Six weeks ago I discussed -- as a dispassionate political scientist -- why the field of political science was good and truly f**ked when it came to Congress. Yesterday, Dave Weigel blogged about this at more length. The depressing parts version:
Attacking government-funded social science is popular, especially on the right. Last week, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill that would change the American Community Survey, sent annually to a random selection of 3.2 million people, from mandatory to optional. If Americans didn’t want to fill it out, even if that would render it mostly useless as data, the private sector would do just fine.
When I asked Poe to explain how that information would be collected without the Community Survey, he said, “There are other ways to get the same information about the dynamics of business, and where to locate a business. You can do it through polling. You don’t have to force people to participate.”
Social scientists don’t agree, but it’s difficult for them to justify their own funding in a time of severe government cutbacks....
The new attempts to claw away at research have gone on for months, and the academics haven’t put up a compelling defense beyond one event on the Hill and the yeoman blogging of some professors like John Sides. “Going forward,” Sides wrote after Coburn’s win, “a coordinated lobbying effort is needed not only to roll back the restrictions on political science but to defend the NSF’s core mission as a promoter of scientific research in the public good, broadly defined.”
So far that lobbying effort doesn’t exist. Instead, Republicans are able to challenge NSF funding in order to pursue long-term political goals without too many people noticing.
To understand further why this will be so difficult, let's go to the video clip of the week, which right now is probably the revenge fantasy of every political scientist out there. Via the Military Times, this is General Ray Odierno chewing out House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with the bemused permission of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon. The chewing out part starts at around 3:30.
Now, watching that clip, it's hard not to conclude that Hunter was taken to the woodshed by Odierno for being an ignorant jackass. That's certainly the conclusion that Gawker, Mediaite, and others came to in promoting the clip.
Now, here's a fun exercise -- what if Odierno had been an irate political scientist rather than a four-star general? I guarantee you that the exchange would have been framed and interpreted differently. Because of the high public respect for the military, when Odierno goes off, people will listen. Not so with academics. Instead of "General smacks down House representative," the headline would have looked more like "Snotty academic preens at elected official."
In fact, we don't need to imagine. Remember this little exchange between House Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and historian Douglas Brinkley from about 18 months ago?
Now, Don Young has all the charisma and grace of a three-month old carton of milk. He's far more insulting and contemptuous of Brinkley in that clip than Duncan Hunter was in trying to walk away from Odierno. The overall effect, however, is different. First, Young's chairman, Doc Hastings, protected Young in a way that McKeon did not protect Hunter, thereby preventing Brinkley from going on a rant.
Second, however, as bad as Young looks in that video, Brinkley doesn't look that much better. He comes off too much like a preening, stuffed-shirt academic.
Unfortunately, that's an occupational hazard. We're trained in graduate school to eviscerate counterarguments and the people who make them. It might be the one sector in the world where Aaron Sorkin-rules of debate hold up. But it only works because everyone in the seminar room or lecture hall understands the context of the debate. That rarely happens when the public peeks in at a YouTube clip of a congressional hearing.
Are there some political scientists who could pull off an Odierno-level smackdown? I suppose it's possible, but I confess to being dubious about its likelihood (suggestions welcomed in the comments section please).
Now, as a political scientist, I should warn you that viral-video-friendly exchanges like the ones linked above rarely shift public opinion. They are one way to frame the stupidity of a particular Congressional jihad, however. And as much as I might fantasize about a Beth Simmons or a Scott Sagan sticking it to Tom Coburn, I'm not confident that it will ever happen.
Am I missing anything? Please tell me I'm missing something...
UPDATE: I received a call in the last hour from Representative Duncan Hunter's deputy chief of staff, who lodged a polite protest over the descriptive term "ignorant jackass," referencing this Politico story. Which is fair enough, but this exchange suggests two things:
1) The staffer didn't read the blog post carefully, because I was using that term to describe how the video made Hunter look -- not whether that depiction was accurate or not.
2) Maybe political scientists blogging/writing for the press actually do have an effect on member of Congress.
With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
Your humble blogger has been knee-deep in chairing, discussing, and attending International Studies Association panels
all of which seem to have the word "diffusion" in the title and SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Now, naturally, with the global financial crisis and its aftermath there's been a lot of talk about debts and deficits. And with the defense sequester and what-not, there's been a lot of talk about rising levels of partisanship. And I've come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of this talk need to stop, like, right now.
Here's the dirty truth about most international studies scholars: They know a fair amount about the high politics of international affairs and almost next to nothing about the rest of life. Of course, the rest of life does impinge on world politics, so there's some natural overlap. The problem starts when, in talking about non-IR stuff, we start to think that we have just as much expertise in these areas. Which we don't. At all.
Last night I tweeted a query about what areas IR scholars should be quiet about and got way too many answers to fit in a blog post. So, here are five things about which I'd really like 99 percent of international relations scholars to shut the hell up:
1) Macroeconomic policy. Should the United States cut its deficit further? Are budget cuts, tax cuts, or tax increases necessary? How can the eurozone escape its current macroeconomic malaise? Most of us have no friggin' clue what the correct answers are for the United States, and that goes double for the euro zone. So unless you're actually publishing scholarly work on global macroeconomic policy, shut up.
2) The role of money in American politics. Foreign policy scholars are far too often shocked -- shocked!! -- when they see interest group politics at work. The Citizens United decision has only amplified this lament. The reaction to this is to either bemoan the general health of the American polity or to start developing simple theories that argue that money or lobbies explain everything about politics. Now I might not be the biggest fan of the American politics subfield, but I'm pretty sure they know more about this topic than we do. So shut up and read what they have to say.
3) Partisanship in the United States. Did you know that it's getting worse? And that it's paralyzing the U.S. government? And that it's getting worse? One of the natural biases of foreign policy scholars is to think in terms of a national interest, and then act appalled when there are different partisan conceptions of that term. Basically, what applies to #2 applies to this point as well.
4) The Internet. As near as I can determine, when asked about this technology affects international politics, most scholars answer with some variation of "networks networks networks cyber cyber cyber." Some scholars do very good work on this subject. The rest of us should shut up for a spell and read them.
5) Diffusion. Never again. Ever.
What else, my dear readers, would you like to see less gabbing about from international affairs scholars?
Blogging will be light for the rest of the week, as I'll be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
If you're also attending but new to these things and therefore unsure of what the informal norms are about such events, check out Megan MacKenzie's indispensable ISA Guide to Newbie Graduate Students. Oh, and come attend the First Ever Official ISA Blogging Reception. I'll be there too, and I'm bringing my #TFC12 finalist flask with me!!
My other piece of advice would be to read Rob Farley's provocative new PS: Political Science and Politics essay, "Complicating the Political Scientist as Blogger." Farley is responding to a 2011 essay by John Sides at the Monkey Cage, which offers what I would label the "standard" narrative about how blogging can be a help rather than a hindrance to good political science -- hell, I wrote something similar to it in 2008.
Farley considers this standard narrative, ponders it for a second, and then puts all his chips into the middle and raises the stakes:
Although I appreciate the effort to “just add blogging” to the discipline of political science, I worry that in making blogging safe, Sides gives away too much of what makes it interesting, influential, and fun. Specifically, I have two major objections to Sides’ characterization of blogging in political science. First, the article heralds an effort to discipline the political science blogosphere, establishing metrics for differentiating between “good” blogs that can contribute to (or at least should not be held against) a political science career, and “bad” blogs that do no one any good. In short, Sides’s article served both prescriptive and proscriptive purposes. Second, by emphasizing the “safe” elements of blogging, Sides has left winnings on the table; blogging could play a larger role in political science than he suggests.
Read the whole thing. I have, and I'm still sorting out how I think about it. On the one hand, I think Farley makes a really good point. There are ways in which the "standard" narrative leaves some things out. Let a thousand IR blogs bloom!
On the other hand ... well, I'm leery of advising junior faculty and grad students to throw caution into the wind and blog outside the box, as it were. Blogs are becoming more mainstream in international relations scholarship and political science, but I wouldn't describe them as truly mainstream just yet. So I have some residual caution.
There's something else, however. If blogs are going to occupy a more central role in the field of political science, then they're inevitably going to be measured, assessed, evaluated, and quantified in any kind of professional assessment. That's what happens when people are hired or promoted in the academy. But for blogging, this is problematic, because the distribution of traffic and linkage in blogs is highly asymmetric. I worry that any kind of assessment will skew against the majority of blogs. More generally, I'm kinda dubious about the metrics we do have to measure blogs. This doesn't mean we shouldn't do it -- but I think we need to be aware of the risks going forward, and I think I'm less sanguine about them than Farley.
Clearly, technology is changing the way we in IR scholarship do business. We're going to need to figure out what that means in the years ahead.
Yesterday an amendment to the continuing resolution funding the U.S. government, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was passed by a voice vote in the Senate. Its purpose?
To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.
Now, from a pure material interest perspective, this should make me happy. I've never received a dime in NSF funding, and I'm sitting on a pretty good grant for the next 5-10 years, so from a strictly relative gains perspective, I acquire more influece in the discipline. Furthermore, the national security exemption means that whatever scraps the NSF throws to political science will go to my preferred subfields like international relations and comparative politics.
The thing is, though, that I love political science. I want to see more quality research being done, and the NSF cutoff pushes things in the opposite direction. So I'm not happy.
If I'm displeased, however, then I think it's safe to say that the American Political Science Association is galactically pissed off at this outcome:
Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.
The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.
Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation's interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.
Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation.
And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world's exemplary democracy.
I've blogged at length in the past on the substantive reasons why a cutoff of NSF funds for political science is really, really, stupid. Another post on that question won't change things. And I vented my frustration at the willful ignorance of Senator Coburn yesterday, so there's no reason to go there now. Yesterday, however, there was rollicking debate on Twitter about the need for political scientists to, well, be better at politics. Folks such as Phil Arena, Jay Ulfelder, William Winecoff, and Jacob Levy observed that APSA's tactical response to Coburn's folly -- encouraging APSA members to email Congress and so forth -- was pretty lame. Only if we used the Dark Arts of political science knowledge could we somehow stymie the Senator from Oklahoma.
Here's the thing, though -- while I'm no expert in American politics, I think I know enough of the Dark Arts to know that we could have the best arguments in the world and still recognize that political science is good and truly f**ked.
From a straight interest group perspective political scientists don't matter. At all. The NSF funding for political science is a $13 million appropriation spread out geographically. There is no concentrated interest in a particular congressional district or state to motivate a member of Congress to fight for this issue with as much ardor as Tom Coburn or Jeff Flake.
Now, one could argue that if you believe in epistemic communities -- i.e., the power of collective expertise -- to influence uninformed members of Congress, then maybe political scientists could function as Weberian activists and educate members about the inherent value of political science. The thing is, as I've argued previously, politicians and pundits do not think of politics as a scientific enterprise. Maybe a few pundits developed a new appreciaion for statistics following the 2012 election, but that's not quite the same thing. So an epistemic community of political scientists won't cut it. Hell, all social scientists would be unlikely to persuade the Senate -- remember, this is a body that was copacetic with a Senator blocking a Nobel Prize winning economist from sitting on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Maybe we could logroll with all the natural and physical sciences too, but if the past decade of climate change policy has proven anything, it's that this won't work terribly well.
Another gambit would be to move public opinion on this issue to the point where Congress had no choice but to accede to the masses ... except the masses likely support the cuts. A mass public that believes the foreign aid budget is a thousand times larger than it actually is likely believes that cutting NSF funding of political science goes a long way toward tackling the deficit. Furthermore, as Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler's research shows, it's next to impossible to correct that misperception.
There are three other ways for political scientists to alter the status quo -- but each of them has issues:
1) A political scientist needs to come up with a killer scientific breakthrough that really advances knowledge in the field in an unambiguous manner. We're talking something Nobel-worthy. Oh, wait, Elinor Ostrom already did that, and it didn't matter. Never mind...
2) A political scientist needs to develop a predictive model that's so powerful that it yields substantial profit -- to the point where the political scientists can afford to set up an endowment that substitutes for NSF funding. The thing is, there already are political scientists who have thrived in the private sector -- but I'm not seeing enough cabbage being earned to create endowments.
3) Finally, maybe a trained political scientist could just run for the Senate, get elected, and apply the necessary counterweight to Coburn et al ... except that one of Coburn's co-sponsors is Arizona freshman Senator Jeff Flake, who has -- wait for it -- an M.A. in political science.
Am I missing anything, or is political science good and truly f**ked?
UPDATE: OK, there's one other possibility that could theoretically shift the status quo. Suppose a rival great power -- say, a country that rhymes with "Dinah" -- were to suddenly throw around huge research $$$ to develop a comparative advantage in poli sci. Say that the money was so good that it started to attract the cream of the political science crop. That might spur Congress to freak out about the existence of a political science gap.
So, any political scientists sitting on fat research offers from China -- now is the time to accept them.
As longtime blog readers are aware, I'm working on a book-length project arguing that global economic governance has done a surprisingly good job of things in the post-2008 world. Not perfect, mind you, but "good enough" global governance.
