With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
Your humble blogger has been knee-deep in chairing, discussing, and attending International Studies Association panels
all of which seem to have the word "diffusion" in the title and SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Now, naturally, with the global financial crisis and its aftermath there's been a lot of talk about debts and deficits. And with the defense sequester and what-not, there's been a lot of talk about rising levels of partisanship. And I've come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of this talk need to stop, like, right now.
Here's the dirty truth about most international studies scholars: They know a fair amount about the high politics of international affairs and almost next to nothing about the rest of life. Of course, the rest of life does impinge on world politics, so there's some natural overlap. The problem starts when, in talking about non-IR stuff, we start to think that we have just as much expertise in these areas. Which we don't. At all.
Last night I tweeted a query about what areas IR scholars should be quiet about and got way too many answers to fit in a blog post. So, here are five things about which I'd really like 99 percent of international relations scholars to shut the hell up:
1) Macroeconomic policy. Should the United States cut its deficit further? Are budget cuts, tax cuts, or tax increases necessary? How can the eurozone escape its current macroeconomic malaise? Most of us have no friggin' clue what the correct answers are for the United States, and that goes double for the euro zone. So unless you're actually publishing scholarly work on global macroeconomic policy, shut up.
2) The role of money in American politics. Foreign policy scholars are far too often shocked -- shocked!! -- when they see interest group politics at work. The Citizens United decision has only amplified this lament. The reaction to this is to either bemoan the general health of the American polity or to start developing simple theories that argue that money or lobbies explain everything about politics. Now I might not be the biggest fan of the American politics subfield, but I'm pretty sure they know more about this topic than we do. So shut up and read what they have to say.
3) Partisanship in the United States. Did you know that it's getting worse? And that it's paralyzing the U.S. government? And that it's getting worse? One of the natural biases of foreign policy scholars is to think in terms of a national interest, and then act appalled when there are different partisan conceptions of that term. Basically, what applies to #2 applies to this point as well.
4) The Internet. As near as I can determine, when asked about this technology affects international politics, most scholars answer with some variation of "networks networks networks cyber cyber cyber." Some scholars do very good work on this subject. The rest of us should shut up for a spell and read them.
5) Diffusion. Never again. Ever.
What else, my dear readers, would you like to see less gabbing about from international affairs scholars?
Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop.
So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there.
1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress: Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take: In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research.
3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat: Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing.
4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS. My take: definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular.
And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!
Dan Nexon has sparked some online debate among political scientists about whether our hiring process makes any kind of rational sense. Dan expresses particular disdain towards the centerpiece of any campus interview, the job talk -- a format in which a job candidate speaks for 30-45 minutes and then fields questions from faculty and grad students in the audience for 30-60 minutes.
Dan thinks the whole exercise is stupid:
In fact, the job talk is most useful for… assessing the ability of a candidate to give a job talk. The reason we place so much weight on it is that most academics (and I include myself in this category) are too
damn lazypressed for time to skimcarefully read candidates’ portfolios. And why should we? It isn’t like there’s a good chance that the person we hire will become lifetime colleagues… Doh!
I’ve heard rumors of other, more rationale systems. Some say that the University of Chicago conducts an intensive proseminar in which the candidate provides introductory remarks and then everyone discusses an article-length piece of research. This strikes me as a plausible alternative to the modal job talk. But I ask our readers: are there others? And does anyone want to defend the status quo?
OK, first off, for the record, in my experience that's not how the University of Chicago did job talks. Their process involved some criticism of rational choice theory, a lot more hot wax and-- but I can't say anything more because of that darn oath of secrecy.
Seriously, though, Dan's post triggered a whole passel of responses. Tom Pepinsky defended the institution, as did Jeremy Wallace. Nate Jensen wants to know what's the replacement system. Nexon responded by sticking to his guns, and Tom Oatley went so far as to declare that technological change had rendered the original motivation for the job talk obsolete.
I think I have to side with the defenders of the job talk -- or, rather the job talk and Q&A, because the latter part is way more important in my own evaluation of a candidate.
Dan's claim that it serves no purpose other than giving a job talk seems short-sighted to me. In part, a job talk is an act of editing. No one -- well, no one but political theorists -- simply reads their paper verbatim. They have to organize and select what they believe are the most compelling and crucial parts of their argument. They also have to pitch it to a level that's wider than their subfield. An Americanist will know little about Adorno or Agamben; a comparativist is likely to be unfamiliar with work on state legislatures, and a political theorist would have no reason to know much about the Basel Core Principles. This holds with even more force at an interdisciplinary public policy school like Fletcher or SAIS. A job talk lets me see whether this candidate will be able to talk to anyone outside of the five other people on the planet who know this specific topic cold.
If I've read the paper, I'm always curious to see how a candidate crafts his or her presentation. And if the presenter can't hold my attention, that's a bad sign, because if they can't make their own work compelling, good luck keeping the attention of less interested students with work that's not their own.
Truthfully, however, the most important part of a job talk to me is not the talk, it's the question and answer session aferwards. How well can a candidate respond to tough questions? Stupid questions? What are the reservoirs of expertise that lie below the surface? In my professional experience, I can only think of a handful of candidates that blew their chances with the actual job talk. I can think of a LOT of them, however, that deep-sixed their chances because they couldn't handle good questions. I'd also add that while I often have questions after reading the paper, I wind up with different questions when I hear the talk -- in no small part because the presentation reveals what the candidate thinks is mportant.
Good political scientists have to give a LOT of talks in their career -- large lectures to undergraduates, draft paper presentations to graduate students, invited talks at other universities, APSA panels, smaller field conferences, symposium conferences, workshop talks, think tank presentations, and even the occasional public lecture. In my experience, the job talk is the format that best covers all of these other types of presentations.
Am I missing anything, fellow political scientists?
University professors have a lot less stress than most of us. Unless they teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year’s and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don’t spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.
Another boon for professors: Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS. All of those attributes land university professor in the number one slot on Careercast.com’s list of the least stressful jobs of 2013....
The other thing most of the least stressful jobs have in common: At the end of the day, people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five.
Let's take a brief pause here so the academics in the crowd can recover from either A) throwing things at their computer screen; or B) melting to the floor in puddles of uncontrollable semi-hysterical laughter.
