipline's outside opportunities and its New Zealand academic salary, the weaker its research performance in New Zealand universities. The latter apparently get what they pay for: disciplines in which opportunity cost is highest relative to the fixed compensation are least able to recruit high-quality researchers. Paying peanuts attracts mainly monkeys.From Glenn Boyle, "Pay Peanuts and Get Monkeys? Evidence from Academia."
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.