Now, the interesting thing about making such a counterintuitive argument is the number of opportunities one comes across of the conventional wisdom asserting itself -- the idea that the system is crumbling, we're in a Brave New World of uncertainty, no one is in charge, yadda yadda yadda. You, my dear reader, must wonder how I react when I see such assertions. Well, pretty much like Cliff Poncier but with shorter hair:
No, seriously, I like seeing good arguments pushing against my position -- it's a way for me to see whether my argument holds up.
Which brings me to Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steve Weber's new essay in The National Interest, entitled "The Mythical Liberal Order." The title is pretty clear -- as is their argument:
Instead of a gradual trend toward global problem solving punctuated by isolated failures, we have seen over the last several years essentially the opposite: stunningly few instances of international cooperation on significant issues. Global governance is in a serious drought—palpable across the full range of crucial, mounting international challenges that include nuclear proliferation, climate change, international development and the global financial crisis.
Where exactly is the liberal world order that so many Western observers talk about? Today we have an international political landscape that is neither orderly nor liberal.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the envisaged liberal world order, the “rise of the rest” should have been a boost to global governance. A rebalancing of power and influence should have made international politics more democratic and multilateral action more legitimate, while bringing additional resources to bear. Economic integration and security-community enlargement should have started to envelop key players as the system built on itself through network effects—by making the benefits of joining the order (and the costs of opposing it) just a little bit greater for each new decision. Instead, the world has no meaningful deal on climate change; no progress on a decade-old global-trade round and no inclination toward a new one; no coherent response to major security issues around North Korea, Iran and the South China Sea; and no significant coordinated effort to capitalize on what is possibly the best opportunity in a generation for liberal progress—the Arab Spring.
It’s not particularly controversial to observe that global governance has gone missing. What matters is why. The standard view is that we’re seeing an international liberal order under siege, with emerging and established powers caught in a contest for the future of the global system that is blocking progress on global governance. That mental map identifies the central challenge of American foreign policy in the twenty-first century as figuring out how the United States and its allies can best integrate rising powers like China into the prevailing order while bolstering and reinforcing its foundations.
But this narrative and mental map are wrong. The liberal order can’t be under siege in any meaningful way (or prepped to integrate rising powers) because it never attained the breadth or depth required to elicit that kind of agenda. The liberal order is today still largely an aspiration, not a description of how states actually behave or how global governance actually works. The rise of a configuration of states that six years ago we called a “World Without the West” is not so much challenging a prevailing order as it is exposing the inherent frailty of the existing framework.
I encourage you to read the whole thing. I have two reactions to it. The first is thast I wholeheartedly endorse one point that they are making. The notion that the liberal wprld order was perfectly functioning prior to 2008 is one of the biggest sources of misperception about the global political economy. As Barma, Ratner and Weber point out, this was at best a partial order even prior to 2008. This matters: a misplaced nostalgia for prior eras of global governance is one reason that so many commentators think that the system is f**ked right now. Once you realize that the post-1945 liberal order was partial, riddled with exceptions, and also prone to crisis, suddenly the present day doesn't look so bad in comparison.
Now, that said, I think Barma, Ratner and Weber get some big things wrong. This is a blog post, so I'll focus on one point in particular -- the claim that liberal ideas are faltering in today's world:
Ask yourself this: Have developing countries felt and manifested over time the increasing magnetic pull of the liberal world order? A number of vulnerable developing and post-Communist transitional countries adopted a “Washington Consensus” package of liberal economic policies—freer trade, marketization and privatization of state assets—in the 1980s and 1990s. But these adjustments mostly arrived under the shadow of coercive power. They generally placed the burden of adjustment disproportionately on the most disempowered members of society. And, with few exceptions, they left developing countries more, not less, vulnerable to global economic volatility. The structural-adjustment policies imposed in the midst of the Latin American debt crisis and the region’s subsequent “lost decade” of the 1980s bear witness to each of these shortcomings, as do the failed voucher-privatization program and consequent asset stripping and oligarchic wealth concentration experienced by Russians in the 1990s.
If these were the gains that were supposed to emerge from a liberal world order, it’s no surprise that liberalism came to have a tarnished brand in much of the developing world. The perception that economic neoliberalism fails to deliver on its trickle-down growth pledge is strong and deep. In contrast, state capitalism and resource nationalism—vulnerable to a different set of contradictions, of course—have for the moment delivered tangible gains for many emerging powers and look like promising alternative development paths. Episodic signs of pushback against some of the excesses of that model, such as anti-Chinese protests in Angola or Zambia, should not be confused with a yearning for a return to liberal prescriptions. And comparative economic performance in the wake of the global financial crisis has done nothing to burnish liberalism’s economic image, certainly not in the minds of those who saw the U.S. investment banking–led model of capital allocation as attractive, and not in the minds of those who held a vision of EU-style, social-welfare capitalism as the next evolutionary stage of liberalism.
Yes, this explains why the publics in the developing world have rejected economic globalization as an economic strategy -- oh, wait, I'm sorry, they haven't done that, nor have their governments. If anything, the commitment to a liberal economic order has held up remarkable well since 2008. As for the appeal of the "Beijing Consensus" or the "China Model," I'll outsource this refutation to Yang Yao, Scott Kennedy, and Matt Ferchen.
The fundamental disagreement between these authors and myself is revealed in this paragraph:
Global governistas will protest that the response to the global financial crisis proves that international economic cooperation is more robust than we acknowledge. In this view, multilateral financial institutions passed the stress test and prevented the world from descending into the economic chaos of beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies and retaliatory currency arbitrage and capital controls. The swift recovery of global trade and capital flows is often cited as proof of the relative success of economic cooperation. The problem with this thesis is that very real fears about how the system could collapse, including the worry that states would retreat behind a mercantilist shell, are no different from what they were a hundred years ago. It’s not especially indicative of liberal progress to be having the same conversation about global economic governance that the world was having at the end of the gold-standard era and the onset of the Great Depression. Global economic governance may have helped to prevent a repeat downward spiral into self-defeating behaviors, but surely in a world order focused on liberal progress the objectives of global economic governance should have moved on by now.
My response to this is two-fold: first, given the crisis-prone nature of global capitalism, preventing and repairing catastrophes should be a pretty timeless function of global economic governance. Second, there is no way that one can objectively compare the world order of the 1930s -- or 1940s or 1970s, for that matter -- and not conclude that massive amounts of liberal progress have not been made. The world is far more free politically and economically now than at any point in history. That suggests a surprisingly robust liberal world order.
Or, in other words, all this negative energy about global economic governance just makes my argument stronger, man.
What do you think?
Now Logan makes some compelling points to rebut me, such as:
It’s worth noting that a disproportionate number of academics writing about grand strategy are realists, so that’s coloring the ideological content of what the academics are producing. Drezner has complained about realist victimhood before, but grand strategy is an elite sport, and even headmits that “America’s foreign policy elites are more hostile to realpolitik – though even here, things can be exaggerated.” Drezner then points to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft as bearers of the realist flag, but even if you would lump Kissinger and Scowcroft in with Posen and Walt (I wouldn’t), both men are in their late 80s. There is no realist faction in the FPC, if by “realist” we mean “person whose views on strategy comport with leading academic realists.”
Think about members of the FPC who work on strategy and scholars in the academy who do so. Is a potential strategy debate between, say, a Democrat like Anne-Marie Slaughter and a Republican like Robert Kagan very interesting? I don’t think so. It’s fought between the seven and nine-yard lines at the primacy end of the field. Then consider a debate between, say,Barry Posen or John Mearsheimer, on the one hand, and Kagan or Slaughter on the other. Pass the popcorn.
Now, ordinarily, this would get my intellectual juices flowing and I'd start trying arguing that Logan is conflating IR theorists with realists a bit or whatnot.
The thing is, this was my actual view (as opposed to my worldview) for much of today:
You know, with this kind of view, it doesn't take much to realize that the problems of a few international relations wonks doesn't amount to a hill of sand in this world.
So I'm conceding this round to Logan. Excellent points, and nicely done!! I'll read the paper when I'm back in a cold climate.
[So, basically, any author of an MS you refereed this week should be feeling pretty good right about now!!--ed. Pretty much, yeah.]
Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop.
So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there.
1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress: Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take: In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research.
3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat: Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing.
4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS. My take: definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular.
And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!
Dan Nexon has sparked some online debate among political scientists about whether our hiring process makes any kind of rational sense. Dan expresses particular disdain towards the centerpiece of any campus interview, the job talk -- a format in which a job candidate speaks for 30-45 minutes and then fields questions from faculty and grad students in the audience for 30-60 minutes.
Dan thinks the whole exercise is stupid:
In fact, the job talk is most useful for… assessing the ability of a candidate to give a job talk. The reason we place so much weight on it is that most academics (and I include myself in this category) are too
damn lazypressed for time to skimcarefully read candidates’ portfolios. And why should we? It isn’t like there’s a good chance that the person we hire will become lifetime colleagues… Doh!
I’ve heard rumors of other, more rationale systems. Some say that the University of Chicago conducts an intensive proseminar in which the candidate provides introductory remarks and then everyone discusses an article-length piece of research. This strikes me as a plausible alternative to the modal job talk. But I ask our readers: are there others? And does anyone want to defend the status quo?
OK, first off, for the record, in my experience that's not how the University of Chicago did job talks. Their process involved some criticism of rational choice theory, a lot more hot wax and-- but I can't say anything more because of that darn oath of secrecy.
Seriously, though, Dan's post triggered a whole passel of responses. Tom Pepinsky defended the institution, as did Jeremy Wallace. Nate Jensen wants to know what's the replacement system. Nexon responded by sticking to his guns, and Tom Oatley went so far as to declare that technological change had rendered the original motivation for the job talk obsolete.
I think I have to side with the defenders of the job talk -- or, rather the job talk and Q&A, because the latter part is way more important in my own evaluation of a candidate.
Dan's claim that it serves no purpose other than giving a job talk seems short-sighted to me. In part, a job talk is an act of editing. No one -- well, no one but political theorists -- simply reads their paper verbatim. They have to organize and select what they believe are the most compelling and crucial parts of their argument. They also have to pitch it to a level that's wider than their subfield. An Americanist will know little about Adorno or Agamben; a comparativist is likely to be unfamiliar with work on state legislatures, and a political theorist would have no reason to know much about the Basel Core Principles. This holds with even more force at an interdisciplinary public policy school like Fletcher or SAIS. A job talk lets me see whether this candidate will be able to talk to anyone outside of the five other people on the planet who know this specific topic cold.
If I've read the paper, I'm always curious to see how a candidate crafts his or her presentation. And if the presenter can't hold my attention, that's a bad sign, because if they can't make their own work compelling, good luck keeping the attention of less interested students with work that's not their own.
Truthfully, however, the most important part of a job talk to me is not the talk, it's the question and answer session aferwards. How well can a candidate respond to tough questions? Stupid questions? What are the reservoirs of expertise that lie below the surface? In my professional experience, I can only think of a handful of candidates that blew their chances with the actual job talk. I can think of a LOT of them, however, that deep-sixed their chances because they couldn't handle good questions. I'd also add that while I often have questions after reading the paper, I wind up with different questions when I hear the talk -- in no small part because the presentation reveals what the candidate thinks is mportant.
Good political scientists have to give a LOT of talks in their career -- large lectures to undergraduates, draft paper presentations to graduate students, invited talks at other universities, APSA panels, smaller field conferences, symposium conferences, workshop talks, think tank presentations, and even the occasional public lecture. In my experience, the job talk is the format that best covers all of these other types of presentations.
Am I missing anything, fellow political scientists?
Your humble blogger has been following the raging debate about online education for a number of reasons. First, like offshore outsourcing last decade, it's a phenomenon that has finally spread to a profession that is pretty traditional -- in no small part because higher education has not thought of itself as a tradeable good. Second, it's a fascinating development without any consensus about the end point. And third, as a prof, I have some skin in this game.
Now I have a little more... er... skin in this game. Over the past year I have been working with The Teaching Company to prepare one of their Great Courses, and it's now available for order. The course is modestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Prosperity." Here's a brief description:
Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.
A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.
But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.
Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres....
Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.
Buy the whole thing and
help me pay for my children's college education learn about the political economy of prosperity.
Now, this is not a course for credit, or a MOOC, or anything that's bandied about as the future of higher education. After spending the past year designing and making this course, however, let me say that those who believe that it will be easy to "scale up" existing lecture courses into the online world are kidding themselves. Teaching to a classroom audience requires a very different pedagogy than teaching to a captive online audience. The former can provide instantaneous feedback, which is crucial for a professor. They can ask for a concept to be repeated, or ask a follow-up question, or query about how the abstract concept under discussion connects to a headline of the day. None of these things are easy to pull off for an online audience.
I will also add that the amount of effort I put into the Foundations of Economic Prosperity easily exceeded anything I've had to do for my traditional lectures or seminars. This is not because I slack off with my Fletcher students -- rather, it's because teaching those courses is a collaborative exercise between me and the students. With a strictly online course, the professor has to do a lot more work to keep it engaging.
