The obvious benefit of this migration of talent is the local knowledge about Iraq or Afghanistan that such veterans would bring to the table. Thinking about academia more generally, however, there's another massive benefit that's overlooked.
To put it bluntly, most top political scientists don't have a lot of experience beyond being political scientists. That is to say, the top Ph.D. students often enter graduate school straight from undergraduate programs. They might have interesting summer internships, but otherwise have limited hands-on experience with politics or international relations.
Now, this isn't always a bad thing. I'm guessing most patients would prefer a doctor who is single-mindedly focused on medicine rather than a doctor who has taken "time out" to travel the globe. I know plenty of IR scholars who have produced outstanding work without, say, ever serving a day in government.
The problem comes when everyone in a profession pursues the identical career track -- to the point where those who deviate from the career track are thought of as strange or different. At that point, the profession loses something ineffable.
So, former members of the military should be ecouraged to enter Ph.D. programs -- as should those who worked on the ground for NGOs and civil affairs branches of the government. I can't guarantee that it will lead to better scholarship. At a minimum, however, it improves the quality of the teaching and the conversations that take place between colleagues. And I'm pretty confident that that leads to better research.
Via Andrew Sullivan, this Paul Graham essay on the difference between managers and makers captures an essential truth about why academics are both bad managers and bad at being managed. Graham is writing about computer programmers, but his observations are generalizable to most of the creative class:
There are two types of schedule, which I'll call the manager's schedule and the maker's schedule. The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour.
When you use time that way, it's merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you're done.
Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.
When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
I think the problem might even be worse than Graham suggests. Speaking personally, the hardest part of any research project is at the beginning stages. I'm trying to figure out my precise argument, and the ways in which I can prove/falsify it empirically. While I'm sure there are people who can do that part of the job with a snap of their fingers, it takes me friggin' forever. And any interruption -- not actual meetings, but even responding to e-mail about setting up a meeting -- usually derails my train of thought.
[What about blogging?--ed. Nope, that's different -- that tends to happen more organically. In fact, if I get a thought that seems blog-worthy, the act of blogging itself will clear it from my brain and allow me to focus on the primary task at hand.]
Readers -- does this ring true?
Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Peter Howard have had a lively exchange of blog posts about the decision to become a professor -- i.e., is it a calling, or just one of many kinds of symbolic analyst jobs? Start with Patrick's first post (arguing that the academy is like a religious calling), then Peter's response (pointing out the structural problems with this analogy), and then Patrick's reply.
I'm far more sympathetic to Peter's argument. Indeed, I confess to a visceral distaste for the undercurrent in Patrick's disquisitions that, "oh, this is just the most special job in the world!" It is to him, to be sure -- but there are many aspiring academics who don't ever get the "good" jobs, and there even more inquisitive souls who possess the intellectual heft and curiosity but feel no need to enter the academy to continue a life of the mind. I also think Patrick completely ignores the powerful socialization effects that take place in graduate school -- effects that can thoroughly f*** up people's priorities in unhealthy ways, to the point where they start sounding like... Patrick.
That said, he still has half a point. There is a certain type of mindset that is well-suited to the academy, and will be happy even if they live a life of post-doctoral fellowships, adjunct positions, and visiting positions. And given that higher education might be the next bubble to burst, it would be good if we had some kind of Sorting Hat mechanism to inform people before they entered a doctoral program whether they're doing the right thing.
For those academic wannabes out there, here's a simple three-question survey to help guide you through this very important choice:
A) You are happiest when you see your name:
B) It is 2 AM on Saturday morning. You are:
C) Which of the following phrases gets you the most excited?
If your answer to all of the above was (3), then yeah, you're pretty much
doomed fated to trying out academia.
A recurring theme of this blog has been the relationship between academics and policymakers. What, if anything should academics have on offer? What should they have to offer?
Stanford's alumni magazine offers an interesting take on this question, asking six scholars and policymakers affiliated with the university about, "what lessons they drew from conflicts they studied or had a role in, and how they relayed their insights to the people in charge."