Now let's immediately concede that Adams -- as she later admitted as much in an update to the post -- knows next to nothing about the life of an academic. Almost every specific claim in the quoted paragraphs above about the life of a professor is either wildly inaccurate or radically incomplete. For some pointed rejoinders, see here and here and here. Also check out the #RealForbesProfessors hashtag on Twitter. Indeed, this whole kerfuffle mirrors this old Marketplace exchange that I had with my Fancy-Pants Brother Who Used to be an Investment Banker/Hedge Fund Manager. What's annoying about the Forbes column is the clear lack of understanding that
outworlders civilians people who are not academics possess about our profession.
Now, that said, and despite Adams having very little clue about the nature of my job, could it be that Careercast is onto something? Even if it's wrong about every little thing, is it wrong about the big thing? Dan Nexon points out the following:
Most tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy:
Some modicum of administrative self-governance; Their own office, complete with a door that shuts and locks; Generally flexible deadlines; Tremendous flexibility in how they allocate their time; Spending most of their time engaged in ideas and activities that they enjoy; and The ability to spend significant time in situations in which power asymmetries favor them.
These factors more than counterbalance the negatives.
These are not small positives, and I, for one, revel in them every day of my professional career. Furthermore, whenever this kind of debate comes up, I always recall my brother's look of bemusement at a Thanksgiving dinner when a colleague was bitching and moaning about staying up late to finish a paper. This was something he had to do on a semi-regular basis when he was working on Wall Street.
So, let's do some realkeeping here and conclude with the following true statements:
1) Adjunct professors who earn their primary means of income through teaching win the stress game easily, and are excluded from the points I make below.
2) Compared to most professions that pay a comparable or greater salary, tenured and tenure-track academics possess far greater levels of autonomy and flexibility of hours. Not less overall work, mind you, but more ability to determine when in the day that work has to be done;
3) There's a lot of useful sorting that takes place among jobs. Activities that academics often find stressful -- like, you know, talking to other people -- are often viewed as less stressful by those people who do it more often. On the other hand, things we like to do -- like, you know, writing down stuff that we think about -- others can find to be incredibly stressful.
4) The shifting nature of the academic job market means that there are HUGE amount of stress at key moments in an academic career. If those moments go badly, well, there can be a fair amount of stress.
5) There's something vaguely comic about everyone trying to brag about how stressful their job is. Personally, I blame television. Shows like ER, The West Wing, and Scandal have glamorized the notion that killer jobs are friggin' awesome and super-sexy. You know what's really awesome? Doing your job so well that you can relax on a regular basis.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, I probably am missing something, so feel free to mention it in the comments.
As near as I can figure, the David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell story is the ultimate pundit Rorschach Test. Whatever axe one had to grind against the foreign policy community prior to the story breaking, Petraeus and Broadwell merely sharpens it. It's evidence about the sexism and double-standards at play in Washington! It shows the insularity and kiss-assedness of the foreign policy community!! It shows that COIN doesn't work, or that Petraeus was a big phony!!
I'm not immune to this impulse, so I'd like to focus on a lesson that can be drawn from this for those young, impressionistic aspirants to positions of foreign policy influence. If there's anything you can learn from the rise and fall of Paula Broadwell, it's this: do not, under any circumstances, think of a Ph.D. as merely a box to be checked on the way to power and influence in Washington.
As Fred Kaplan notes, Petraeus both benefited from and propagated the desire to develop "officer-intellectuals" within the military:
The impulse was not unique to Petraeus. It grew out of the ethos of West Point’s social science department, where Petraeus had taught in the mid-1980s. The department, known as “Sosh,” was founded just after World War II by a visionary ex-cadet and Rhodes Scholar named George A. “Abe” Lincoln. Toward the end of the war, as the senior planning aide to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, Lincoln realized that the Army needed to breed a new type of officer to help the nation meet its new global responsibilities in the postwar era. This new officer, he wrote to a colleague, should have “at least three heads—one political, one economic, and one military.” He took a demotion, from brigadier general to colonel, so he could return to West Point and create a curriculum “to improve the so-called Army mind” in just this way: a social science department, encouraging critical thinking, even occasionally dissent.
Lincoln also set up a program allowing cadets with high scores in Sosh classes to go study at a civilian graduate school, with West Point paying the tuition. In exchange, the cadets, after earning their doctorates, would come back and teach for at least three years. Once they fulfilled that obligation, Lincoln would use his still-considerable connections in Washington to get them choice assignments in the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, a foreign embassy, or a prestigious command post.
Now, I've encountered a lot of these scholar-officers at my various academic postings. Many of them are among the best that the military has to offer, and offer a necessary bridge between the scholarly and martial worlds. On the other hand, some of them are there precisely because they see the Ph.D. as a ticket to be punched on the way to something greater. And these are the ones who will usually flail about miserably.
This appears to be what happened to Broadwell at the Kennedy School of Government. By all accounts, she had succeeded at pretty much everything she had tried to achieve prior to entering the Ph.D. program. At that point, however... well, let's go to the Boston Globe's story:
One of Broadwell’s former professors at Harvard described her as a self-promoter who would routinely show up at office hours.
“It was very much, ‘I’m here and you’re going to know I’m here,’?” said the professor, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of ongoing investigations. “She was not someone you would think of as a critical thinker. I don’t remember anything about her as a student. I remember her as a personality.”
The professor said when Petraeus chose Broadwell to write his biography, there was shock among the national security faculty at Harvard because “she just didn’t have the background — the academic background, the national security background, or the writing background.”
A second Harvard faculty member who knows Broadwell and Petraeus had similar misgivings.
Now, these comments from the Harvard faculty are self-serving and indecorous; as the Globe story goes on to note, these professorial misgivings did not stop the school from embracing Broadwell's apparent success.
That said, as a professor in a policy school, those comments caused me to shudder in recognition (and it jibes with Greg Jaffe and Anne Gearan's reportage that Broadwell's coursework was below par). Any professor in one of these institutions recognizes the student profile in the Globe story. Even standard political science departments are littered with students who have sterling resumes, glittering letters of recommendation from well-connected fixtures of the foreign policy community, and that disturbing tendency to look past the task at hand to plot out steps three, four and five of their Ascent to Greatness.
Here's the thing about these students: 95 percent of them will not earn a Ph.D. -- and most of the rest who do get it will only have done so by finding the most pliant dissertation committee alive. Ambition and intelligence can get someone through college and a professional degree. It can even get someone through Ph.D.-level coursework. What it can't do is produce an above-the-bar dissertation.
In my day, I've known too many students who were talented in many ways, and yet got stymied at the dissertation phase. For people who have succeeded at pretty much everything in life to that point, a Ph.D. seems like just another barrier to transcend. It's not. Unless you are able to simultaneously love and critically dissect your subject matter, unless you thrive in an environment where people are looking forward to picking apart your most cherished ideas, you won't finish. You can guess for yourself at which task Broadwell failed, condemning her to the Jane Babbington fate.