You humble blogger has, on occasion, waxed poetic about Hirschman's accomplishments as a scholar and a writer. His primary area of expertise was in development economics, particularly in Latin America. He was a true giant in the larger study of political economy -- which is why my best-global-political-economy-of-the-year awards are named The Albies. The Social Science Research Council also named a prestigious award after Hirschman:
The Prize recognizes Albert Hirschman's pioneering role in contemporary social science and public policy as well as his life-long commitment to international economic development. Exploring theory and practice, the history of ideas - economic, social or political - and innovative approaches to fostering growth, Hirschman has seen scholarship both as a tool for social change and as an inherent value in a world in need of better understanding. He has written in ways that help social science effectively inform public affairs. His work stands as an exemplar of the necessary knowledge that the Social Science Research Council seeks to develop and the interdisciplinary and international approach in which it works.
What did Hirschman write to earn such honorifics? Well, Exit, Voice and Loyalty is one of those books that you have to read if you're earning a Ph.D. in any social science; as I've said before, that book was crucial to some of my thinking behind All Politics is Global. Beyond that book, however, Hirschman wrote must-read books on international economic power (National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade), economic ideas (The Passions and the Interests), political rhetoric (The Rhetoric of Reaction), and the evolution of the social sciences themselves ("Paradigms as a Hindrance to Understanding").
Hirschman's ideas ere important, but I'd argue that his writing style was equaly important -- clear, lucid, vivid, never a word wasted. As a grad student, I dozed off a lot reading a necessary but abstruse journal article. One did not fall asleep reading Hirschman -- hell, he was better than any energy drink in boosting one's intellectual energies.
He will be missed -- but not forgotten.
In last week's debate over whether policy wonks should get Ph.D.s, there was a hidden assumption baked into the discussion -- that all doctorates are created equal. But anyone who spends any time around the academy knows this isn't so. A Ph.D. from, say, Harvard, is going to find a lot more open doors than a Ph.D. from, say, the University of Massachusetts. Why that's the case is the subject of some debate (and research in sociology). One argument is merit-based: the Harvard Ph.D.s are simply better than the UMass ones. Another argument is that it's prestige-based: all else equal, the Harvard student gets a leg up in the job market because of the Harvard credential and the Harvard network.
How powerful, and how pernicious, is this prestige effect? This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and The Monkey Cage all ran stories about an essay by Robert Oprisko in the Georgetown Public Policy Review entitled "Superpowers: The New Academic Elite." Drawing from his book, Oprisko posits "a system whereby individuals navigate society based upon processes of honor that determine their value." To my theory-addled ears this sound a bit like Pierre Bourdieu, but that's neither here nor there. Then Oprisko drops the empirics:
We compiled a database of the tenure-track and tenured faculty in all ranked research universities to determine which of those universities successfully placed candidates at peer institutions. We found strongly suggestive evidence that hiring based upon institutional excellence is ubiquitous.
We used the 2009 U.S. News and World Report rankings for political science graduate programs as a proxy variable to determine an applicant’s academic class, or affiliated honor, in order to determine if it significantly influenced hiring processes officially predicated upon individual talent (referred to as prestige). The aggregation of this data includes 116 institutions and 3,135 faculty members who are either tenure-track or tenured. We hypothesized that affiliated honor would directly correlate to employment success. We also hypothesized that a cascade effect would emerge where institutions would place within and immediately below their prestige level such that a prestige-based hierarchy would present itself. The results dramatically show that we were both very right on the first hypothesis and very wrong on the second. There is a group of highly prestigious universities that dominate the political science academic market, effectively shutting out all competition at multiple levels. The fact that these academic superpowers are so dominant and place candidates ubiquitously indicates that institutional prestige drives hiring practices in academia and, perhaps, other highly selective professions....
[Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Michigan] contribute 616 political scientists; roughly twenty percent of the total tenure-track lines in the discipline at research-intensive programs. The median institutional ranking for the 116 institutions covered is eleven, which implies that eleven schools contribute 50 percent of the political science academics to research-intensive universities in the United States. Over 100 political science PhD programs are graduating students that will contest the remaining 50 percent of openings.
These numbers likely understate the impact of prestigious universities; the present study does not include the many liberal arts colleges and regional universities that also hire graduates of these programs and increase the network of advocates for graduates from highly ranked universities (emphasis added).
Please do read the whole thing, as well as the Chronicle story by Audrey Williams June, which has numerous additional quotes from Oprisko, including: "The bottom of the barrel at Princeton is still the bottom of the barrel."
Now, this is clearly the precis of a larger paper that will have all the numbers. And, clearly, there is some motivated self-interest going on in the analysis: Oprisko has a 2011 Ph.D. from Purdue University, which U.S. News and World Report ranked as the 62nd best Ph.D. program (though they do better in the NRC rankings). In the spirit of full disclosure, I got my Ph.D. from Stanford, so I'm naturally going to be resistant to the idea that it's only honor and not merit that's determining these hiring patterns.
That said, as they continue to crunch the numbers on the larger paper, I hope Oprisko et al address the following arguments that might cut against the prestige argument:
1) Cohort effects. This study takes a static snapshot of all current hires. The problem is that this likely exaggerates the power of the top-tier institutions due to lagged effects. Elite Ph.D. programs have likely been around for a longer time -- and, in the past, a lot of these programs also had much larger incoming classes of Ph.D. students. This would suggest that these institutions should capture a disproportionate number of positions at the senior level. So Oprisko et al need to show whether this problem is more or less acute among junior hires.
2) Parse out the merit vs. honor arguments. Remember, there are two different arguments at work here, but they both make the same prediction: Ph.D.s from higher-ranked institutions should do better on the job market. There needs to be clear evidence that the "honor" argument is the primary driver.
I'll confess to being somewhat skeptical. As Gabriel Rossman points out, there are pretty solid reasons to think that Oprisko's finding are consistent with a meritocratic sort. Furthermore, based on my own experiences, I'd push back strongly on the "bottom of the barrel" observation. I've taught at a top ten political science department and a not-that-close-to-top ten political science department in my career. I will gladly concede that the bottom of the barrel at the top tier institution were much bigger pains in the neck. They were, nevertheless, also much better trained and more analytically sharp than the bottom of the barrel at the other institution.
3) The selection bias likely works in reverse. Oprisky speculates that the elite effect is likely understated, because they don't examine "liberal arts colleges and regional universities." The selective liberal arts schools aside, I'd wager that the reverse is true. Indeed, it's the very "elite" thing that would drive this effect. People who get their Ph.D.s from Harvard do not want to go teach at Eastern Washington University -- and even if they wanted to at first, they were socialized at Harvard to think of it as a bad outcome. This is particularly true if the geographical location of the hiring instiution is... let's say "not near a large body of water." Furthermore, a lot of these places won't take applicants from elite institutions seriously, because they assume that these are "safety school" applications, and that these Ph.D.s really want jobs at R1 research institutions. I would posit that Ph.D.s from lower-tier institutions are more likely to secure teaching positions at liberal arts schools and regional universities. One manageable way to test this would be to look at these school categories in two small, matched states -- say, Connecticut and Oklahoma -- and see what the numbers show.
4) This ain't that big a concentration ratio. I emailed Oprisko to ask which institutions were responsible for the largest share of the market, and he was generous enough to let me know. The top four were: Harvard with 239 placements; UC-Berkeley with 156 placements; Yale with 149 placements; and Michigan with 141 placements. Now, if the total size of this market is 3,135 positions, we get the following market share figures:
Let's acknowledge that these are all elite institutions. Still, this doesn't look like an oligopoly to me. Using standard oligopoly measures yields a four-firm concentration ratio of 21.9% -- which isn't indicative of an oligopoly. The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index is 126, which is not remotely close to an oligopoly in industrial organization. Similarly, in international relations, these kind of market power numbers suggest a world of extreme multipolarity rather than any kind of significant concentration. Maybe using economic or IR comparisons are inappropriate -- but I'd need to be persuaded why that's the case.
I think it's extremely useful for Oprisko to bring up these kinds of questions about the political science job market, but I'm going to need to see more to be convinced that this is a concentrated prestige market run amok.
What do you think?
Because Georgetown possesses so much less prestige than Fletcher, I somehow missed Dan Nexon's excellent take on this issue.
So, my post about good and bad reasons to get a Ph.D. in political science has made a few waves. I'd like to clarify, endorse and respond to some of the feedback I've received.
Just to recap, here was the primary point of my post:
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.
Now, some of the comments and tweets about this post suggested that I was pooh-poohing the idea of getting a Ph.D. if you don't want to become a professor. To be clear: that is not what I was trying to say. Indeed, if anything, given the state of the academic job market I heartily endorse "non-traditional" career paths for Ph.D.s. Furthermore, as Joshua Foust notes in his response, "If you want to succeed in Washington, a PhD is the quickest path to it. Anything less is just an uphill battle." There is no shame in going from a doctoral program to a job in DC, and I was certainly not implying that there should be.
Foust offers a strong counter-explanation for why aspiring policy wonks should go for a Ph.D.:
[A] PhD offers a better way for many [than getting a professional M.A.]. PhDs are usually funded, which means they cost nothing to the student (stipends may not be much, but that’s a separate matter — the financial loads are drastically different). They also take a lot longer, say 5 years minimum but more likely 7 if you’re young and right out of undergrad.
Even so, that PhD is more or less free. Entering the DC workforce with a PhD, instead of a Masters, is an instant leg-up. For organizations like think tanks, it instantly signals research skills; for NGOs it signifies a strong work ethic. And for many government jobs, contractor jobs, or jobs at IGOs like the World Bank or IMF, it is a basic minimum requirement for most non-admin jobs. In almost any field, having a PhD is a shortcut to the initial round of CV scrutiny — an easy and quick way to sort candidates.
Now, let's assume Foust is correct about the money (doctoral students about to comment that a doctorate is not "more or less free" -- I know!! I'm not asserting this, Foust is!! Go bug him!!!). It seems like the Ph.D. is the smart play then, right?
Wrong. Foust is assuming that the choice is a binary one -- between climbing the policy ladder without a a doctorate or with a doctorate. The point of my initial post is that there's a third possibility, and it's the one that will fell people getting a Ph.D. for professional reasons only -- that one will start a Ph.D. program but never finish.
First of all, that is, by far, the worst outcome. Matt Groening can express this far better than I:
In all seriousness, life is not quite this bad for those who fail to finish. It's not great, however. For those who recognize early on that the Ph.D. is not for them, it's OK. Exiting a doctoral program after, say, three years with a terminal masters is about as graceful an exit as one can execute.
The more years one stays in, however, the greater the pain of exiting. There's a lot of psychological scarring, and the networks built up in a doctoral program are likely inferior to those that would be built up via a lower-level policy job. And I'd wager that it's precisely the ambitious, career-minded DC types who are less likely to cut and run -- because their entire life experience to date suggests that quitting is the wrong course of action.
Furthermore, not finishing a Ph.D. is not exactly uncommon. Click on this slide show about Ph.D. attrition rates from the Council of Graduate Schools, and note the following three facts:
1) Only 46% of all entrants finish their Ph.D. after seven years in a program.
2) For social science Ph.D.s, that figure is even lower -- 41%
3) If you extend it out to ten years, the lowest completion rate among the social sciences is political science -- only 44% complete a doctorate after a decade. In other words, entering a Ph.D. program and then not finishing is the modal outcome.
Foust is likely correct that getting a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the DC policy wonk rat race. But I know I'm correct when I say that starting but not finishing a Ph.D. is the worst possible career trajectory. It is this outcome that I'm harping on when I'm warning ambitious go-getter policy wonks to think long and hard about why they want to get a doctorate. It can't just be to win "The Game."
Now, to be fair, Tara Maller makes a valid point when she notes that "personal challenges" can fell a Ph.D. candidate. However, I would argue that the biggest impediment to finishing is not having a clear idea of what's involved in getting a doctorate in the first place. In an email from Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Jason Dempsey -- a Columbia Ph.D. and published scholar -- made this point:
Part of the dynamic I think is 'degree-inflation' where everyone has a master's, so it seems logical that to distinguish yourself from the pack that a PhD is the next logical step. While finishing my dissertation I had quite a few officers who had just finished MA or MPA programs asking how they could proceed to a PhD, with no idea that they were two entirely separate animals.
I've also had to break it to people that publishing an academic book is not the road the glory it might seem from afar, and that the most you can expect out of it beyond the intrinsic reward of contributing to an ongoing discussion is a box of very heavy 'business cards'....
Knowing what you are getting into and the need to fully embrace the topic are key to success. Sometimes that will align with a non-academic career-- probably more often not.... The difference between an MA and a PhD isn't incremental but fundamental, and that is a hard gap to bridge when coming from an institution that is decidedly pragmatic and application-oriented as a matter of survival.
Dempsey's point is the one I was trying to ham-handedly make in my last post. It is natural for people in DC to believe that the Ph.D. is the next logical step after a professional or masters degree. It. Is. Not.
When asked about whether getting a Ph.D. is a good idea, I usually tell men that writing a dissertation is the closest experience they will have to being pregnant -- except that instead of nine months they'll be carrying that sucker for 2-5 years. I then tell women that, of course, writing a dissertation is not remotely close to being pregnant -- but take the most volatile relationship from your past and then multiply that volatility by a factor of fifty. That's what it's like. And I haven't even gotten to the incredible socialization pressures within graduate school to feel like you should pursue an academic career instean of a non-academic one.
