Earlier in the week the Washington Post's Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake's amendment to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science. In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop.
Now, I can respect someone who tries to make the argument that the opportunity costs of funding the social sciences are big enough that this is where a budget cut should take place. It's harder, however, to respect someone who:
2) Is unaware that the social sciences are -- increasingly -- running experiments as well;
3) Believes that because individual social scientists have normative preferences, the whole enterprise cannnot be objective (or, in other words, doesn't undersand the scientific enterprise at all);
4) Fails to comprehend the economics of public goods;
5) Hasn't really thought through what would happen if all social science was privately funded.
Now, all columnists can have a bad day, so that's fine. What I find intriguing, however, is that Lane's response to criticism from political scientists to his essay can be summarized in one tweet: "shorter my critics re poli sci funding: we want our money." This is cute, but overlooks the fact that a lot of Lane's poli sci critics -- myself included -- haven't received a dime in NSF funding.
More disconcertingly, it's intellectually lazy. Sources of funding do matter in public discourse, but they do not vitiate the logic contained in the arguments linked to above. This is simply Lane's cheap and easy excuse for not engaging the substance of his critics' arguments.
The hard-working folks here at the blog believe strongly in reciprocity, so Lane has done us a small favor -- we no longer need to read Chuck Lane's arguments all that carefully, or take him all that seriously, ever again.
Lots o' stuff to chat about in the higher education universe, but let's keep it to three items in this blog post:
1) My student-soon-to-be-Doctor-of-Philosophy Patrick Meier and Chris Albon blog "Advice to Future PhDs from 2 Unusual Graduating PhDs." They make some interesting, provocative, and dare I say counterintuitive arguments.
I disagree with a couple of their points. First of all, I ain't buying "the blog is the new CV." The blog is a calling card, and if you're lucky it's a branding device -- but it's not the same thing as a vita. Second of all, I think they tend to inductively generalize from their own experiences and capabilities. Not everyone should take on outside projects or teach at every opportunity, because these are excellent not-writing-your-dissertation activities. Finally, I think their seven pieces of advice are out of sequence. Their #3, #6 and #7 are the most important things. Only once you've answered those questions should you even consider following the rest of their advice. Still, read the whole thing.
2) I see that Naomi Schaefer Riley got fired from her Chronicle of Higher Education gig for writing a 500 word blog post bashing dissertations-in-progress in African-American studies without reading them. Riley has written her response on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. James Joyner provides an excellent round-up of the affair. My take is similar to Joyner in that, to be blunt, neither the Chronicle nor Riley come out of this looking very good. The Chronicle looks like it kowtowed to the pressures of academic political correctness by either not reacting sooner or standing their ground. Riley, on the other hand, has put herself in the indefensible position of calling for greater academic rigor while whinging that those standards shouldn't apply to her when she blogs for the Chronicle. So, a pox on everyone's house for this affair.
3) The House of Representatives, in its infinite wisdom, has voted to cut funding for political science -- and only political science -- from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences part of the National Science Foundation. Representative Jeff Flake's justified cutting the funding using pretty much the same logic as Senator Tom Coburn did in 2009 when he lamely tried to do the same thing [At least he didn't claim that "social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos"!!--ed. Thank goodness for small favors.] .
There’s real irony here in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting to defund a political-science program at a time when the Department of Defense and “intelligence community” seem to be increasing spending on it. With things like the Minerva Initiative, ICEWS, IARPA’s Open Source Indicators programs, the parts of the government concerned with protecting national security seem to find growing value in social-science research and are spending accordingly. Meanwhile, the party that claims to be the stalwart defender of national security pulls in the opposite direction, like the opposing head on Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu. Nice work, fellas.