The most fascinating anecdote comes from Priya Satia:
In 2007, the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence invited Satia to address staffers from more than a dozen different intelligence organizations about Middle East counterinsurgency. She spoke about the risks of groupthink, and the price British and Iraqis paid for that. But the message seemed to pass people by.
They wanted to hear more about T.E. Lawrence, she says, not sounding very surprised. “The kind of people who get into intelligence have been inspired by the T.E. Lawrences—they staked their careers on having some kind of secret role in the making of history, and when you tell them that’s not going to work, I mean, what are they supposed to do with that information?”
I assume Satia must have been talking to the operations people, because I find it hard to believe that analysts are really all that inspired by T.E. Lawrence.
That quibble aside, Satia raises an interesting point. Many social scientists focus on the myriad structural reasons why things are the way they are. Policymakers believe they can help shape the way things are. The last thing they often want to hear is why their ideas won't work. And while scholars can often explain why an idea won't work, they are often at a loss to offer a superior, politically viable alternative.
This might be an "irreconcilable" problem, but I'll leave that question to the commentators.
For those of you not in the know, the Monkey Cage is one of the best blogs around that tries to discuss seemingly abstruse social science research and technuqies and apply them to real world problems.
In this post, Joshua Tucker asks a lulu of a question about social science research into torture:
My original thought was that good social science research that shows that torture does not extract useful intelligence information would be the final nail in the coffin in any public argument in support of torture. But what happens if one of us gets access to the relevant data, does the empirical analysis, and then discovers the opposite: that torture does lead to useful intelligence information. What do you do then? Sit on the results? Would any political science journal publish such a paper? How would that look in a tenure review? (“Right, she’s the one who said torture was valuable…”).
Which leads to another question: should social scientists by engaging in research where we only want to share the results if they come out in one particular direction? I personally believe US national security is harmed by the use of torture in any form by our government, so I would welcome good empirical findings that provide added weight to arguments against the use of torture. But despite that goal, should I actually engage in research if I’m not willing to accept (or publish) findings to the contrary?
I, too, would welcome good empirical findings showing that torture does not work, but my answer to Josh's questions are "no." You have to publish your findings regardless of what you discover. That's the only way this business can work.
From a practical perspective, it makes little sense. Uncomfortable findings, if they hold up, will get discovered by someone. Sitting on them merely magnifies their impact. One of the few currencies social scientists can use is their research integrity. A short-term compromise of this integrity simply magnifies the impact of the discovery.
From an ethical perspective, social science results do not upend ethical arguments for or against a particular issue. In other words, even if torture works in extracting information, there are strong normative reasons to oppose its use. Covering up results, however, does compromise the ethical position of the person making the anti-torture argument. [UPDATE: Charli Carpenter makes this point more effectively and passionately than I.]
For a non-torture case that echoes this debate, do check out Michael Jonas' 2007 Boston Globe story of Robert Putnam's research into the effects of diversity on civic engagement.
Earlier this week, I pointed out that American higher education was not like the American auto sector, because it's actually quite competitive in the global marketplace.
I see that the Washington Post's Susan Kinzie has a story that nicely illustrates this point:
Until fall 2007, the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States had held steady for years, at about 9,000, according to the Institute of International Education, which promotes study abroad. But that year, it jumped to more than 16,000.
Experts say China's increasing wealth, fewer delays in obtaining visas and technology that makes it easier for Chinese students to learn about U.S. schools have helped fuel the boom. It shows no sign of letting up.
"People just think the education offered in the U.S. is undoubtedly the best in the world," said Betty Xiong, 20, a U-Va. junior from Shanghai....
Historically, students have been more likely to come to the United States for advanced degrees and research opportunities. The dramatic shift is in the rising number of undergraduates.
"In China, because so much of the growth is tied to international trade and multinational corporations with investment in China, the value of U.S. higher education is clearly understood and worth the investment of cash on the other side," said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education. Students started arriving about 1980, after the normalization of relations. There was a dip in applications after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Blumenthal said, because the Chinese government made it more difficult for students to leave.