Despite these barriers, is it possible to simply "grind out" the Ph.D. without loving the subject matter and the process? Yeah, in theory. I've met one or two extraordinary people in my day who were able to pull that off. But -- and I cannot stress this enough -- I've met far more people who thought they could grind it out and then met their ruin on the shoals of some doctoral program. These are the people who stay in a doctoral program long after everyone else knows that the jig is up. That is the fate I am warning policy wonks away from.
There is no shame in thinking that a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the Beltway job market. But that cannot and should not be the primary reason to get a doctorate. What separates a Ph.D. from other degrees is the scholarly act of writing a dissertation. If there is no genuine fascination with the subject matter, if there is no love of the topic, then there is a 99.5% probability of failure. That has to be the primary driver. If it's fame and fortune, then the professional degree route -- a J.D., an M.B.A. or a M.A.L.D. -- is the better route for you.
Steve Saideman sums up why I'm making this argument so vehemently:
An MA is a professional degree for the policy-maker but most PhDs are not that. They require patience, analytical rigor, the ability to think theoretically, to be open to criticism, and so on. So, [Dan] has seen those who are in it just for the stamp flounder and fail.
That's correct. Maybe I'm exaggerating the costs of failure here -- but I don't think so.
So, to conclude. There is no shame in getting a Ph.D. with the intention of pursuing a non-academic career. Foust is correct that there are certain material rewards that come with earning a Ph.D. But unlike other degrees, those rewards cannot be the principal reason you choose to pursue a doctorate. That is the recipe for misery and heartbreak.
I've received a lot of interesting feedback to my post earlier this week about Paula Broadwell as a cautionary tale of attempting to get a Ph.D. as a ticket-punching exercise. I promise to write a follow-up post on that particular bugaboo very soon.
However, as I said in that original post, I used Broadwell primarily as the hook to write about the more generic question of why one gets a Ph.D. in the first place. This raises the question of whether I was fair in my treatment of her case. The New America Foundation's Tara Maller argues that I was not. Below is her (unedited by me) defense of Broadwell and her critique of the Broadwell coverage. Read the whole thing:
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been hesitant to weigh in on the debates surrounding the multifaceted situation involving General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. My reservations have mostly been in light of both my previous role as a former analyst at CIA and someone who has known Paula since 2007, due to her leadership role with Women in International Security in Cambridge, MA. I was deeply saddened by the serious personal mistakes of Broadwell and Petraeus and this piece is not intended to absolve either of blame or responsibility for their personal indiscretions. However, as an individual who studied international relations, worked in government and respected their service and accomplishments, I've been disheartened by the tone, double standards and arguments exhibited in some of the recent media coverage.
As The New York Times and other media outlets debate whether Petraeus' next move will be to a prestigious university or corporate board, discussions of Broadwell have been reduced to conversations about her outfits, criticism of her personal drive, complaints about her routine faculty office hour visits and a critique of her motivations' for pursuing an advanced degree. In Professor Daniel Drezner's recent blog post titled "The Broadwell Recognition," he drew on a recent Boston Globe article to critique Paula as someone destined to "flail miserably" and make some broader arguments about the types of people well-suited for Ph.D. programs. As an individual who completed a Ph.D. program, knows Paula (along with many other "scholar-officers" from my time in Cambridge), and is generally a fan of Drezner's writings, I respectfully disagree with Drezner on a number of his points.
First, there are many types of Ph.D. candidates from a variety of backgrounds and a multitude of goals. Drezner paints a portrait of just one acceptable type of candidate for a Ph.D. program and implies that Broadwell's career ambitions, background or personality was not the right fit. As someone who knows Paula and interacted with her during her time in Cambridge, I agree with Drezner that individuals like Paula are not the traditional Ph.D. candidate, or typical professionals in the field of international affairs. There aren't many women in this field, let alone women with two small children, who excelled at West Point, mentored young women over brunch at their home, served as an army intel officer, attended Harvard, completed marathons and served as an unofficial advisor to younger professionals in the field like myself. In fact, many of the "scholar-officers" I encountered in Cambridge were the most thoughtful, impressive, unique and service-oriented individuals I have ever met in my life. One of the most rewarding aspects of my program at MIT was the blend of academic, military and policy experience - and the knowledge that our shared educational experience would be used to impact the world in different ways. Shouldn't we be encouraging our future military and political leaders to pursue higher levels of education? The "soldier-officer" types or those on their way to "way to power and influence" in Washington tend to be individuals committed to public service and issues about which they are deeply passionate. Entering a Ph.D. program to gain skills or expertise to employ in the military or policy community does not make one less equipped for a Ph.D. program nor does it make Paula's motivations any less legitimate.
Second, many brilliant and successful individuals take breaks or do not finish their Ph.D. due to unanticipated personal or professional challenges or even opportunities. This does not mean that you aren't able to think critically about ideas or that you were only pursuing a Ph.D. purely for ambition's sake. Drezner himself even acknowledges many of these challenges, particularly for women, in a previous blog post. Unfortunately, his recent post fails to mention that during the time Paula was at Harvard (where she did receive a Master's) she had two children in under two years, serving as the Deputy Director of the Tufts University Fletcher School's Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism and founded the New England Women in International Security chapter (she has also started the Denver WIIS chapter and served on the executive board of international WIIS). Her husband was also putting in extremely long hours doing his residency, so she was working to make extra money for her family. Broadwell gave birth to her first son within a two months of starting the Harvard program and her second son less than two years later. When she left Harvard's program, she had two children still in diapers. If there was anything Paula failed at during this particular time period, it was being able to continue to function at a superwoman level as she tried to juggle "having it all" at one time. Many men and women of our generation need to balance all sorts of life decisions and career trajectories as they struggle with work-life family balance and competing priorities.
Lastly, one doesn't have to like Broadwell or even think she is a star academic to acknowledge some of the unfair characterizations by the media and higher levels of scrutiny and criticism that women seem to face in these situations. Over the last couple of weeks, the media has been criticizing Broadwell for many behaviors and personality attributesthat are not only typical of her peers in academically rigorous program, but ones that are encouraged and desirable. The Boston Globe piece Drezner cites includes criticism of Paula for both seeking out faculty during office hours and promoting her work. I can't tell you how many times I've heard faculty, career counselors, advisors and public officials in DC advise students to do just these things. Other articles in the media have lashed out at Paula for being driven and ambitious. I'm pretty sure many successful individuals and leaders have been praised for similar characteristics - including General Petraeus. It is worth noting that much of her drive was also directed at advocating on behalf of veterans and women in foreign policy. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution recently chimed in on this in an op-ed writing, "She [Paula] never struck me as more ambitious than the average Washingtonian, and she never seemed cutthroat in how she pursued her ambitions." As a Ph.D. student who met Paula in the winter of 2007 through her work with WIIS, I've known Paula as someone who has exhibited leadership and mentorship to advance the careers of many younger women - including myself. If Broadwell was a "self-promoter" of her own work, then she was just as much a promoter of others' work and important causes as well.
We should be cognizant of the serious implications of some of the arguments made in Drezner's piece and the tone of many other recent articles in the media lest we discourage future generations of very bright and talented young women and men with a commitment to public service from entering the field.
Tara Maller is a Research Affiliate at the New America Foundation. She is a former military analyst at the CIA and holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
My only rebuttal to Maller's essay is that I had not seen the information regarding Broadwell's personal situation during her time at Harvard reported anywhere else, and Broadwell herself hasn't been commenting on anything -- so it would have been difficult to mention it.
Still, what do you think?
MacArthur Foundation president Robert Gallucci has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on a topic that feels juuuuuust a bit familiar. Here's how he opens it:
Something is seriously wrong in the relationship between universities and the policy community in the field of international relations. The worlds of policy making and academic research should be in constant, productive conversation, and scholars and researchers should be an invaluable resource for policy makers, but they are not.
One hears perennial laments from those in academe that their valuable work is being ignored by policy makers. And, on the other hand, policy makers complain they can get nothing useful from the academy. They may all be right.
Now your humble blogger has explored this topic again and again and again and again and again. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that while a gap still exists between these two worlds, the bigger gap is between the perception of people like Gallucci and actual reality. Also, to be blunt about it, I also suspect that no one will actually say this to Gallucci's face, because, well, he's got the money. Why argue against a gravy train?
Consider the following:
1) There is pretty clear evidence that academics are becoming more copacetic with the media through which policy advice can be communicated. It's also worth noting that two of Time's top 25 blogs this year are run by political scientists *COUGH* self-promotion *COUGH*.
2) We are beginning to see routinized channels through which academics are learning how to affect the policy world.
3) On the policy side of the equation, Joshua Foust notes that the Ph.D. is both highly valued and increasingly de rigeur inside the Beltway. Whether that's a good thing or not is a topic for a later post, but Foust's observation cuts against Gallucci's assertions.
So I think Gallucci's claim is exaggerated. But what's interesting is why he believes that the theory/policy gap has gotten worse:
There has been a theoretical turn across the social sciences and humanities that has cut off academic discourse from the way ordinary people and working professionals speak and think. The validity and elegance of the models have become the focus, rather than whether those models can be used to understand real-world situations. Conferences and symposia are devoted to differences in theoretical constructs; topics are chosen for research based not on their importance but on their accessibility to a particular methodology. Articles and books are published to be read, if at all, only by colleagues who have the same high regard for methodology and theory and the same disregard for practice.
Look, I'm not going to deny that there's a lot of abstruse research in the academy filled with lots of seemingly impenetrable jargon. That said, I would humbly suggest that the pattern of recent published work does not match Gallucci's observation. I would also note that it is way too simplistic to divide political science research into "policy relevant" and "not policy relevant."
There is still a gap between scholars and policymakers. But Gallucci's essay suggests a bad situaion that's getting worse, whereas I see a mediocre situation that's trending in a positive situaton.
Still, let me also confess that I might be a victim of sample bias here. Over time I've found greater and not fewer pathways that connect scholarly international relations research and real-world policymaking. That might be because I've got a bit more
girth gravitas than I did a decade ago.
So I'll ask this question to the crowd: do Gallucci's assertions ring true? What do you think?
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?
Your humble blogger has been pretty quiet about this week's Israeli/Hamas conflict. That's for a bunch of reasons:
1) I've had a few day job papers to bang out;
3) My bar to blogging about Israel and Palestine is whether I can offer anything more insightful than The Onion. It's a disturbingly high bar.
That said, I do think there are a few interesting political science questions that are worth asking after the past week. After all, we've just had an election in this country where it turns out that political science explained an awful goddamned lot. I wonder if some of that knowledge is being imbibed -- in uneven amounts -- in the Middle East.
In particular, I have three questions:
1) Has Bibi Netanyahu been reading Romer and Rosenthal? One of the landmark articles in political science is Thomas Romer and Howard Rosenthal's paper on the effect of the status quo on political positioning. One of the key takeaways is that in a two candidate race, if Candidate A takes an extreme position on the central policy issue, it allows Candidate B to adopt a policy position that is further away from the median voter and still win.
After reading Ethan Bronner's story in the New York Times on how the Gaza conflict is radicalizing the West Bank away from Fatah and towards Hamas (see also Haaretz), I wonder if Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has figured out the following political jujitsu:
STEP 1: Take actions that radicalize the Palestinian population -- particularly in the West Bank;
STEP 2: Have Fatah look less and less like a credible negotiating partner, have the world acknowledge that Hamas now represents the median Palestinian preference on peace talks;
STEP 3: Have Likus win Israeli election without changing its policy position, which suddenly doesn't look so bad to Israeli voters.
Actually, I'd posit that there's an element of this in the Israeli's right's strategy of the past decade, but it seems to be particularly blatant this time around.
2) Has Hamas been reading Stephen Walt? And if so, which Stephen Walt? No, I don't mean that Stephen Walt. I mean the author of The Origins of Alliances and Revolution and War. I bring this up cause those books would offer contrasting takes on what Hamas would expect the rest of the Middle East to do. It seems pretty clear from the press reportage that Hamas believed that This Time Was Different: the Arab Spring had eliminated authoritarian despots who had used the Palestinian issue as a useful vent for domestic unrest. Newly democratic regimes would -- according to Walt's Revolution and War -- be more likely to identify with Hamas' cause, thereby taking more aggressive action to undermine and isolate Israel. And, indeed, at the rhetorical and symbolic level, this has happened. Libya is sending a "solidarity delegation" to Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labeled Israel a "terrorist state," and Egypt's Morsi governmment has been pretty plain in blaming Israel for the latest hostilities.