To be clear: I don't write this peroration to suggest that finishing a Ph.D. is a sign of superior intelligence: it isn't. I've met Ph.D.'s in my field who were actually quite stupid. Consider this a public service message. As someone who has advised readers on the relative merits of getting a Ph.D., it's worth pointing out -- repeatedly -- that getting a Ph.D. is not for everyone. If there isn't an idea or a question that truly animates you, if you think of a Ph.D. as merely a ticket to be punched, then know the following: you are looking at a half-decade of misery with nothing to show for it in the end except a terminal masters degree.
Am I missing anything?
Time Magazine columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria has apologized "unreservedly" to Jill Lepore for plagiarizing her work in The New Yorker.
"Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore's essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right," Zakaria said in a statement to The Atlantic Wire. "I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers."
Zakaria's column about gun laws for Time's August 20 issue includes a paragraph that is remarkably similar to one Jill Lepore wrote in April for a New Yorker article about the National Rifle Association. (The similarities were first flagged by NRANews.com and first reported by Tim Graham of the conservative watchdog group Newsbusters, who leveled the plagiarism charge.)
Time suspended Zakaria for a month, CNN suspended him from his GPS hosting duties pending further review, and the Washington Post is looking into his work there. Rodger Payne has a useful round up of the relevant links.
Once the news broke, there was a whole lotta Twitter speculation about how and why this happened. Many media types assume that this was a mistake made by one of Zakaria's flunkies/assistants/interns, but in some ways that's just the proximate cause. A better question would be: why would Fareed Zakaria outsource any writing under his name to others?
I used to think that doing this kind of thing required willful negligence on the part of a writer. Now my view has changed a bit. It's still negligence, but with only a fraction of Zakaria's writing obligations, I can see all too clearly how this happened. To paraphrase Chris Rock, I'm not saying I approve... but I understand.
The New York Times lists Zakaria's day jobs, and they're formidable: "Mr. Zakaria, 48, balances a demanding schedule, doing work for multiple media properties. He is a CNN host, an editor at large at Time, a Washington Post columnist and an author."
Most people who wind up in this situation don't just snap their fingers and take on all of these jobs at once. It's a slow accretion of opportunities that are hard to say no until you are overextended. I'm not remotely close to being a member of the League of Extraordinary Pundits like Zakaria. Still, even I've noticed that, as writing & speaking obligations pile up, corners get... well, let's say rounded rather than cut.
I suspect, as one
has more gobs of money tossed at them than they ever expected out of life approaches League status, three factors dramatically increases the likelihood of this kind of thing happening. First, since the distribution of punditry assignments likely follows a power law distribution, superstars are asked to write a lot more, the pressure builds up. Second, to compensate, the pundit has to hire a staff -- and most people who get into the writing/thinking business are lousy at managing subordinates and staff. Third, if small shortcuts aren't caught the first time a writer uses them, they become crutches that pave the way for bigger shortcuts, which then become cheats.
None of this is to excuse Zakaria for what he did. It just makes me very sad. I enjoyed his first book, and I've enjoyed Fareed Zakaria GPS because it's one of the few Sunday morning shows devoted to international affairs. It didn't air this Sunday because of what happened.
I hope the show goes on, with or without Zakaria. And either way, I hope whoever hosts it learns from this mistake.
So in yesterday's New York Times, Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens wrote something really stupid about whether the NSF should fund political science.
I don't use the term "stupid" lightly. Based on her blog, she has a philosophy of science that's about, oh, sixty years out of date. She was (as she now acknowledges) sloppy with some of her facts. One paragraph proudly trumps a John Lewis Gaddis essay that actually critiques the very kind of work Stevens claims to like. And, after spending much of the essay indicting political scientists for getting in bed with an imperial state ("research money that comes with ideological strings attached"), she closes with:
Government can — and should — assist political scientists, especially those who use history and theory to explain shifting political contexts, challenge our intuitions and help us see beyond daily newspaper headlines. Research aimed at political prediction is doomed to fail. At least if the idea is to predict more accurately than a dart-throwing chimp.
To shield research from disciplinary biases of the moment, the government should finance scholars through a lottery: anyone with a political science Ph.D. and a defensible budget could apply for grants at different financing levels.
So, in other words, state funding is pernicious and corrupting -- unless you and yours get the money.
So yeah, there's a lot of stupidity contained in this essay. But that's OK!! I have been to many a seminar (and maybe, just maybe, presented at some) in which the paper du jour was horrible, but the discussion that the paper triggered was quite interesting. And I think that happened in this case. For robust deconstructions of Stevens' arguments, see Henry Farrell, Steve Saideman, Jim Johnson, and Jay Ulfelder.
Two other responses are worthy of note, however. At his blog, Phil Arena makes an interesting semi-serious suggestion:
Here's a thought experiment -- if [the American Political Science Association] were to increase membership dues by $500 a year or so, and if most current members remained members, we'd have a pool of money a bit smaller than the current NSF budget for political science, but still one that could fund a good number of projects with the greatest potential for generating positive externalities. The big data sets that lots of people use, like the NES, could continue. And let's face it, many of the individual projects that are funded by the NSF do not generate significant positive externalities -- and even if they did, a great many of them would be carried out even if without external funding. So the net loss wouldn't be that big.
Now, there are some obvious problems and not-so-obvious problems with this proposal. Obvbiously, APSA membership wouldn't stay the same size. Not-so-obviously, the demographics of APSA membership would likely skewresearch dollars in ways that people like Stevens would find even more abhorrent.
Still, I think a more modest version of this idea makes a great deal of sense. It's entirely reasonable to, say, ask that tenured professors at R1 research universities to chip in $500 to a research fund. It's also reasonable to ask other APSA members to chip in... something. I'd want to see the International Studies Association do the same. The result would not be a perfect substitute for NSF funding, but it would certainly be a good way of building up an appropriate research infrastructure free of Congressional interference.
Second, Penn political science professor Michael Horowitz posts about an ongoing research project with Official Blog Intellectual Crush Philip Tetlock. This section contains some beguiling findings... and an invitation:
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force? We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.
So, to sum up: a stupid op-ed. But lots of interesting things to read as a result of it. Well done, other political scientists!!
While today is undeniably International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it also appears to be Let's Release Something About Trade Day inside the beltway. Scanning these documents, I'm pretty depressed about the future of trade policy and trade politics.