Though I've been
obsessed interested in the topic of a policy-relevant academy, I was reluctant to respond to Mark C. Taylor's op-ed in the New York Times on this topic because of a fear of personal bias. Taylor was a professor at Williams College when I was an undergraduate. I took a course called Religion and Modern Secularism there, which assigned Taylor's book Erring: A Postmodern A/theology. I found Taylor's application of deconstructionist thought to theology to be completely inpenetrable somewhat difficult to absorb. So my first thought when I read Taylor's plea for interdisciplinarity and accessibility in the academy to be along the lines of, "Great, 20 years late and $17 short."
Part of the problem lies in Taylor's inexact writing. Let's "deconstruct" it a bit, shall we? Here's how he opens the op-ed:
Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).
See, with the $100,000 line, you'd think Taylor is talking about either professional schools or undergraduate degrees, but I don't think that's right. He's talking about doctoral programs. And, at this point, while graduate students in doctoral programs might earn meager to no stipends, the only debt they accumulate comes through living expenses. Say what you will about the job market for Ph.D.s, but at this point, the only way for a Ph.D. student to rack up a hundred grand in debt is to develop some serious gambling and drug problems while procrastinating (grad students of the world, feel free to disabuse me of this notion in the comments).
Similarly, the Detroit analogy implies that America's Ph.D. programs are somehow uncompetitive vis-à-vis foreign Ph.D. programs. This is patently false. Indeed, American higher education continues to outperform other university systems in attracting foreign students. So, again, inexact language muddies the waters. See TNR's David Bell for more on this point.
Taylor goes on to criticize my own field:
Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.
It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems.
Methinks Taylor is exaggerating the role that the humanities can play in problem-solving. That said, I have little problem with interdisciplinariy. Last I checked, however, neither do most policy schools.
Taylor makes some other concrete proposals - let's run through them:
1. "Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs." I partially agree with the first point. I'm all in favor of encouaging Ph.D. students to take courses that overlap with their substantive interests but might be outside their department. As for undergraduate programs, well, that's just silly. Undergrads have majors, not specialties -- they're quite capable of diversifying their own corsework, thank you very much.
2. "Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs." Among the "problem-focused programs" he suggests are, "Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water."
Hey, this is a fun idea -- let's try to come up with other one-word concentrations!
Let's be clear -- this idea is crap. Utter, complete, ridiculous crap. There are plenty of interdisciplinary majors, and more are being created as new problems arise. Taylor's topics are so silly that I began to wonder if he was purposefully self-sabotaging here.
3. "Increase collaboration among institutions." Taylor implies here that universities could specialize, promoting learning "through teleconferencing and the Internet." At this point, I think it would behoove Taylor to chat with some of the people who study the relationship between computers and education. Long story short, distance learning has some serious constraints.
4. "Transform the traditional dissertation." Into something with "analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games." Note to Fletcher Ph.D. students: don't even think of trying to argue that your blog can substitute for a dissertation. Not gonna happen.
5. "Expand the range of professional options for graduate students." This is a good idea. Seriously. No mockery on this point.
6. "Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure." You know how Democrats/Republicans were convinced that regulating money/imposing term limits would improve democracy? That's kind of like this proposal. It's not going to happen, but even if it did, tenure would re-emerge in a different form.
To sum up: this is a mostly silly, badly written op-ed that seems designed to provoke peals of laughter in order to scuttle the few good ideas contained in it.
Joseph Nye's claim is that the Obama administration is appointing lawyers and economists but not political scientists since our field has given itself to irrelevant quantification, inaccessible mathematics and unintelligible jargon. The fact that many political scientists use quantification and formalism can't explain this, since plenty of other political scientists are available who do qualitative research. The TRIP survey, the one Nye cites, states "The field of IR-including in the United States-is populated overwhelmingly by scholars who employ qualitative methods as their primary empirical tool," and it gives supporting tables (p.39).