The thing is, my bet would be on Walt's Origins of Alliances playing the larger role here. What's interesting about Arab government's reactions to this Operation Pillar of Defense is that they seem.... an awful lot like how Mubarak et al would have reacted. It would seem that once Islamic movements are charged with running a government, they suddenly start to care about things other than the occupied territories (this appears to be Dennis Ross' take as well, by the way). For example, I'd argue that these negotiations matter far more to the Morsi government than brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
3) Does the Israeli right really want to make U.S. Middle East policy a partisan football? CNN polled Americans on the conflict in Gaza, and just like every other poll on this question, Americans backed Israel pretty strongly. 57% of American sympathize with the Israelis; only 13% side with the Palestinians. But as The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper notes, there's a catch:
CNN's poll director, Keating Holland, finds that there is a great discrepancy in which Americans think the action is justified, however. Of particular note is that only about 40 percent of Democrats believe the self-defense measures are "justified."
"Although most Americans think the Israeli actions are justified, there are key segments of the public who don't necessarily feel that way," Holland tells CNN. "Only four in ten Democrats think the Israeli actions in Gaza are justified, compared to 74% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Support for Israel's military action is 13 points higher among men than among women, and 15 points higher among older Americans than among younger Americans."
Now, you can speculate all you want about the source of this partisan divergence -- *COUGH* Netanyahu gambled on Obama being a one-termer and lost *COUGH* -- but friends of Israel should be disturbed by this growing split. If Israel becomes a partisan issue, it's not really going to help Republicans all that much, because all it will do is mobilize the evangelical vote -- which they've already pocketed. And eventually, Israel will have to face a Democratic president with a base that no longer cares about Israel's security. That's not going to be a good day for Israel.
[Yeah, we still liked the Onion story better--ed. Yeah, me too.]
Your humble blogger is headed to the United Kingdom this week to give a few talks and generally escape the election and post-election frenzy. Blogging will be light. However, before departing for the land of scones and Devonshire cream, there's one last election-related issue that's worth some words.
As I briefly discussed a few weeks ago, there's a brewing conflict about how to read the polls for the U.S. presidential election. This has crystallized into some latent, not-so-latent, and pretty damn blatant hostility towards' FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver. Now, some interpret this as simply a part of a larger War on Numbers. As Brendan Nyhan notes, Silver's analysis lines up with all of the other analytic forecasters.
But let's try to be fair here. I think there are a couple of different criticisms going on here from different quarters of the public sphere, and it's worth evaluating them on their own terms.
The first and simplest one is Matt K. Lewis, who points out why conservatives aren't keen on Silver's analysis:
Silver comes out of the baseball statistics world, and his defenders like cite sports and gambling analogies when defending him. But there is a key difference. If Silver says the Giants have only a 5 percent chance of winning the World Series again next year, it is highly unlikely that would impact the outcome of games. Umpires won’t begin making bad calls, the fans won’t stop attending games, etc.
But when the public sees that a prominent New York Times writer gives Barack Obama a 70 percent chance of winning, that can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It has consequences. It drives media coverage. It dries up donations. Whether Silver likes it, or not, people do interpret his numbers as a “prediction.” They see this as election forecasting.
This sounds about right, in two ways. First, it does highlight the ways in which forecasters can actually affect the outcome. Second, it's actually a compliment to Silver and his peers, because it reflects the belief that their assessments carry weight with the money. One does wonder whether it would have been liberal operatives pushing back if the forecasters were unanimous that Romney was the favorite at this point.
The point is, however, that part of the criticism is simply raw politics. That's fine, and can therefore be dismissed pretty quickly.
The second critique is more substantive, and rests on the notion that the assumptions that pollsters and forecasters are using when they crunch their numbers are flawed. Dan McLaughlin at Red State offers up a decent version of this critique:
Nate Silver’s much-celebrated model is, like other poll averages, based simply on analyzing the toplines of public polls. This, more than any other factor, is where he and I part company....
My thesis, and that of a good many conservative skeptics of the 538 model, is that these internals are telling an entirely different story than some of the toplines: that Obama is getting clobbered with independent voters, traditionally the largest variable in any election and especially in a presidential election, where both sides will usually have sophisticated, well-funded turnout operations in the field. He’s on track to lose independents by double digits nationally, and the last three candidates to do that were Dukakis, Mondale and Carter in 1980. And he’s not balancing that with any particular crossover advantage (i.e., drawing more crossover Republican voters than Romney is drawing crossover Democratic voters). Similar trends are apparent throughout the state-by-state polls, not in every single poll but in enough of them to show a clear trend all over the battleground states.
If you averaged Obama’s standing in all the internals, you’d capture a profile of a candidate that looks an awful lot like a whole lot of people who have gone down to defeat in the past, and nearly nobody who has won. Under such circumstances, Obama can only win if the electorate features a historically decisive turnout advantage for Democrats – an advantage that none of the historically predictive turnout metrics are seeing, with the sole exception of the poll samples used by some (but not all) pollsters. Thus, Obama’s position in the toplines depends entirely on whether those pollsters are correctly sampling the partisan turnout....
Let me use an analogy from baseball statistics, which I think is appropriate here because it’s where both I and Nate Silver first learned to read statistics critically and first got an audience on the internet; in terms of their predictive power, poll toplines are like pitcher win-loss records or batter RBI.
Oh, snap. I've read enough sabermetrics to know a diss when I see it.
Now I don't think Silver and his ilk would agree with McLaughlin's reasoning -- see Nick Gourevitch for a useful counter. But I do I think Silver agrees with McLaughlin's on the source of their disagreement. As Silver's latest post title suggests: "For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased":
The pollsters are making a leap of faith that the 10 percent of voters they can get on the phone and get to agree to participate are representative of the entire population. The polling was largely quite accurate in 2004, 2008 and 2010, but there is no guarantee that this streak will continue. Most of the "house effects" that you see introduced in the polls — the tendency of certain polling firms to show results that are consistently more favorable for either the Democrat or the Republican — reflect the different assumptions that pollsters make about how to get a truly representative sample and how to separate out the people who will really vote from ones who say they will, but won’t.
But many of the pollsters are likely to make similar assumptions about how to measure the voter universe accurately. This introduces the possibility that most of the pollsters could err on one or another side — whether in Mr. Obama’s direction, or Mr. Romney’s. In a statistical sense, we would call this bias: that the polls are not taking an accurate sample of the voter population. If there is such a bias, furthermore, it is likely to be correlated across different states, especially if they are demographically similar. If either of the candidates beats his polls in Wisconsin, he is also likely to do so in Minnesota....
My argument... is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.
Here we have a pretty simple and honest disagreement. Silver thinks the pollster's models for what the electorate and turnout will look like are pretty accurate; McLaughlin doesn't. They agree that if Romney wins it will be because practically all of the state polls are biased against him.
The final critique is the one that fascinates me -- the notion that traditional pundits can look beyond the polls at more ineffable factors like "momentum" and "crowd sizes" and "closing arguments" and "energy" and "early voting" other kinds of secret sauces to deternmine who will win. These guys rely on numbers but also the political instincts they've hones for decades as pundits. This is basically what Michael Barone has done, for example, in his prediction of a Romney blowout.
In some ways this mirrors the "scouts vs. stats" divide that ostensibly existed in baseball as Silver was developing PECOTA and Michael Lewis was writing Moneyball. And a lot of commentators are setting it up that way.
I'd tend to agree that this is the most bogus line of criticism... but a few things prevent me from rejecting this analysis entirely. First, there is the crazy possibility that pundits really do possess "local knowledge," as Hayek would put it, that forecasters lack. I'm not sure I really buy this hypothesis, but it's possible.
Second, as Silver himself observed in The Signal and the Noise, scouts get a bum rap. Over time, the evidence suggests that the scouts who worked at Baseball America actually outperformed the sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus. As Silver acknowledges, just because something can't be quantified doesn't mean it's unimportant. Maybe pundits like Barone have picked up on these "intangibles." Or maybe they have an implicit theory of the election that turns out to be superior to what is, at this point, a strictly poll-driven model. To put it another way: polls at this point are merely the intervening variable between the causal factors that the pundits like to talk about (the economy, the candidate's narrative) and the outcome (the election).
To be honest, I doubt that any of this is true. But the great thing is that come Wednesday, we'll know which group is more right. And then let the taunting commence!!
Two data points from my morning reads can highlight -- but not prove -- this trend. Exhibit A is a fascinaing column by Gillian Terzis in The New Inquiry on the persistence of superstar economists since the 2008 financial crisis. What caught my attention:
E]conomists have not only retained their prominence in the years since the global financial crisis; they have expanded it. Media-savvy economists have only grown in number, disseminating nuggets of user-friendly economic theory and technocratic liberalism in newspaper columns, blogs, and econo-centric podcasts. Krugman, along with Joseph Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini, Nassim Taleb, and Jeffrey Sachs have become household names as swaggering political pundits....
With economists becoming mainstream personalities, their econospeak is worming its way deeper into everyday language. Our money is as easily invested as our time: remember to “calculate” your “opportunity cost.” Emotions are “inefficient”: try not to have any. Choosing a restaurant necessarily invokes a “cost-benefit analysis.” Steering the course of one’s life is necessarily about making the right decisions at the right time. And the time for this linguistic evolution is right. In an age of laissez-faire capitalism and precarious labor, what are individuals and corporations doing, if not constantly “re-establishing themselves” as “market players?”....
Underlying all these examples is the idea that a perfunctory understanding of economics, it seems, is society’s best attempt at a code of justice amid endemic institutional dysfunction in political and legislative frameworks. As such, the quotidian economist presents himself (most often, it is a “he”) to audiences as above and beyond the realm of trifling matters like ideology or politics. The everyday economist goes out of his way to portray economics as a social science untouched by politics and ignorant of historical context. But such an approach is at a deliberate remove from the complexity and the uncertainties of modern life. It suggests that because humans are rational thinkers, then our actions can always be predicted, or at least reduced into theoretical epigrams. And so mainstream economics affirms itself as the discipline with an answer to everything, even when financial crises repeatedly underscore the gap between theory and praxis....
Metaphors may make for a great pull-quote, but too often they perpetuate causal simplification. Everyone is assumed to act in a certain fashion under a specified set of conditions, holding all other variables constant. Oversimplifying economic phenomena ignores possible failures and contingencies: how does one account for empathy, altruism, irrationality? Surely, politics must play a part; surely there are objects — sentimental talismans, or the right to decent shelter — to which no market value can be ascribed. It’s beyond the remit of economics to care....
In the online marketplace of ideas, the influence of a few celebrity economists creates an illusion of scarcity of new, heterodox voices. Yet now more than ever, to prevent costly and irreparable policy errors, economics needs its crowded-out Cassandras.
This is such an extreme mixture of fascinating analysis and total bulls**t that your humble blogger really needs to step back and gaze in awe at it. A big problem with Terzis's analysis is that the very "celebrity ecconomists" she cites -- Roubini, Taleb, Stiglitz -- were precisely the economists who were the Cassandras prior to 2008. One would assume that a public intellectual ecosystem that rewards critics who provided trenchant criticism is a good thing. Lamenting their rise seems... odd.
Except that it isn't for Terzis, because she objects to the very idea of a social science that tries to drain the complexity out of modern life in order to model it. Which is a fancy way of saying she objects to social science in principle -- because without simplifying reality a lot, it's simply impossible to model or explain it. In essence, Terzis' argument is that modern society is sooooo complex that radical uncertainty can't be eliminated -- so don't bother.
Terzis is coming at this from a Karl Polanyi-esque place on the left. Meanwhile, on the right, John Podhoretz looks at yesterday's polling in the 2012 presidential race, throws up his hands, and basically says, "Bah!! Numbers!!"
Mark it down on your calendars: Yesterday — Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 — may go down in the annals of history as the day political polling died.
It was the most ridiculous polling day among many preposterous polling days in the course of this long campaign...
The disparity in these numbers and their trends are so broad that even the cautionary method of adding them all together and averaging them out — best done by the Real Clear Politics “poll of polls” — makes little sense....
Pollsters themselves, when challenged on their stats, say they’re just presenting a snapshot of public opinion. Fine, but these snapshots are wildly distorted.
The key hidden fact is that fewer than one in 10 respond to those who try to poll them.
People who screen their calls, hang up on people they don’t know or end the survey because they don’t have time to take it make up more than 90 percent of those phoned by pollsters.
Then there are issues with cellphone users and those who communicate pretty much solely by texts and e-mail, and the like.
All we can be sure of, in the words of the peerless Internet humorist Iowahawk, “political poll results accurately reflect the opinions of the weirdo 9 percent who agree to participate in political polls.”
What yesterday proved is that all bets are off. We’re judging the state of this contest with junk data, and we need to stop. Until pollsters can figure out how to avoid all these crazy mood swings and white noise, they should be put on political and pundit probation.
Yeah!! Until pollsters learn to avoid... um... statistical variance... um... they shouldn't do statistics. And get off my lawn!!
Podhoretz raises some useful points here -- omitting cell phones does introduce a possible bias into polls, and the possible sample bias of low response rates. Podhoretz's core complaint, however, is both deeper and pretty friggin' absurd -- there's too much variance!! Stop the madness!!
The whole basis of statistics is that one is attempting to determine what a population thinks by looking at a small sample of that population. Such an exercise inherently introduces variance in interpreting the results. One day of particularly wide variance does not spell doom for the polling enterprise. Indeed, as a poll-watcher, what's been striking this election season is not the variance in the poll numbers but the relative lack of it compared to past elections. Both candidates' post-convention "bounces" were modest compared to past elections, and the numbers were pretty constant for a pretty long period of time during the summer.