The Council on Foreign Relations released a Task Force Report on Trade and Investment Policy. The Task force was populated from a bipartisan list of eminences who agreed upon the following list of bullet points:
1) A trade-negotiations agenda that opens markets for the most competitive U.S.-produced goods and services
2) A National Investment Initiative that would coordinate investment policies to create more high-wage, high-productivity jobs in the United States
3) A robust and strategic trade enforcement effort that ensures U.S. companies and workers are not harmed by trade agreement violations
4) A greater push to promote U.S. exports through more competitive export financing and a more active U.S. government role in supporting American overseas sales
5) An expanded use of trade to foster development in the world’s poorest countries
6) A comprehensive worker adjustment and retraining policy
7) A new deal with Congress to give the president a mandate to negotiate trade-opening agreements with an assurance of timely congressional action
OK, let's see... (1) is just a restatement of principles, (3) is an old saw that only gets repeated during a presidential election season, (4) sounds awfully similar to the status quo policy, (5) is not a politically viable option, (6) is a political non-starter, and (7) will only happen if a single party controls the executive and legislative branches. So, to sum up, all of the the good, innovative policy proposals are politically impossible right now.
You can understand why I'm feeling a bit like Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles.
As much as I want to see further trade liberalization, however, I'm getting equally weary of lazy pro-trade rhetoric. Consider, as Exhibit A, this open trade letter to President Obama that Jaggdish Bhagwati pulled together (reprinted in The American Interest). The key paragraph has the following assertions:
The fear of the labour unions that trade with the poor countries produces poor in the rich countries is mistaken. The demand of the business lobbies that want ever more concessions from others is excessive. The contention of some experts that the gains from Doha are minuscule is flawed in neglecting the costs of the failure of Doha and the ensuing damage to the WTO. The retribution by a protectionist public is greatly exaggerated: many jobs today depend on both exports and imports and the polls reflect that.
As the 2012 campaign heats up, let's just re-write that last paragraph in the language of political pollsters:
If you push to ratify Doha as is, the unions will freak, big business will stand on the sidelines, some experts will argue that the gains are miniscule, and the public will likely disapprove of the deal unless they suddenly care enough to follow the issue. Get to it, President Obama!
The worst part of that paragraph, however, is the claim regarding "ensuing damage" to the WTO is Doha fails. Anyone paying attention to Doha has been aware that the trade round has been deader than a doornail since before rthe 2008 financial crisis. It's so dead that the Bush administration's last trade negotiator proposed scrapping it. What's striking is that, three years after Doha became DOA, the damage to the WTO appears to be pretty minimal. The wave of protectionism triggered by 2008 crested a while ago, and trade volumes recovered quickly. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy that Doha is dead -- but the WTO's survival does not seem contingent on its passage.
Am I missing anything?
The latest issue of International Studies Review is a special symposium on theory and practice in international relations. Thomas Weiss and Anoulak Kittikhoun edited the special issue. The goal, according to them:
This special presidential issue addresses the theory–practice question across major institutions and global challenges. First, what is the influence of scholars on institutions? What accounts for influence or the lack thereof? What type of future engagement should exist for scholars on these institutions? Second, what are acceptable theoretical approaches to a given global challenge? What are the existing policies and practices, and do they coincide with dominant scholarly approaches? What relationship would be most useful between theory and practice on any issue?... [T]hese pages explore the impacts of scholars on policymaking and institutions as well as the limitations of theory in responding to global challenges. Stereotypes obfuscate the complex reality that scholarship matters.
The whole issue is a real treat, including great articles by Bruce Jentleson and Ely Ratner on how to bridge the scholar/policymaker gap, Ann Florini on international relations theory and the rise of Cina and India, Roland Paris on failed and failing states, Elizabeth DeSombre on global environmental politics, Andrew Hurrell on global governance, and
some zombie fanatic yours truly on targeted economic sanctions.
This looks like it should be a great way to get policymakers interested in the academic study of world politics, and vice versa. Of course, to be useful, it helps to be able to access the articles in the first place. And since all of these essays appear to be subscriber-only, it looks like
this is yet another brilliant self-inflicted wound demonstrating how academic journals guarantee their continued irrelevance in the policymaking world by hiding behind a friggin' paywall the bridging will be mostly on the academic side of the ledger.
Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about why he largely abstains from cable news appearances and why this is in and of itself a problem:
The outlines of the problem are becoming clear--I'm a snob. More seriously, it's my impression that much of cable news is rigged. Complicated questions are forced into small spaces of time, and guests frequently dissemble in order to score debate points and avoid being intellectually honest. Finally, many of the guests don't seem to be actual experts in the field of which they're addressing, so much as they're "strategists" or "analysts." I strongly suspect that part of the reason this is the case is talking on TV is, itself, a craft and one that requires a skill-set very different than what is required of academics. I'm sure many academics themselves share the disdain for the format that I've outlined. Finally, the handful of scholars who regularly appear on the talk shows, generally aren't of the sort that hold my interests.
With that said, it's very difficult to inveigh against these shows when you refuse to participate. The discomfiting fact is that cable news reaches a ton of people, many of whom--presuming they're interested--could use the information (emphasis added).
As an academic who is occasionally asked to be on TV/radio
after the producer has gone through their top ten options, I have similarly mixed feelings about the skill mismatch. Speaking from my own experience, I find that my biggest weakness in these venues is that I genuinely want to answer the question asked of me.
You'd think this would be a good thing, but it's not, because it means that you're a hostage to the interviewer's ability to ask good questions. Usually if you're asked to be on a program, you know what the news hook is, and you should (obviously) know your overarching take on the issue. The problem, for me at least, is that no interviewer asks, "So what do you think?" Instead, they'll ask a more specific question -- which I then try to answer specifically. I've rarely been able to integrate a specific answer with the larger theme I want to stress in the appearance.
I suppose I could just admit my failings and abstain from these kinds of media appearances. One of my 2011 resolutions, however, is to try and get better at doing this sort of thing.
I'll have my list of proposed resolutions for the rest of the foreign-policy community tomorrow.
Every year I give a talk to Fletcher students entitled, "So you want to get a Ph.D...." in which I do my darnedest to convince them to seek alternative paths -- kinda like how a rabbi responds when someone wants to convert to Judaism. I am all too familiar with the possible downsides and relate these to the Fletcherites as clearly as humanly possible.
I bring this up because it's been impossible to avoid this "So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in Political Science" video over the last 24 hours, as apparently all of my friends/colleagues feel compelled to blog, tweet, or link to this sucker on Facebook. And I'm glad to have finally seen it. See, I was worried that I was becoming the most cynical person in political science. After having seen it, however, I'm now certain that whoever put that together possesses oceans of bitterness that I could never dream of consuming.