Nye notes that Obama has recruited many economists. If the wide use of inaccessible jargon excludes a field, wouldn't they be on the sidelines?
Nye claims that our field is becoming even more irrelevant to policy, citing a survey of articles published over the lifetime of the American Political Science Review, which looked at whether an article's primary purpose was policy prescription. The real question is not whether an article is primarily given to explicit advocacy but whether it is relevant to policy decisions. The articles in this February's APSR were on: why new democracies experience electoral fraud; whether electoral quotas for women have succeeded in India; whether the US electoral system disadvantages African-Americans; whether staying ambiguous on issues works for candidates; whether the Indian party system encourages pork barrel politics; why countries provide technical information to nuclear weapons seekers, plus two others, one on scaling methodology and one on the history of political thought. The bulk of the issue is focused on policies for human betterment. Nye writes, "Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions," but what more could they do? He might argue that the authors should have used a different methodology, but that's another issue. Depicting their work as irrelevant is off the mark.
Is it only our fault that few of us have joined the government? Nye looks at the TRIP survey's list of 25 scholars producing the most interesting work over the last five years, and notes that only 3 have worked in government. However, many of these 25 are fairly young and would have had to make their name in academia in the last five years, then get drafted by the Bush administration. And is it reasonable to expect someone to both innovate in a field and be the one to apply it? In the circumstances of the last eight years, 3 out of 25 is pretty good.
Finally, Nye writes, "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." This figure has appeared on the internet and media over the years - "1,200 think tanks dot the American political landscape," etc. One writer reported it as the number of think tanks in Europe. When its appearance included a reference, I went back to found either a further reference or none at all. No one said just who came up with the number, when and how. An author in the early 1990s claimed that it was from the late 1980s, but the book he cited was out from my library, so I can't say how far the trail would have continued back. Perhaps there really were 1,200 think tanks at some time by some definition, or perhaps the statistic belongs with the 10% of brain capacity that we all use. If it lacks a reference and is at least two decades old, it shouldn't be repeated as a current fact.
A coda to my
endless continuing series of posts on academics and policymaking.
Last week the Economist had a fascinating story about the professional backgrounds of world leaders. On the one hand, with regard to the United States, they discovered an insularity that would have appalled Joseph Nye:
The emergence of politics as a career choice has been made possible, argues Peter Oborne in his book “The Triumph of the Political Class”, by a penumbra of quasi-political institutions—think-tanks, consultancies, lobbying firms, politicians’ back offices. They have increased job opportunities for would-be politicians. Increasingly, therefore, the road to a political career leads through politics itself, starting as an intern, moving to become researcher in a parliamentary or congressional office, with a spell in a friendly think-tank or lobby group along the way.
Mr Oborne says this is producing an inbred class that lacks proper connections to the outside world. Perhaps. But the trend is unlikely to stop. The intrusive demands upon aspiring members of any American administration make it harder for outsiders to enter politics. (The Obama team asked applicants, “If you have ever sent an…e-mail, text message or instant message that could…be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family or the President-Elect if it were made public, please describe.”) For good or ill, politics is becoming its own profession.
On the other hand, according to the article, the country that has the largest share of academics in high policymaking positions is... Egypt.
Which -- no offense -- is not exactly a ringing endorsement for having professors go into government.
This week in non-Foreign Policy publications I take a shiv to both American academics and American policymakers.
On the academic side, my latest essay in The National Interest online explains why the traits that make one a good international relations scholar are not-so-good traits for a good international relations practitioner:
To borrow from Isaiah Berlin, academic scholars of international relations are rewarded for being hedgehogs—i.e., knowing one big thing. Scholarship is thought to be “interesting” when an academic generates a really big and provocative idea that challenges conventional understandings of big questions about international relations. The incentive structure of the academy also rewards the academic for repeating and rewriting their big idea as often as possible. Are these big ideas right? That’s almost beside the point. As long as their progenitors are alive, ideas never die in international-relations theory (when they do die, someone will eventually dust it off and repackage the idea under their name).