Look, I get that social scientists are easy to mock and ridicule, and Lord knows, we make mistakes. Acknowledging fundamental levels of uncertainty and unknowability is a healthy thing to do. Going from that acknowledgement to rejecting the enterprise of social science entirely -- as both Terzi and Podhoretz do in their essays -- is really, really stupid.
Now get off my lawn.
I have an essay in the New York Times on why it is that presidents seem to care so much about foreign policy when voters care so little. Here's how it opens:
I’d like to apologize to American voters. I’m one of the 5 percent. The 5 percent, that is, who vote in presidential elections based on the foreign policy views of the candidates. It might seem to the other 95 percent of you that we pull the strings. At his taped fund-raiser, for example, Mitt Romney complained that the common folk weren’t asking him enough foreign policy questions. It certainly must appear as if we control presidents once they’re elected — after their first year in office, all we read about is that they’re attending some fancy-pants summit meeting or using force somewhere exotic.
While I wish that this were true, the reality is a lot more complex. Really, those of us paying attention to foreign policy are trying to do the rest of you a favor. Maybe if some of you paid attention to the rest of the world as well, American presidents would be more cautious about expending blood and treasure abroad. That sounds crazy, but it’s true.
You'll have to read the whole thing to see why I make that argument.
When we last left off, your humble blogger was speculating on the ways in which foreign policy had cost Mitt Romney during the campaign. In this post I want to expand on that theme -- with an assist from the just-released-this-very-minute-from-embargo 2012 Chicago Council Survey of American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy.
To set the table:
1) Despite the expectations of some Republicans, the traditional economic variables that affect a presidential campaign aren't tilting the needle towards Mitt Romney. As the New York Times' Jeff Sommer reports:
For a year in which a truly dismal economy sealed the electoral fate of an incumbent president, [Ray Fair] says, look at 1980, when President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan. In the nine months leading up to that election, per capita gross domestic product actually declined at an average annual rate of 3.7 percent, while inflation increased at an annual rate of 7.9 percent.
Professor Fair estimates that the comparable numbers for President Obama are G.D.P. growth of 1.62 percent and inflation of 1.51 percent. The low inflation rate is a plus for the president, while the mediocre G.D.P. growth rate is a problem — though not a fatal one.
“You can quite properly call this economy ‘weak,’ ” he said, “but it’s nothing like what Carter faced.” Mr. Reagan’s overwhelming victory “fit the economic picture perfectly,” he said. “This is a different situation.”
He added: “If the economy were significantly weaker or significantly stronger — if we were in a recession or if economic growth were really dramatically better — we’d have a much clearer picture of who would win the election. But the economy remains in a range of mediocre growth. It puts us in the margin-of-error range.”....
Professor Fair will compute a fresh prediction based on data available in late October, but at this stage the political probabilities aren’t likely to shift very much, he says. “It looks as though this will be a horse race, a very close one,” he says.
If it's a horse race, then one of the horses has pulled into an ever-so-slight lead. Both FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen note that the conventions have given a small but crucial advantage to the incumbent. VandeHei and Allen talked to both campaigns, and here is the best hope for the Romney camp:
[W]hen you dig into the small slice of undecided voters (probably only 6 percent to 8 percent of the electorate, according to the campaigns), the demographics are not favorable to Obama: mostly white, many with some college education, economically stressed, largely middle-aged.
Obama officials have maintained for several weeks that there are too few undecided voters for Romney to get the bounce he needs from the debates. “Romney is not going to win undecided voters 4-to-1,” a senior administration official told reporters on Air Force One on Friday. “If you are losing in Ohio by 4 or 5 points and trailing in Colorado by 2 points, if you are trailing in Nevada by 2 or 3 points, you are not going to win in those states."
So, for Romney to win, he's going to have to run the table with the tiny sliver of undecided independents.
And here is where foreign policy becomes a real problem for Mitt Romney -- because if the Chicago Council results are accurate, independents basically want the exact opposite of what Mitt Romney is selling them.
Let's stipulate that a President Romney might not actually do what he's promising during the campaign -- certainly the smart money doesn't believe him. Still, based on his rhetoric to date, let's also stipulate that Romney really wants America to lead the world. He wants to boost defense spending rather than cut it. He certainly wants to give the appearance that he would pursue a more hawkish policy towards Iran, Syria, Russia, North Korea, China and illegal immigrants than Barack Obama.
That's great -- except it turns out most of America -- and independents in particular -- want pretty much the opposite of that. Indeed, as Marshall Bouton says in the Foreword to the report:
Over time, Independents have become more inclined than either Republicans or Democrats to limit U.S. engagement in world affairs. Because Independents are an increasing share of the electorate, this development in American public opinion warrants attention.
If you read the whole report, what's striking is how much the majority view on foreign policy jibes with what the Obama administration has been doing in the world: military retrenchment from the Greater Middle East, a reliance on diplomacy and sanctions to deal with rogue states, a refocusing on East Asia, and prudent cuts in defense spending.
As for Romney, here are some excerpts from the report that suggest where the entire country -- and independents in particular -- are drifting away from his foreign policy rhetoric:
This survey demonstrates a strong desire to move on from a decade of war, to scale back spending, and avoid major new military entanglements. The lesson many Americans took away from the Iraq war—that nations should be more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue nations—appears to be taking hold more broadly (p. 13)....
Along with the lessons learned from a decade of war and a reduced sense of threat, Americans are also keenly aware of constraints on U.S. economic resources. When asked whether the defense budget should be cut along with other programs in the effort to address the federal budget deficit, 68 percent of Americans say the defense budget should be cut. This is up 10 points from 58 percent in 2010 (p. 15)....
The most preferred approach to ending [the Iranian nuclear] threat, endorsed by 80 percent, is the one that the UN Security Council is pursuing: imposing tighter economic sanctions on Iran. Essentially the same number (79%) approve of continuing diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. Consistent with this strong support for diplomatic approaches, in a separate question, 67 percent of Americans say the United States should be willing to meet and talk with Iranian leaders (p. 29)....
Republicans see greater threats in nearly all areas tested in the 2012 survey. They are more likely than Democrats and Independents to view U.S. debt to China, immigration, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran’s nuclear program as critical threats (p. 42).
It would appear that Americans -- particularly independents -- have become even more realpolitik than they were when I wrote this five years ago. Or, to put it more pungently, poll results like these are the kind of thing that will make John Bolton really angry and Jennifer Rubin really scared and William Kristol and the rest of the Weekly Standard gang all hot and bothered -- and not in the good way.
Now, I strongly suspect that this won't matter to most undecideds. Foreign policy really isn't a high priority for most voters. That said, there are three ways in which this could matter.
First, undecideds likely hold that position because they haven't paid a lot of attention to the campaign yet. As they start to, it's going to be easier for them to process the rhetorical differences on Iran than on health care. So if Romney is going to attract the bulk of these undecideds, he's going to do it despite his foreign policy pronouncements -- not because of them. In an election where a 2% advantage seems insurmountable in a lot of states, even tiny disadvantages matter.
Second, the Obama campaign seems to be quite eager to micro-target key audiences on foreign policy/national security, as VandeHei and Allen note in their story:
Obama’s plan is to slice and dice his way through myriad campaigns, all distinct, all designed to turn on — or off — very specific subsets of voters in specific states or even counties. Republicans concede Obama is better organized in the areas getting hit with the micro-campaigns....
The Obama plan also focuses on students with an education message; veterans in states that include Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada; housing in Nevada and Florida, where the market tanked; and military families in Virginia, Florida and Colorado (emphasis added).
I am willing to bet that these groups are not going to be keen to hear anything about a more bellicose foreign policy, and Romney's waning competency on the issue won't help.
Third -- and finally -- look at it this way: if the economy doesn't produce the national poll movements that the Romney campaign wants, they'll have to shift to secondary issues. For the last forty years, the GOP has been able to go to foreign policy and national security. If Romney does that this time, however, he'll alienate the very independents he needs to win.
Could Romney/Ryan simply retool their foreign policy message for the general election to allay the concerns of independents and undecideds? No, I don't think they can. For one thing, it's simply too late to rebrand. For another, when cornered on these questions they seem to like doubling down on past statements. Finally, I get the sense that one reason Romney sounds so hawkish is because the campaign thinks it's a cheap way to appeal to the GOP base. Deviating from that script to woo the undecideds will only fuel suspicion of Romney's conservative bona fides.
So maybe, just maybe, foreign policy will matter a little bit during this election. And not in a way that helps Mitt Romney.
Am I missing anything?
Now is the time of year when students go to citadels of higher learning and hopefully learn some stuff instead of getting bogged down in weird cheating scandals. Coincidentally enough, this past month there's also been a lot of talk about how impressionable young people often get enamored with Ayn Rand and isn't that awful or something.
These laments this misses the point of how 18-year olds encountered the world of ideas in college. That is the age when they are expected to seriously think about ideas for the first time. They will crave ideas that will bake their noodle -- or at a minimum, that's the time when they should have their worldviews rocked ever few weeks or so. If not Rand, then whom?
In your blogger's humble opinion, there's another book that is celebrating it's 50th anniversary and remains far more earth-shattering in its intellectual effects. A few weeks ago the Guardian's John Naughton celebrated Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions with an astute essay on its significance. The highlights:
Kuhn's version of how science develops differed dramatically from the Whig version. Where the standard account saw steady, cumulative "progress", he saw discontinuities – a set of alternating "normal" and "revolutionary" phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases – for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics – correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. The fact that his version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962 almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how science did – and should – work....
Kuhn's central claim is that a careful study of the history of science reveals that development in any scientific field happens via a series of phases. The first he christened "normal science" – business as usual, if you like. In this phase, a community of researchers who share a common intellectual framework – called a paradigm or a "disciplinary matrix" – engage in solving puzzles thrown up by discrepancies (anomalies) between what the paradigm predicts and what is revealed by observation or experiment. Most of the time, the anomalies are resolved either by incremental changes to the paradigm or by uncovering observational or experimental error. As philosopher Ian Hacking puts it in his terrific preface to the new edition: "Normal science does not aim at novelty but at clearing up the status quo. It tends to discover what it expects to discover."
The trouble is that over longer periods unresolved anomalies accumulate and eventually get to the point where some scientists begin to question the paradigm itself. At this point, the discipline enters a period of crisis characterised by, in Kuhn's words, "a proliferation of compelling articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals". In the end, the crisis is resolved by a revolutionary change in world-view in which the now-deficient paradigm is replaced by a newer one. This is the paradigm shift of modern parlance and after it has happened the scientific field returns to normal science, based on the new framework. And so it goes on.
This brutal summary of the revolutionary process does not do justice to the complexity and subtlety of Kuhn's thinking.
He's right -- read the whole thing. I've blogged before about why Kuhn is equally important to social science here and here. To put this into words that today's millenial generation can comprehend: the effect of reading Thomas Kuhn to 18 year old is like the moment when Neo realizes there is no spoon.
One's education about how science works shouldn't stop with Kuhn -- there have been some worthy responses to him -- but it's a great place to start.
Your humble blogger has not been shy in decrying those in Congress, the mainstream media, and the academy who believe that the answer to all of America's problems starts with defunding National Science Foundation research grants for political scientists. As I've blogged about repeatedly, political science research provides significant bang for the buck, and even the jargon serves a purpose.
However, a good social scientist must also acknowledge contradictory data points against his or her hypotheses. And so I must concede that this week the American Political Science Association has highlighted a decision-making process that suggests political scientists shouldn't be trusted with either money or power.
Readers might be aware that Tropical Storm Isaac appears to be bypassing the Republican National Convention in Tampa and is instead headed.... right for New Orleans. It's scheduled to his the NOLA area on Wednesday. This is a wee problem for political scientists because, well, the American Political Science Association annual meeting is scheduled to be held in - wait for it -- New Orleans from Thursday to Sunday. APSA has already cancelled all Wednesday pre-meeting activities, and based on the storm path, I'd place a 50/50 bet on the whole convention being scrubbed (the other possibility is APSA Hunger Games, which would end badly for all the post-materialists).
This gives rise to a very simple question of mine: why, in the name of all that is holy, did any political scientist think it was a good idea to have the annual meeting in a hurricane zone... DURING HURRICANE SEASON??!!
Now, you might think that this decision was made post-Katrina to express solidarity with the city of New Orleans -- it wasn't. According to this timeline, the decision was made in 2003. Still, it's not like hurricanes devastating New Orleans is a recent phenomenon -- there's a long and storied history of tropical storms hitting New Orleans right around Labor Day weekend. Indeed, there's even a history of hurricanes affecting past APSA conferences in New Orleans -- second-hand sources have informed me that a hurricane nearly hit the 1985 APSA meetings held in the Big Easy. Since that's the weekend APSA takes place, maybe places like New Orleans and Miami are bad hosting locales, right? Right?
[So you're saying you don't like these cities?--ed. No, I love both cities. Hell, I'm half convinced New Orleans exists merely to give writers an excuse to use the phrase "seedy charm." I'm saying if the conference is going to be held in late August/early September, avoiding hurricane zones seems like a prudent course of action.]