Look, pursuing a political science Ph.D. carries all sorts of risks and all kinds of occasionally pernicious socialization effects. That said, I'm not sure that alternative career pathways for someone interested in politics are all that much better at this juncture. The intern route? [Insert your own joke here about interns here -- ed.] It's no less demeaning and far more cutthroat than graduate school. Law school? Supply vastly exceeds demand in that field too, plus it's a vastly more expensive enterprise. Political journalism and/or publishing? That sound you hear right now is the collective gallows laughter from the employees orf that industry about its future prospects.
The key piece of advice I would give someone who is undeterred in getting a political science Ph.D. at this point is to recognize five important facts:
1) The process of getting a Ph.D. can provide you with a set of analytical skills that are of some use in the non-academic job market;
2) 99 percent of Ph.D. programs are geared to make you think that the only job worth having is becoming a political science professor.
3) If you really want to be a political science professor, you might as well know now that the odds are not good, the job market is terrible, and your control over your future professional destiny is extremely circumscribed.
4) Remember how your parents told you that if you really loved something and applied yourself, you would excel at it? Yeah, that's not always true. At the doctoral level, simply wanting something really badly is not sufficient to attaining your goal.
5) If you think you can resist the siren song of the academy, however -- and this is an important if -- then I can think of worse career paths.
Enough of this silliness -- I have a talk about zombies I have t prepare.
Your humble blogger was all prepared to be diligent, posting even while on a brief vacation. However, after three days in
a spectacular Europeal locale that will go unnamed oh, I'll fess up, I'm in Florence, I'm afraid that I've eaten too much fabulous pasta to give a damn about blogging Eurosclerosis has overtaken my Yankee work ethic.
Active blogging will resume on Thursday. In the meantime, commenters are heartily encouraged to suggest future blogging topics. I'm well aware that I've harped a bit on macroeconomic imbalances, sanctions and zombies as of late. I'd be happy to blog about other trouble spots (Kyrgyzstan, Thailand) other trends (Facebook overtaking Google), events (criminals going free) or whatnot.
But you'll have to take the zombies away from my cold, undead hands -- got it?
The most important thing to read in political science today was not written by a plitical scientist.* Instead, check out Christopher Beam's Slate essay about how a standard politics story would read if written by someone who cares a lot more about structural factors in political life than
bulls**t narratives the human element.
There is already an IPE version of this kind of story, but I can't find it. I know a Financial Times reporter (or maybe it was The Onion) had something out there on the interwebs that writes up a standard G-8 meeting. To update it for the G-20:
Today the Group of Twenty Nations issued a series of meaningless exhortations which will be ignored as soon as the heads of government leave the summit city.
President Barack Obama said, "it is critical to global stability that we agree on these vital economic issues of the day. Unfortunately, because we all face serious domestic constraints during this global economic downturn, there's not a chance in hell that we'll be able to abide by these pledges."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, standing next to Obama, gave the slightest of Gallic shrugs in an effort to draw the press corps' attention to him.
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva dissented as well, arguing, "These words will have meaning for next year's very important summit, which will be held in Brasilia, I hasten to add."
The communique promised action on the Doha Round, financial regulation, redressing macroeconomic imbalances, and reapportioning power within the international financial institutions. A prior, leaked draft of the communique also pledged greater efforts to create a global tax on the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns, as well a greater subsidies for Santa Claus. Chinese premier Hu Jintao objected, however, arguing that the communique should stick to moderately unrealistic pronouncements and not edge over into complete and total fantasy.
An ineffectual international organisation yesterday issued a stark warning about a situation it has absolutely no power to change, the latest in a series of self-serving interventions by toothless intergovernmental bodies.
“We are seriously concerned about this most serious outbreak of seriousness,” said the head of the institution, either a former minister from a developing country or a mid-level European or American bureaucrat. “This is a wake-up call to the world. They must take on board the vital message that my organisation exists.”
The director of the body, based in one of New York, Washington or an agreeable Western European city, was speaking at its annual conference, at which ministers from around the world gather to wring their hands impotently about the most fashionable issue of the day. The organisation has sought to justify its almost completely fruitless existence by joining its many fellow talking-shops in highlighting whatever crisis has recently gained most coverage in the global media.
“Governments around the world must come together to combat whatever this year’s worrying situation has turned out to be,” the director said. “It is not yet time to panic, but if it goes on much further without my institution gaining some credit for sounding off on the issue, we will be justified in labelling it a crisis.”
The organisation, whose existence the White House barely acknowledges and to which hardly any member government intends to give more money or extra powers, has long been fighting a war of attrition against its own irrelevance. By making a big deal out of the fact that the world’s most salient topical issue will be placed on its agenda and then issuing a largely derivative annual report on the subject, it hopes to convey the entirely erroneous impression that it has any influence whatsoever on the situation.
The intervention follows a resounding call to action in the communiqué of the Group of [number goes here] countries at their recent summit in a remote place no-one had previously heard of. The G[number goes here] meeting was preceded by the familiar interminable and inconclusive discussions about whether the G[number goes here] was sufficiently representative of the international community, or whether it should be expanded into a G[number plus 1, 2 or higher goes here] including China, India or any other scary emerging market country that attendees cared to name.
The story was given further padding by a study from an ambulance-chasing Washington think-tank, which warned that it would continue to convene media conference calls until its quixotic and politically suicidal plan to ameliorate whatever crisis was gathering had been given respectful though substantially undeserved attention.
*Unfortunately, that's not an uncommon occurrence.
Shorter Exum: "the posts on this blog are meant to be light and irreverent.... I am sorry that folks got their proverbial panties in a twist about a post that was meant to be funny." He then outsourced a more substantive response to Scott Wedman, who said eminently reasonable things.
According to Spencer Ackerman, Exum also pwned me.
Some are dissatisfied with this response. As for me... meh. If Exum's original post really was intended as a humorous lark, then so be it. I apologize for misinterpreting and overreacting -- though I gotta say, the bulk of his recent posts aren't exactly overflowing with wit.
Last month, both on this blog and on my Twitter feed, I defended the notion that political scientists would be uber-interested in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. I was generally sympathetic to Jack Shafer's defense of their sourcing methods in Slate. And, in that spirit, I ordered Game Change, ready to dig deep into campaign gossip and the flawed nature of politicians.
Well, I've finished the book -- as well as the 20-minute shower I needed to take after reading the book. And I hereby retract any and all enthusiasm for Game Change-- because I don't know which parts of it are true and which parts are not.