On the other hand, today's policymakers ain't what they used to be -- a point I make in a commentary for Marketplace:
The dirty little secret inside the Beltway is that international economics either scares or bores America's foreign policy community. Although foreign affairs analysts understand on some level that economics is important, they see it as distinct from geopolitics. As a result, very few of them have the necessary experience or training to talk about international economic matters.
It was not always this way. During the Cold War, some of America's greatest foreign policy minds -- Dean Acheson, Walt Rostow, George Schultz or James Baker -- had substantive backgrounds in economics, finance or business. This allowed them to navigate the waters between high politics and high finance with a minimum of fuss.
[So, to sum up your mood this week: America's foreign policy community stinks!!--ed. I don't think that highly of you, either. Actually, it's worse than that -- after reading this Jacob T. Levy post, I'm not entirely convinced that the academic side of IR should necessarily strive for policy relevance.]
The Boston Globe's Joseph Williams reports on why Harold Koh is facing difficulties getting confirmed as the State Department's legal advisor. This part stood out for me:
Like many other legal academics to come before Congress - from conservative Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork to liberal Clinton Justice Department appointee Lani Guinier - Koh could find that positions advanced in academia play differently on the national stage.
Koh "has gotten cover from academia, which largely share views which most Americans would call kooky," said Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative public interest group. "What he has to worry about is that any public airings will show them to be kooky."
Look, I've read some of Koh's writings, and I disagree with him on some of his arguments for how international law should apply in the United States. But.... kooky? Seriously? Is that why Kenneth Starr and Theodore Olson have endorsed his appointment?
We're enduring revelation after revelation about how much of the Bush administration's legal team gave a giant "f*** you" to treaties that had been signed and ratified by the United States, and Harold Koh is supposed to be the guy who's outside the mainstream because of arguments he made while out of power? Am I missing something?
According to Williams, the opposition is coming from, "conservative thinkers, right-wing blogs, and some Republican lawmakers." Opposition is both good and wise -- rake Koh's views over the coals, suggest why they are impracticable, debate him in the realm of ideas. You know a good way to do that? Holding his confirmation hearing.
Calling him "kooky" leeches the debate of ideas and reduces it to mere rhetoric. It tries to suggest that Koh's views are completely off the rails. They are not.
And Joe Nye wonders why IR academics rarely enter the policy realm? Whatever you think of Koh's views, one of the things academics are supposed to do is be able to play with ideas. If professors can't do that for fear that it would affect their ability to enter government service, then the chilling effect it will have on the generation of good policy ideas will be massive.
I think academic social scientists have had TOO MUCH influence on one policy area -- military intervention (with sub-branches Spreading Democracy, Peacekeeping, and Fixing Failed States, formerly known as Nation Building). Economists have used shoddy econometrics and shallow analysis to justify such interventions, while political scientists seem to climb on board for reasons that I don't entirely fathom. Military intervention is such a drastic intervention that the burden of proof lies on those who advocate it, and social scientists have done a lousy job bearing that burden -- not surprising since military stuff is so far away from the traditional areas of knowledge of social science. The politicians and generals that wanted to intervene anyway are delighted to get the spurious cover offered by the amateur military analysts from the social sciences.
[Why didn't you continue the Star Wars theme in this post?--ed. Because nothing I could ever write, ever, could top this.]
First, a response from... well, let's call him/her "Political Scientist X," as this person wishes to remain anonymous. I can confirm that Political Scientist X has worked in both the academic and policy communities, and is well-versed in the kind of academic analysis that appeals to policymakers:
In my experience, rigor is a big selling point [to policymakers] It's what differentiates knowledge from conjecture and speculation, and many analysts and policy-makers are sensitive to that distinction. I think the real problem is that those analysts and policy-makers don't have the time to keep up with and consider the implications of the good work that's out there, because they are always so busy answering today's mail.