Now, since Katrina devastated New Orleans, there has been a huge controversy about whther it's a bright idea to hold the meeting there. However, if you look at that timeline, you'll see that the controversy has to do with Louisiana's "Defense of Marriage" constitutional amendment and the effect it would have on same-sex couples. This is a fair issue to raise, but I'm thinking that the whole "possibility of being in a hurricane zone" thing should have come up as well.
Looking over APSA's written guidelines for convention siting, I see that APSA has included criteria about regional diversity, local treatment of same-sex unions and partnerships, labor union strength, carbon neutrality, and ethnic and racial diversity. Might I humbly suggest that if political scientists want to be taken seriously by Congress and the general public, if would be a good idea to add "no city located in a hurricane zone during hurricane season" to the list of criteria?
In the last few weeks, Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson have found themselves at the centers of controversy. As someone who has written a thing or two about public intellectuals, I confess to finding it all very fascinating. What's striking to me is the vehemence on all sides. Brad DeLong is an excitable sort, but calling for Harvard to fire Niall Ferguson for tendentious matters unrelated to his scholarly work seems... a bit much. Last week the Washington Post ran a story falsely accusing Zakaria of another act of plagiarism... without independently checking to see if the charge had any validity.
On the other hand, the defenses that have been mounted also seem a bit over the top. Tunku Varadarajan defended Zakaria in Newsweek with an essay that bordered on the sycophantic, all the while accusing Zakaria's accusers of simple envy:
What one has seen in the past few days can only be described as a hideous manifestation of envy—Fareed Envy. Henry Kissinger’s aphorism about academia (where the “politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small”) applies with delicious tartness to journalism, where media reporters of the kind who hounded Zakaria occupy the lowest rung and exult at the prospect of pulling people down. Zakaria, by contrast, is insanely successful by the standards of his profession: he has a TV show to which few people of any prominence would refuse an invitation, plus columns at Time, CNN.com, and The Washington Post. He also writes academic-lite books that presidents clutch as they clamber aboard planes, and gives speeches at—it is said—$75,000 a pop. He is as much a brand as he is a journalist: he has “inc.” in his veins.
Zakaria himself responded to the Post's bogus second charge of plagiarism in a somewhat curious manner. Here's what he told them:
Zakaria, in an interview Monday, defended the practice of not attributing quotes in a popular book. “As I write explicitly [in the book], this is not an academic work where everything has to be acknowledged and footnoted,” he said. The book contains “hundreds” of comments and quotes that aren’t attributed because doing so, in context, would “interrupt the flow for the reader,” he said.
He compared his technique to other popular non-fiction authors. “Please look at other books in this genre and you will notice that I'm following standard practice,” he said.
“I should not be judged by a standard that's not applied to everyone else,” he added. “People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta. The charge is totally bogus.”
Ferguson responded to his critics in a similar fashion:
The other day, a British friend asked me if there was anything about the United States I disliked. I was happily on vacation and couldn’t think of anything. But now I remember. I really can’t stand America’s liberal bloggers....
My critics have three things in common. First, they wholly fail to respond to the central arguments of the piece. Second, they claim to be engaged in “fact checking,” whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts. Third, they adopt a tone of outrage that would be appropriate only if I had argued that, say, women’s bodies can somehow prevent pregnancies in case of “legitimate rape.”
Their approach is highly effective, and I must remember it if I ever decide to organize an intellectual witch hunt. What makes it so irksome is that it simultaneously dodges the central thesis of my piece and at the same time seeks to brand me as a liar.
I'd feel more sympathy towards Ferguson if his term "liberal blogosphere" obfuscates the fact that a Nobel Prize-winning economist is rebutting Ferguson on his use of facts, and then Ferguson didn't compound his economic errors in a Bloomberg interview.
So what the hell is going on?
I think there are three interlocking things going on that explain why everyone feels so cranky. The first, as I alluded to in my Zakaria post, is that the economics of superstars has now reached the world of public intellectuals. There's been a lot of talk about "brands" recently, and it gets at how the rewards for intellectual output have expanded at the upper strata:
Not that long ago, getting a column in Time would have been the pinnacle of a journalist’s career. But expectations and opportunities have grown in the last few years. Many writers now market themselves as separate brands, and their journalism works largely as a promotion for more lucrative endeavors like writing books and public speaking.
Replace "journalist" with "intellectual" and that paragraph still works. Credentialed thinkers like Zakaria and Ferguson, once they've reached the top, become brands that can multiply their earning potential far more than was the case fifty years ago. The ways in which the Internet concentrates attention on a Few Big Things means that if you are good and lucky enough to become one of those Big Things, money will rain down on your door. Over at Esquire, Stephen Marche proffered this explanation for what he would call Ferguson's intellectual devolution:
The real issue isn't the substance of Ferguson's argument, though, which is shallow and basically exploded by this point in time. It isn't even the question of how such garbage managed to be written and published. It is, rather, why did Ferguson write it? The answer is simple but has profound implications for American intellectual life generally: public speaking.
Ferguson's critics have simply misunderstood for whom Ferguson was writing that piece. They imagine that he is working as a professor or as a journalist, and that his standards slipped below those of academia or the media. Neither is right. Look at his speaking agent's Web site. The fee: 50 to 75 grand per appearance. That number means that the entire economics of Ferguson's writing career, and many other writing careers, has been permanently altered. Nonfiction writers can and do make vastly more, and more easily, than they could ever make any other way, including by writing bestselling books or being a Harvard professor. Articles and ideas are only as good as the fees you can get for talking about them. They are merely billboards for the messengers.
That number means that Ferguson doesn't have to please his publishers; he doesn't have to please his editors; he sure as hell doesn't have to please scholars. He has to please corporations and high-net-worth individuals, the people who can pay 50 to 75K to hear him talk. That incredibly sloppy article was a way of communicating to them: I am one of you. I can give a great rousing talk about Obama's failures at any event you want to have me at.
Now, railing at the One Percent aside (*cough* Esquire's target demograpic *cough*) Marche is really onto something here. I've heard from a few sources that Ferguson resigned his professorship at Harvard Business School (but not Harvard University) because he calculated that if he gave four or five extra talks a year, he could earn his HBS salary without all the tedious teaching obligations.
Zakaria and Ferguson got to where they are by dint of their own efforts, but the thing about the superstar phenomenon is that there's also an element of caprice involved. The gap between Zakaria and Ferguson, and their replacement-level deep thinkers is pretty narrow; the gap in the financial and intellectual rewards is pretty vast.
So I suspect that there is a bit of jealousy in some of the criticisms being leveled. These guys earn many multiples of the median intellectual income -- and I guarantee you that the median intellectual doesn't think that either Ferguson or Zakaria is many times smarter. That's gonna stir up some petty and not-so-petty resentments.
The top tier of public intellectuals are doing well in this world, and the best are pretty savvy at marketing their ideas across multiple platforms in a Web 2.0 world. But the same dynamics that push these people to the top also increase their vulnerability to intellectual criticism -- and this is the second thing that's going on here. As I noted a few years ago:
The most useful function of bloggers is when they engage in the quality control of other public intellectuals. [Richard] Posner believed public intellectuals were in decline because there was no market discipline for poor quality. Even if public intellectuals royally screw up, he argued, the mass public is sufficiently disinterested and disengaged for it not to matter. Bloggers are changing this dynamic, however. If Michael Ignatieff, Paul Krugman or William Kristol pen substandard essays, blogs have and will provide a wide spectrum of critical feedback.
One can clearly add Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria to this list. Furthermore, the very act of trying to market ideas across platforms -- and the constant drive to generate new content -- leaves these intellectuals vulnerable to criticism. They can get sloppy, like Zakaria, and commit a near-fatal error. They can be tendentious in their use of facts, like Ferguson, and suffer reputational damage. Or, they can simple debase themselves to the point where Evgeny Morozov goes medieval on them.
For high-flying intellectuals, this kind of public criticism clearly wounds. What the superstar phenomenon gives, it can also threaten to take away (though, to be honest, scandals and bad writing don't seem to actually take away rewards all that often). But in the mind of top-tier public intellectuals, effort and intellect drive their accomplishments, not fortuna. They see online criticism and interpret it as jealousy, pettiness and ideological score-settling. A lot of the time that's exactly what it is -- but the online intellectual ecosystem is also pretty good at fact-checking and substantive criticism. Publc intellectuals don't see that these kinds of criticisms are the flip-side of the very phenomenon that is enriching them in the first place. They also don't realize that in a Web 2.0 world, mere bloggers can fact-check them and scorn them for a lack of citation.
Which leads to the last thing that I think is going on: this superstar phenomenon is invading one of the last spheres of life where money is not necessarily the Most Important Thing. Getting a Ph.D. means being socialized into a world where an academic job is considered more respectable than becoming a consultant that earns gazillions more in money. The currency in the academic economy is intellectual respect. Even if public criticism doesn't affect their real-world income, it does affect their intellectual standing. Even if Zakaria has left the academy, and Ferguson can "transcend" it, they were socialized into this value system, and they clearly care what their peers think.
Zakaria's argument that general nonfiction shouldn't be held to the standards of academic discourse rankles academics who know that he should know better -- the first instinct of any person with graduate training is to read the literature and cite, cite, cite. As my friend Delia Lloyd put it: "I find him culpable because Zakaria comes from the world of academia.... Plagiarism may not be a major moral failing... in the university setting in which Zakaria was trained and credentialed, it’s pretty much one of the worst crimes you can commit."
As for Ferguson, Timothy Burke blogs about what it is exactly about Ferguson's career arc that nettles him:
Ferguson would feel more like he was still within the bounds if he either investigated his own distaste for Obama in more reflective, philosophical and recursive ways or if he was willing to lay out a generalized, prescriptive theory of political leadership that didn’t fitfully move the goalposts on intensely granular or particular issues every few seconds. Why? Because I think scholarship requires some measure of self-aware and reflective movement between what you know and what you believe, and the relationship between your own movements and those of your professional peers... A scholar has to believe on some level that things are known or understood only after being investigated, tested, read, interpreted, that there’s something unseemly about robbing the graves and morgues for cast-off “facts” in order to assemble them into a shambling, monstrous conclusion built from a hackish blueprint. Being an intellectual takes some form of thoughtfulness, some respect for evidence and truth, something that goes beyond hollow, sleazy rhetoric that plays dumb every time it gets caught out truncating quotes or doctoring charts. Being an expert means you guide an audience through what is known and said about a subject with some respect for the totality of that knowing and saying before favoring your own interpretation.
Public intellectuals who have PhDs do not want to lose their standing as scholars. Sure, they can gin up psychological defenses against the hidebound ivory tower, but criticism like the one quoted above will leave a permanent mark. They'll have their riches, but they won't have what they were trained to crave more than anything -- respect.
In the end, what I think is going on is that, contra Russell Jacoby, top-tier public intellectals have acquired greater power than they used to possess. What they resist on occasion is the responsibility that comes with that power.
So that's what I think is going on. What do you think?
P.S. I think one of the best compliments I've ever received is that Justin Fox independently and simultaneously arrived at very similar intellectual destination on this topic.
Late at night, when your humble blogger is troubled in his sleep because of some crap argument he was making in his day job, some version of this Annie Hall scene plays out in his head:
This is, far and away, my worst nightmare.
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.
"Double down" is appropriate here, because he went from a speech in which he said there were "other factors" that mattered as well to zeroing in on culture. Again, to be fair, a close read of what Romney describes as "culture" in his essay clearly includes political and economic institutions. To get academic-y about it, Romney is being "conceptually fuzzy" with his terms.
So sure, Romney has been pilloried by political reporters and left-wing columnists and foreign policy writers and former U.S. diplomats and snooty British publications for a bad trip... but they've mostly been focusing on the "gaffes."
This morning, however, Romney is having his Marshall McLuhan moment. In the New York Times, Jared Diamond grades Romney's citation of his book Guns, Germs and Steel:
Mitt Romney's latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue.
It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”
That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it.
Then there's Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson here in FP, attacking Romney on the conceptual fuzziness thing:
Unfortunately, Romney's views are seriously out of sync with those of the great mass of social scientists. For one, as his more extended argument in the National Review illustrates, he confuses "culture" with institutions. By culture, social scientists mean people's values and beliefs. Romney refers to Americans' "work ethic," which is cultural, but he also claims that political and economic freedoms are the real keys to economic success. But political and economic freedom are not guaranteed by (or even related to) culture but by institutions, such as the U.S. Constitution or its system of property rights. Romney did cite Harvard University historian David Landes, who did indeed argue that values and beliefs are crucial for economic development, as providing the intellectual origins of his views -- but his focus on institutions is much more in line with our book Why Nations Fail than with Landes. Indeed, the facts on the ground in the Middle East illustrate the power not of culture, but of institutions.
Fareed Zakaria weighs in the Washington Post [Wait, he counts?--ed. He earned his Ph.D. in political science at Harvard under Samuel Huntington. So yeah, on this, he definitely counts]:
Had Romney spent more time reading Milton Friedman, he would have realized that historically the key driver for economic growth has been the adoption of capitalism and its related institutions and policies across diverse cultures.