[Um... does anyone care anymore?--ed. This is the
#10 #15 book on Amazon's bestseller list, so I'm going to say yes.]
My problem is not, exactly, with the sourcing -- it's with the gullibility of Heilemann and Halperin when dealing with their sources. So, just to be clear, the political scientist in me doesn't loathe this book because of the narrative structure -- it's because I don't trust Heilemann and Halperin's BS detector.
It was on page 89 that I began to wonder just how much Game Change's authors double-checked their sources. This section of the book recounts entertainment mogul David Geffen's "break" with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign -- most publicly, in this Maureen Dowd column.
And so, we get to this paragraph in Game Change:
The reaction to the column stunned Geffen. Beseiged by interview requests, he put out a statement saying Dowd had quoted him accurately. Some of Geffen's friends in Hollywood expressed disbelief. Warren Beatty told him, She's going to be president of the United States--you must be nuts to have done this. But many more congratulated Geffen for having the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but was too afraid to put on the record. They said he'd made them feel safer openly supporting or donating to Obama. Soon after, when Geffen visited New York, people in cars on Madison Avenue beeped their horns and gave him the thumbs-up as he walked down the street (emphasis added).
I'm calling bulls**t on the bolded sentence. David Geffen is a powerful mogul, but he's not a photogenic celebrity in his own right. I'm pretty confident in asserting that no one driving down Madison Avenue would recognize Geffen walking down the street. I have complete confidence that no more than one person did this.
Furthermore, even if there was a small chance that someone did recognize Geffen on the street, how would a honking horn indicate sympathy with Geffen's political inclinations as opposed to, say, a sentiment more like, "Yo, David, will you listen to my demo?!"
So, who is the "deep background" source of this little anecdote for Game Change? It has to be Geffen -- he is, after all, so vain. And so we arrive at the first key question: what does it say about the veracity of Game Change that Geffen related a completely implausible, ego-boosting story about himself to Heilemann and Halperin and it gets printed in the book?
This leads to the second key question: what other "telling anecdotes" of dubious provenance got put into this book? The Geffen anecdote is has zero impact on the juicy stories told in the rest of the book -- but how can I be certain that Heilemann and Halperin vetted those sources with greater scrutiny?
I don't doubt that most of Game Change is accurate -- and I couldn't put the book down as I was reading it. I just don't trust what I read.
In a post over the weekend about John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's new book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder makes a very odd closing point:
Political scientists aren't going to like this book, because it portrays politics as it is actually lived by the candidates, their staff and the press, which is to say -- a messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings -- a universe away from numbers and probabilities and theories.
I know a lot of political scientists, and let me take this opportunity to assure Marc that most political scientists love good, dishy books full of political gossip -- the uglier, the better. I love Bob Woodward books and all the Making of the **** Campaign tomes as much as the rest of America seems to love John Grisham novels. Many political scientists have similar feelings on this -- before people become political scientists, they're usually political junkies. And anyone who studies this stuff for a living can't only be aware that politicians are flawed beings -- they have to love them just a little for their flaws. As Seth Masket points out, "If we only cared about numbers and probabilities and theories, we'd have become mathematicians."
I suspect that the difference between my profession and Ambinder's is that while I love these canmpaign narratives, I don't always buy their explanations for why things play out the way they do. Structural factors like the economy matter a hell of a lot as well. The chapter in Game Change on the Edwardses, for example, is really gripping stuff -- but it's gripping because of the tawdriness, not because it affected the campaign in any way whatsoever. Even if theirs had been a fairy-tale marriage, John Edwards still wasn't going to be the president.
Ambinder's passive-aggresive attitude towards my profession is not unique to him -- it flares up every once in a while among political journalists. In some ways, this dust-up mirrors the occasional testiness that emerges between traditional baseball writers and sabermetricians. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's recently complained about "the stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime." Yeah, because the last thing the sport would want is for informed people to be arguing passionately about it.
Shaughnessy's assertion flabbergasted most sabermetricians, who clearly love baseball and all of its facets. They just find it silly not to consider the utility of smart statistics when analyzing the support. But a lot of sabermetricians tend to watch baseball with the television on mute so they don't have to hear broadcasters emphasize points that, to them, are superfluous -- just as many political scientists I know rarely watch the cable news shows.
A good narrative, however? We'll snap that up like popcorn.
Having now seen Avatar, I'm not surprised that the political reviews of the film either go in the direction of Adam Cohen's paean to its cultural sensitivity in the New York Times ("The plot is firmly in the anti-imperialist canon, a 22nd-century version of the American colonists vs. the British, India vs. the Raj, or Latin America vs. United Fruit") or Analee Newitz's takedown of Avatar as the uber-example of White Man's Guilt at IO9 ("Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we've seen in Hollywood movies for decades").
It's because, for all the 3D wonder that is evident on screen, this is a movie with two-dimensional characters and two-dimensional storytelling -- and you will either embrace those dimensions or not. What you can't do is escape them when watching the film. Any time your brain tries to inject possible subtleties into the story, director James Cameron is lurking around the corner to whack you over the head with some 3D crowbar to make it absolutely clear what is right and what is wrong. This is screenwriting that makes George Lucas' second Star Wars trilogy look multi-layered by comparison.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]. To demonstrate the absurdities that Cameron is willing to go, here are two plot points that make absolutely no sense whatsoever:
1) The Omaticaya clan of the Na'Vi is forced to flee because the humans have destroyed their Hometree. The movie takes great pains to show how the humans wreaked unbelievable amounts of carnage in the process. So, what's the very first thing the Omaticaya do after becoming refugees? Bury their dead? Care for their sick? Nope. Why, they drop everything to attempt to save the life of the human scientist played by Sigourney Weaver! Never mind that, based on the movie, Weaver's character has contributed exactly nothing to saving the Omaticaya. This is exactly what a people stripped of their homeland would attempt to do!!
2) The movie makes it very clear that the only reason humans are on Pandora is to acquire the "unobtanium" on the planet -- the richest source of which happens to be under the Hometree. So, after the destruction of Hometree, do the evil rapacious humans proceed to stripmine the ground to get at the mineral? No, that would be too logical -- they decide they must wipe out the rest of the Na'Vi in a "pre-emptive" strike. Because suddenly it's much more important to exterminate out the indigenous population than to extract the resources!
Charli Carpenter, who liked the movie more than I did, correctly concludes, "the brilliance of this film is not that it makes you think - it doesn't. You will enjoy it more if you don't try. However, it does makes you feel." Unless you try to think about it -- then you're in trouble.