That said, I do agree with Dr. Nye that academia could and should put more effort into reaching out to and staying connected with the policy world. Scholars interested in shaping policy shouldn't wait for government to call; they should take time to write and talk about the policy implications of their work, and more journals and publishers should encourage them to do so.
Moreover, these implications have to be made explicit. It's not enough to write about something that's current and leave it to the policy people to figure out how to use the findings. Academics who want to shape policy also have to do the heavy lifting of saying what they think their research says about real policy choices. There's an obvious risk in doing that of being wrong in public or bearing some responsibility for the consequences of the policies that ensue. But the policy people have to take those risks every day, so why can't the scholars who want to influence policy shoulder a little more of the burden?
Another blog post response from James Walsh that's worth a look. His closing paragraph:
Policy relevance is important. But do we really want the academy stuffed with people who are up to date on the latest developments in country x? No. That's what think tanks and CIAs are for. We (by which I mean I, of course) want an academy with people that are interested in the bigger causes and consequences, and are trained to think about these things in a systematic way. How come? One of the best ways that academics can be policy relevant is to poke holes in dumb ideas. Every academic I know (bar one, and he was Canadian of all things) thought the invasion of Iraq was a dumb idea. They knew this based on their knowledge of the history of preventive war, positive theories about preventive war, and long thought about the normative implications of the use of force to make the world a better place. This is all stuff that gets downplayed in "policy circles," but if it was taken more seriously might at least prevent us from making the worst mistakes over and over again.
Joe Nye has clearly touched a nerve.
There's been a lot of e-mail chatter among international relations professors about Nye's Washington Post op-ed arguing that IR scholars are cloister-bound and not policy relevant.
Some of these scholars have some interesting points/objections to make, but where oh where can they voice these points?
Why, this very blog! If you want to respond to Nye but don't want to set up your own blog about it, feel free to e-mail me your response for publication here. Assuming your response meets my personal standard of propriety (i.e., you don't personally insult Nye, myself, or Salma Hayek) I will publish it in the hallowed... er... website of Foreign Policy. [Can a website be hallowed?--ed. I'm announcing that policy, yes.]
Coaching from the Sidelines
Professor Joseph Nye ("Scholars on the Sidelines"), who has a well-deserved reputation as both an eminent scholar of international relations and as a government official with experience in several previous administrations, laments a growing gap between academia and government. He asserts that the fault "lies not with the government but with the academics." This is unfair.
Nye complains about the methodological rigor in contemporary political science as an impediment to its relevance. This is ironic, given that it is precisely this rigor that has allowed modern political science to improve its forecasting power - something that is presumably vital to policymaking. We now have better statistical tools to predict, for example, the likelihood of state failure, civil conflict, democratic breakdown, and other changes in governments. Game-theoretic models can be used to analyze trade disputes and war, as well as the behavior of international organizations, terrorist movements, and nuclear states with greater precision and clarity than just a few decades before.
In our classes, we give students assignments designed to bridge what they learn in the classroom to the real world. There is certainly a connection, and our job is to teach our students to see it. We hope such a pedagogy is in the spirit of what Nye calls for, but we find his piece frustrating as he implies that such endeavors are fruitless because contemporary political science has nothing to say to the broader audience. This is just not true.
Nye is correct that much of this analysis does not get translated into policymaking. There is surely something to be said for the failure of some scholars to disseminate their research more broadly, and he is also right that academia does not provide strong incentives to do so. But a part of this fault may also lie within the halls of certain government agencies. Nye also points to a strong connection between economists and policy makers. No wonder. Staffers at the US Treasury, the Fed, the National Economic Council (to name a few places) are comfortable reading cutting-edge economic analyses because they have been trained to understand mathematical models and statistical results. If people at the State Department or the National Security Council have not been comparably trained, however, they will not understand contemporary political science or its capacity to inform policy. Academic political science can do a much better job of reaching out to policymakers. But governmental agencies need to focus some effort on recruiting individuals who have the background and skills needed to apply modern political science to their daily work. Both sides need to make an effort.
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.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.