The link between economic policies and performance can be seen even in the country on which Romney was lavishing praise. Israel had many admirable traits in its early decades, but no one would have called it an economic miracle. Its economy was highly statist. Things changed in the 1990s with market-oriented reforms — initiated by Benyamin Netanyahu — and sound monetary policies. As a result, Israel’s economy grew much faster than it had in the 1980s. The miracle Romney was praising had to do with new policies rather than deep culture.
Ironically, the argument that culture is central to a country’s success has been used most frequently by Asian strongmen to argue that their countries need not adopt Western-style democracy. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew has made this case passionately for decades. It is an odd claim, because Singapore’s own success would seem to contradict it. It is not so different from neighboring Malaysia. The crucial difference is that Singapore had extremely good leadership that pursued good economic policies with relentless discipline.
Finally, there's the Center for Global Development's Charles Kenny, who is far and away the most supportive of Romney's argument:
Mitt Romney created a stir this week when he pointed to the immense difference in wealth between Israel and the Palestinian territories and explained it with his interpretation of Harvard economic historian David Landes’s work that “culture makes all the difference.”
By now there is wide agreement that Romney used a pretty terrible example to illustrate Landes’s point. And yet the proposition that “culture” is a factor in long-term economic performance is increasingly accepted among development economists. What Romney seems to have missed is that culture is a declining barrier to development worldwide.
Still, three out of four social scientists have flunked Romney's comparative political economy comp. Will this make a whit of difference in the campaign? That depends entirely on whether you believe that voters still respond to cues from elites... so for me the answer is "probably not." This entire episode is nevertheless an instructive parable for graduate students studying for comps everywhere:
1) Define your terms clearly;
2) Make sure you've done your reading and not
staffed it out relied on book reviews or summaries of the Big Arguments -- cause those summaries can be way off base;
3) Don't double down when you make a bad argument.
Readers of this blog are aware that I am not a fan of the Flake Amendment, a proposal by the House of Representatives to zero out the political science portion of the National Science Foundation budget -- and only the political science portion of that budget -- so that the $9 million or so will go to the physical or natural sciences instead. This is one of those populist measures that sounds peach but in fact relies on either a piss-poor understanding of how public goods work, a piss-poor understanding of how political science works, or both.
Still, you'd expect that the natural and physical scientists would be at worst neutral about the Flake Amendment. After all, in a restrictive budgetary environment, anything that plumps up their research dollars can't hurt, right?
Via Steven Taylor , however, I see that the editors of Nature have a better grasp of political science than, well, some people who write about politics for a living. I don't agree with everything in this editorial, but I do agree with their main points:
The social sciences are an easy target for this type of attack because they are less cluttered with technical terminology and so seem easier for the layperson to assess. As social scientist Duncan Watts at Microsoft Research in New York City has pointed out: “Everyone has experience being human, and so the vast majority of findings in social science coincide with something that we have either experienced or can imagine experiencing.” This means that the Flakes of this world have little trouble proclaiming such findings obvious or insignificant.
Part of the blame must lie with the practice of labelling the social sciences as soft, which too readily translates as meaning woolly or soft-headed. Because they deal with systems that are highly complex, adaptive and not rigorously rule-bound, the social sciences are among the most difficult of disciplines, both methodologically and intellectually. They suffer because their findings do sometimes seem obvious. Yet, equally, the common-sense answer can prove to be false when subjected to scrutiny. There are countless examples of this, from economics to traffic planning. This is one reason that the social sciences probably unnerve some politicians...
So, what has political science ever done for us? We don't, after all, know why crime rates rise and fall. We cannot solve the financial crisis or stop civil wars, and we cannot agree on the state's role in systems of justice or taxation. As Washington Post columnist Charles Lane wrote in a recent article that called for the NSF not to fund any social science: “The 'larger' the social or political issue, the more difficult it is to illuminate definitively through the methods of 'hard science'.”.
In part, this just restates the fact that political science is difficult. To conclude that hard problems are better solved by not studying them is ludicrous. Should we slash the physics budget if the problems of dark-matter and dark-energy are not solved? Lane's statement falls for the very myth it wants to attack: that political science is ruled, like physics, by precise, unique, universal rules (emphasis added).
Indeed. A tip of the cap from this social scientist to the natural sciences -- it's good when nerds unite.
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!!
A few months ago, the Tobin Project sponsored a YouGov poll to be put in the field on American attitudes towards foreign policy and national security. Dartmoth political science Benjamin Valentino conducted the poll, being so good as to solicit, collate and structure questions solicited from other political scientists, myself included.
You can look at all of the topline results here, with party-line breakdowns to the responses. The question I offered was Q53: "In thinking about a country's influence in the world, which single factor do you think matters most?" The response:
25.9% "The country's military strength"
45.0% "The size of the country's economy"
8.2% "The attractiveness of the country's culture"
21.0% "Don't know"
As for party line splits, Republicans stressed military strength almost as much as GDP (39.8% to 42.5%), which made them a bit of an outlier compared with Democrats or independents.
Related to this is Q57, which asked respondents whether they preferred a high growth world in which "the average American's income doubles, but China grows faster than the United
States and China's economy becomes much larger than America's" or a low growth world, in which "the average American's income increases by only 10 percent, but the U.S. economy remains much larger than China's." A majority (50.7%) preferred the low growth world, thus supporting my long-standing argument that Americans are stone-cold mercantilists.
I also submitted a variant of Q21: "In your opinion, what country is America's most important foreign ally?" to see whether Israel made it into the "super-special" ally status desired by a few neoconservatives and political leaders. Again, the results and party splits are interesting. Among the entire sample, Israel placed second, behind only Great Britain. It was a much stronger second among the GOP respondents, however -- among Democrats, Israel actually came in third, below -- gasp! -- Canada.
Readers are strongly encouraged to scan the the entire poll -- there's a lot of great stuff. The responses to Q25 ("How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement? 'The United States faces greater threats to its security today than it did during the Cold War.'") will make Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen want to bang their heads against a wall. And the GOP responses to Q64 ("Which of the following statements best describes your views on whether Barack Obama was born in the United States or another country?") are, shall we say, disturbing.
There are a lot of concerns rumbling around the wonkosphere that the United States is headed for a "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year. Unless Congress acts, all $300 billion of the Bush tax cuts will expire, the $200 billion Obama payroll tax cut will expire, and $100 billion in spending will be automatically cut as per the debt deal from the summer of 2010. Now, unless you reject Macroeconomics 101, you know that $600 billion in fiscal retrenchment in this economy practically guarantees a double-dip recession.
Of course, Congress could change this if it acted in bipartisan fashion. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! I kid, of course. Except I don't -- any politial action to avert the fiscal cliff really would require some kind of bipartisan compromise.
Earlier this week Josh Marshall posted an intriguing hypothesis about how the Democrats are thinking about this situation:
For years and years now, the Democrats have been a much more fiscally responsible party than the Republicans. (Here, fiscally responsible means that they try to pay for the federal programs they support, not fiscally responsible in the way Republicans define it, where social spending programs are “fiscally irresponsible” even if they’re paid for.)
Republicans, by contrast, have intentionally drawn up big deficits with massive tax cuts, so that popular programs they don’t really like will eventually have to be cut. This is more or less the central organizing principle of the conservative movement, and the main way the conservative movement exerts control over the GOP. It’s no coincidence that when Republicans came back to power in 2011, they made deficits a huge legislative priority, and insisted on reducing them by cutting social programs alone.
The Democrats’ counter-strategy is a bit more subtle, but has essentially been to find ways to make it very uncomfortable for Republicans to maintain such a rigid anti-tax orthodoxy — to ultimately force Republicans to break their anti-tax pledges and badly splinter their party. That’s what the Buffett Rule is about; that why Dems insist they won’t dismantle the so-called “sequester” — big cuts to defense and even to Medicare — unless Republicans agree to tackle deficits in a balanced way, i.e. by supporting significant new tax revenues.
The results have been mixed. They’ve won a small number of GOP votes here and there, and vulnerable members are nowadays more likely to trash or dismiss Grover Norquist in the press than they were last year. But at a very high level within the Democratic Party, there’s a recognition that breaking the GOP on taxes is an absolutely crucial strategic imperative for defending safety net programs over the long term. Getting the revenue in a passive way is a second best option.
Now, if Marshall is correct, what's interesting is that the Democrats have a powerful ally in this push to get the GOP to shift away from their anti-tax orthodoxy -- Wall Street:
Now that the US is facing the possibility of another budgetary showdown with potentially even higher stakes – the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year – Wall Street lobbyists are preparing an aggressive campaign to stop the political brinksmanship.
"The experience of last year taught everybody to be ... focused on it earlier and not assume that this is business as usual,” said one bank lobbyist based in Washington. “People who had relied on government to respond eventually were surprised when it didn’t.”...
Different business sectors are preparing for the looming fiscal cliff with varying degrees of urgency. Among the most aggressive in pushing for a deal are defence contractors who would bear the brunt of the planned cuts to the Pentagon budget. Medical providers would also be hit hard by the automatic cuts. Companies that pay large dividends – such as utilities – would be slammed if the tax rate on dividends rise as scheduled from 15 per cent to more than 40 per cent.
But financial services companies also have a huge amount at stake. The question is how to influence the political process that remains gridlocked ahead of the November election....
Then there are tactical considerations. Though one bank lobbyist partly blamed a faction of congressional Republicans for last August’s debt ceiling showdown, saying they were “willing to go off the cliff with all flags flying”, it is unclear whether it is in Wall Street’s interest to take on some of their traditional allies on Capitol Hill by pushing them to accept higher revenues or tax increases in any deficit reduction deal, as Democrats are demanding.
The fiscal cliff is still a long way off in political time, but is the strategy having any effect? Sort of. We're starting to see gravitas Republicans -- real ones, too, not just MSNBC media darlings -- calling for compromise. Calls that are annoying Grover Norquist.
And look -- here's a real live GOP Senator speaking tax heresy!
[Senator Lindsay] Graham says the debt crisis is so severe that the tax pledge — which says no tax loopholes can be eliminated unless every dollar raised by closing loopholes goes to tax cuts -- has got to go
"When you eliminate a deduction, it's okay with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That's where I disagree with the pledge," said Graham....
Graham said eliminating some deductions should free up money to lower tax rates — but also to pay down U.S. debt.
"I just think that makes a lot of sense. And if I'm willing to do that as a Republican, I've crossed a rubicon," said Graham.
This puts Graham at odds with his party's leadership.
And look! Real, actual negotiations in the Senate are taking place! So, does this mean the Democrat/Wall Street strategy is paying dividends? Will Tom Friedman and David Brooks soon be able to wax poetic about "statesmanlike" politicians cutting a Grand Bargain?
No, not really.
Jeb Bush is not an elected official any more. Lindsey Graham is, but he likes to talk iconoclasm every once in a while, so I'm not sure how much weight it carries (if it was Jim DeMint uttering these words, I'd be more convinced). And let's look a little closer at the New York Times story on the Senate negotiations, shall we?
Republican leaders remain largely on the sideline. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, applauded what he called “grass roots” negotiations, but conceded that neither he nor other party leaders had been directly involved, aside from efforts to stave off automatic defense cuts. Still, even he is making conciliatory comments on raising taxes, the issue that has kept Republican leaders from the table.
And this is on the Senate side -- what really matters is whether the House GOP caucus will agree to any of this.
In some ways, the next six months will be an excellent test of the roles that money and ideology play in current American party politics. If money is the honey, then a deal will be cut, and well before December. As the myriad articles suggest, what freaked out business wasn't just the rank partisanship during the last debt deebacle, it was how close things got to a breakdown. They don't want to see that happen again.
If ideology is what counts, however, then the House GOP won't budge, if at all, until the last minute. They don't want to see taxes go up, but I'm not sure that they would be willing to make a compromise that would permanently eliminate tax deductions in order to preserve the status quo in income tax rates.
What do you think?
In the beginning, political science blogs were mostly founded by
frustrated policy wonks idiosyncratic scholars. And lo, Lee Sigelman God spoke, and said, "hey, blogs are cool," and then The Monkey Cage was created -- and it was good. And now a whole cornucopia of political science blogs are arriving on the scene, written by people who are about as central to the profession as one can get.
So, for those of you interested in political violence and civil wars, be sure to bookmark Political Violence @ a Glance. It's a new group blog created by some of the all-starts in the field -- Barbara Walter, Christian Davenport, Page Fortna, Roland Paris, Matt Kocher, Steve Saideman, Andrew Kydd, and many, many more.
This blog, combined with the debut of The Mischiefs of Faction, have really amped up the presence of political scientists in the blogosphere. It's just too bad that the mainstream foreign policy community continues to neglect the contribution of political sci--- say, who's that on the cover of the Foreign Affairs? Is that Kenneth Waltz, Robert Keohane, and Graham Allison I see?
At a time when the United States is facing serious domestic and international challenges, it sure is nice to see so many political scientists engaged in public discourse on important issues of the day. I'm sure these contributions will be appreciated by the non-academic wings of the foreign policy community. Oh, wait...
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.