I'm probably too much of a technological Whig to care for narratives like this one, but just once, I'd like to see a film that embraces the complexities of how indigenous cultures incorporate new ideas and new technologies into their societies. In other words, some movie producer really needs to hire Tyler Cowen as a technical consultant.
I had way too much fun delivering my latest commentary for Marketplace, on how economists
can go suck it have encountered some setbacks this year compared to political scientists:
For decades, there was a clear but unspoken pecking order in the social sciences. Economists were royalty, and every other discipline was part of the peasantry. Economists were treated as real scholars, with their very own Nobel Prize and everything.
Political scientists, on the other hand, were mocked for having the word "science" in the title. The old joke goes that an economist who switches to studying political science raises the average intelligence of both disciplines. It's not true, but the perception is powerful. Powerful enough for Sen. Tom Coburn to have tried scrapping National Science Foundation funding for "poli sci" earlier this year.
Coburn's effort failed, however, and for good reason -- 2009 was a banner year for political scientists, and a not-so-banner year for economists.
You can listen to the whole thing by clicking here.
It's not an entirely fair commentary to either profession -- you try capturing the subtle interplay of these disciplines in under 350 words. But damn, it was fun to say out loud.
The following is an exchange between myself and someone who had clearly taken over a friend's e-mail account, and was attempting to get me to wire money to them. All of the text is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent:
12:13 PM Scammer: hi thereme: Hello12:14 PM Scammer: how are youi?youme: OK... how's your daughter Bubbles? [Not her real name --DD]12:16 PM Scammer: did you got my message?12:17 PM me: No, is Bubbles OK?Scammer: yeah12:18 PM I need your help?12:19 PM me: What's wrong?12:20 PM Scammer: well i had a visit to a resort centerin Wales, England..got mugged by some hoodlumsall cash and credit cards were stolen12:21 PM me: Oh, noThat's horrible!12:22 PM Scammer: i need your help?thank GOD that i wasn't hurt and i still have my passport with meme: Well, sounds like things will work out then!12:23 PM Just call the credit card companies!Scammer: have already canceled my credit cards and my bank account was frozen due to security reason12:24 PM the mian issue is that i'm financially straned right now and my return flight leaves in few hours time but i need few cash to sort out some bills before coming overme: Have you contacted your husband Bubba?12:25 PM Scammer: we are both stuck together12:26 PM i need you to loan us few cash?will def refund it as soon as we arrive back tomorrowme: But surely Bubba can use the $500 he always keeps in his security pouch!12:27 PM What flight are you on?Scammer: Virgin Atlantic Airline12:28 PM me: Have you tried contacting them to advance the money? I hear they do that in situations like theseScammer: they can't do such thingme: Sure they can! They did it when I was mugged in Edinburgh last month!12:29 PM Scammer: i need your help?me: What do you need?12:30 PM Scammer: $1,000 is all we needme: In which currency?12:32 PM Scammer: 600 pounds is all we needme: Oh, dear....How soon do you need it?12:33 PM Scammer: we need it nowthe next available fluight leaves in 2hrs time and we got to be at the airport in 1hr time12:34 PM me: But I don't see how I could get money to you that quicklyScammer: you can have it wired to me vis Wetsern Uniondo you know any WU outlet nearby?me: Hold on, I'll check....12:35 PM Scammer: ok12:36 PM me: Why, yes! There is one right near Fahrfivgnugen, MA, on Swindler Street! That's only 5 minutes from here!Scammer: okwill you leave for the WU outlet now?12:37 PM don't really have much time to wasteme: Well, where am I supposed to wire it EXACTLY?Scammer: yeah!all you need is just my infoa sec...me: Which is?12:38 PM Scammer: wire it in my name to
5 King Street, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1SZ, United Kingdomme: OK, I'll head out in two minutes...Wait, there's someone knocking at my doorOh, no, they've got a gun!!!12:39 PM Scammer: alrightme: Help!!!They're asking me for all my money and credit cards!!!I'm doing what he says!!!I'm sorry, now I have nothing.When you get back to the States, could you wire me some cash so I could get gas for my car please?Scammer: f*** you12:40 PM you kidding me???
I'm kicking myself that I didn't come up with something more original than that.
Any suggestions for the future? [UPDATE: thanks to alert reader S.C. for the link to this site.]
Steve Walt weighs in with his take on the relative virtues of NSF funding of political science. I agree with a fair amount of what he wrote (in particular the lNSF's listing of sponsored research outputs), but this part brought me up short:
I can't say that I think Coburn is right, but I'm finding it hard to get too exercised about it. I say this in part because I think a lot of NSF-funded research has contributed to the "cult of irrelevance" that infects a lot of political science, and because the definition of "science" that has guided the grant-making process is excessively narrow. But I also worry that trying to use federal dollars to encourage more policy-relevant research would end up politicizing academic life in some unfortunate ways.
Walt is conflating two different things here -- "policy-relevant research" and "publicly beneficial research." Believe it or not, those two terms are not equivalent.
The implicit assumption in Walt's post -- and a lot of discussions on this topic -- is that if political science research cannot produce policy-relevant advice, then it's not worthy of public funding. But this gets the argument exactly backwards. One would assume that, the greater the demand is for policy-relevant research, the more outsourcing and consultancies that would be pursued. And, indeed, I think that's what you're seeing with the rise of political risk consultancies and the Defense Department's Minerva project.
The key question to ask is whether that kind of policy-relevant research can be produced out of whole cloth or whether it rests on more basic research into political science and international relations -- the kind of basic research for which the free market would underprovide. Much of Walt's own research, for example, rests on Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics. This is a book that proffers very little in the way of useful policy advice. It is, nevertheless, a foundational text; an awful lot of realists build their policy prescriptions off of that book (and, if memory serves, Waltz received NSF funding to write that book). Speaking for myself, a lot of what I wrote in All Politics Is Global
is cribbed from rests on Albert Hirschman's more abstract work Exit, Voice and Loyalty.
There is a continuum of research that exists in the socal sciences. One could start with basic theoretical work and empirical data collection that seems far removed from policy relevance, and move to finely detailed policy memoranda. I don't think the latter are terribly useful without resting on the former -- and one could argue that it's the former that would be underprovided without NSF funding.
But I could very well be wrong -- perhaps policy analysis can be done independently of more abstract theories and models of political science. That's a discussion worth having. Requiring NSF-funded projects to have immediate policy relevance, however, cedes way too much terrain to critics of the discipline. As Nobel-Prize-winning Elinor Ostrom pointed out, sometimes it's worth investigating the seemingly obvious -- because sometimes the obvious is wrong.
When we last left off with Tom Coburn's jihad against public funding for political science, Coburn was arguing that, "Theories on political behavior are best left to CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties, and the voters, rather than being funded out of taxpayers' wallets."
After the blog mockery that this observation received last week, I see that Coburn is doubling down on this strategy:
[T]he Oklahoma Republicans office was not shy in its point-by-point rebuttal, with jokes about tweed jackets and the cushy life of the average college professor, and questions about whether ivory-tower political scientists aren't overmatched by the semiprofessionals on the cable and network talkfests.
"The irony of this complaint is that real-world political science practitioners employed by media outlets - [George] Stephanopoulos, [Peggy] Noonan, James Carville, Karl Rove, Paul Begala, Larry Kudlow, Bill Bennett (the list goes on) - may know more about the subject than any of our premier political science faculties," Coburn spokesman John Hart said.
Well, one could respond with jokes about the uber-cushy life of the average U.S. senator, or proffer jokes about Coburn's belief that he's a human lie detector, or just marvel at the vast foreign policy knowledge that Stephanopoulos, Noonan, Carville, Rove, Begala, Kudlow, and Bennett possess.
But I honestly don't see the point anymore. Matt Blackwell at the Social Science Statistics blog explains why:
In the 111th Congress, Coburn has had very little success with his amendments [batting 3 for 29, or .103--DD]...
Seven of the rejections are instances when Coburn's amendment was tabled without discussion. Most of the rejections have been of proposed budget cuts or banning funds from certain projects And this is just in this year. Out of all the roll call votes on Coburn-sponsored amendments in the Senate over his tenure, only 8 out of 68 have actually passed....
Tom Coburn knows that putting out no-win amendments is a great way to take positions in the Senate without committing to anything. Minority amendments are a costless signal of the blandest kind--even a political scientist can see that.
Now, as a political scientist, I have some skin in this game. I've never received a dollar of NSF funding, but much of my own work has built off of studies that were funded by the National Science Foundation. So my natural instinct is to oppose this. You want to chalk up my opposition to simple material interests, be my guest.
Looking at Coburn's explanation for his amendment, however, I'm even more perturbed. This is the first part of his explanation:
When Americans think of the National Science Foundation, they think of cross-cutting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Most would be surprised to hear that the agency spent $91.3 million over the last 10 years on political "science" and $325 million last year alone on social studies and economics....
NSF spent $91.3 million over the last 10 years on political "science." This amount could have been directed towards the study of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. These are real fields of science in which new discoveries can yield real improvements in the lives of everyone.
Actually, what surprised me is how little the NSF is spending on political science. Tom Coburn is ticked off because the federal government is shelling out a whopping $9.13 million per year on political science? We're running a $1 trillion deficit and Coburn thinks that poli sci's $9.13 million is what's crippling the hard sciences? That dog won't hunt.
The National Science Foundation has misspent tens of millions of dollars examining political science issues which in reality have little, if anything, to do with science [such as]....
The Human Rights Data Project: which concluded that the United States has been "increasingly willing to torture enemy combatants and imprison suspected terrorists," leading to a worldwide increase in "human rights violations" as others followed-suit;
Hmmm.... seems to me that finding a correlation of that significance is:
Going through the rest of Coburn's list of "abominations," I can see one or two grants that might raise my hackles -- but that's going to be true of any grant-giving exercise. See Henry Farrell and Andrew Gelman on this point as well. As Gelman observes, "really, the list of 'wasteful projects' seems pretty lame to me. Golden Fleece material, it ain’t."
Here's the key paragraph in Coburn's explanation:
If taxpayers are going to get their money's worth from the significant funding increases being entrusted to the National Science Foundation, the agency should be held accountable for how those funds are being spent. The political science program which does not withstand scrutiny should be eliminated immediately. Theories on political behavior are best left to CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties, and the voters, rather than being funded out of taxpayers' wallets, especially when our nation has much more urgent needs and priorities (emphasis added).
OK, dear readers, I want you to close your eyes and imagine a world in which your entire knowledge of political behavior emanated only from CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, and political parties.
Take your time. I'll wait.
If that world didn't scare you, well, then, you have nothing to worry about. The rest of you can marvel at Coburn's failure of logic.
Basic research in the hard sciences or the social sciences is a public good -- these things tend to get underprovided in a perfectly free market. It's not clear to me at all why Coburn thinks that the $9 million spent on poli sci is a waste but the gazillions from the public trough spent on the hard sciences are not a waste when private corporations, industrial associations, scientific publications, universities, and private citizens couldn't fund this stuff.
Now, I must grudgingly concede one point in Coburn's favor: APSA's response to this is that it, "encourages political scientists to contact their Senator's office TODAY to ask them to vote against Coburn's amendment." This suggests to me despite our massive federal subsidy, APSA has yet to understand how to influence political behavior.
Having a couple of hundred political scientists call their Senators ain't going to matter. Using
our vast control of the liberal mainstream media the interwebs to generate media interest in Coburn acting like an ignorant jackass seems much more useful.
BWA HA HA HA HA HA!!
[Um... is this news? If Coburn regularly acts like an ignorant jackass, then would this be deemed newsworthy?--ed. Uh-oh.]
My top ten notes, quotes, flotsam and jetsam from four days at the American Political Science Association's annual meeting in Toronto, Canada:
1) I predict a bevy of papers over the next six months with titles like:
2) Someone had the whimsy to locate a Hooters restaurant right next to the conference center. And no, I do not know who went there.
3) Pehaps related to the Hooters thing, the book room at APSA had a new wrinkle this year -- free five minute massages from a local massage school. And hell yes, I took advantage of this offer!
4) Said by a book editor as someone was buying one of his press' books: "Yeah.... good luck slogging through that one."
5) Books available for just three bucks at the conference -- indicating that these titles had either jumped the shark or never caught fire:
6) Overheard: "I have to tell you my Cornel West and Ronald Reagan anecdote."
7) Someone asked a female political scientist with an ankle tattoo whether it was Tibetan. She replied, "No, it's Elvish."
8) In conversation: "Things I do not worry about disappearing: death, taxes, and [a prominent political scientist's] ego."
9) I was puzzled and saddened by the paucity of panels about the financial meltdown and Great Recession. I was really puzzled and saddened by the low attendance at the few panels that addressed this topic.
10) The most gratifying thing I heard at the conference: "Your zombie post was awesome!!!"
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.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.