Last Wednesday Thomas Friedman wrote a very silly column in which he called for Michael Bloomberg to enter the presidential race because
he had an annoying experience at Union Station he thinks the United States needs a real leader:
[W]ith Europe in peril, China and America wobbling, the Arab world in turmoil, energy prices spiraling and the climate changing, we are facing some real storms ahead. We need to weatherproof our American house — and fast — in order to ensure that America remains a rock of stability for the world. To do that, we’ll have to make some big, hard decisions soon — and to do that successfully will require presidential leadership in the next four years of the highest caliber.
This election has to be about those hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices — how we set our economy on a clear-cut path of near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform. The next president has to have a mandate to do all of this.
But, today, neither party is generating that mandate — talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode.
The Twitterati and blogosphere reaction to Friedman's argument tended towards the scathing, and now we're beginning to see the responses elaborated to op-ed length. This smart essay, for example, makes the very trenchant point that in a political structure with so many veto points , so much political polarization and so many entrenched interests, the ability of any one leader to reform the system on the scale that Friedman proposes is next to impossible:
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
We can’t be great as long as we remain a vetocracy rather than a democracy. Our deformed political system — with a Congress that’s become a forum for legalized bribery — is now truly holding us back.
Congratulations to present Thomas Friedman -- for effectively refuting past Tom Friedman.
I like to think of myself as a pretty good teacher. I've been doing this for more than 15 years, and while I've dabbled in the fancier technologies, I've concluded that the meat and potatoes of podium, lectern, chalk, and blackboard have worked the best.
At last week's International Studies Association meetings, however, I participated in a panel on "Transnational Politics and Information Technology," in which Charli Carpenter delivered the following presentation:
Now, I'm clearly pretty comfortable with Web 2.0 technologies, and some of the themes Carpenter touches on in this presentation echoes points I've made on this blog and... co-authoring with Carpenter. To be blunt, however, if this is the standard to which future international relations teaching pedagogy will be held... then the future is going to kick my ass.
Seriously, watch the whole thing.
UPDATE: Over at Duck of Minerva, Carpenter discusses her video at greater length. One key point:
It's true that short video mash-ups can make good teaching tools (especially if you can't be present but you want students to absorb the material anyway). But the amount of prep-time to do presentations like this well on a day by day basis would be prohibitive and unnecessary, even counter-productive. Classrooms work best when profs throw out provocative material and allow students to react, then facilitate discussion.
A few days ago Dan Nexon went on a pretty epic rant filled with mixed emotions about the increased professionalization of Ph.D. programs in political science. Well, not professionalization in general, but rather the tilt of current professionalization trends towards the mathematical. To be clear, Nexon doesn't think this is an unalloyed bad, and would probably make the same recommendation I have made about the need to get comfortable with math. I think Nexon's discomfort comes from the systemic implications for the discipline that comes from every graduate student responding to these incentives.
Dan's post has prompted multiple responses, including Steve Saideman and Erik Voeten, that are worth reading. I'll try to articulate some of my own thoughts on the matter over the weekend. For now, however, I want to respond to James Joyner's reply. As a Ph.D. in political science who then
left the church entered the policy world, James sympathizes with Nexon's rant and articulates what I fear is a common lament for foreign policy wonks:
The down side, though, is that the academic study of IR has divorced itself from the real world study of the actual conduct of international relations. Those who serve in government and work in the IR-focused think tanks tend to go to the public policy schools rather than mainline PhD programs. And the work being done by academics in IR is largely irrelevant and inaccessible to the policy community. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a copy of International Studies Quarterly, much less the American Political Science Review. Frankly, I’m not sure I could read those journals at this point if I wanted to.
Joyner makes two claims here: a) the substance of academic political science has become too divorced from policy; and b) regardless of the substance, the methods and the modeling are no so arcane that these articles can't be processed.
You know what? Let's take a look at the latest issues of International Studies Quarterly and American Political Science Review to see if Joyner (and, tangentially, Nexon) is correct about his twin assertions: that academic political science is working on policy irrelevant issues, and has anyway become too hard for policy wonks to digest.
Joyner has half a point with respect to the APSR. Because that is one of the flagship journals, and because the lion's share of political scientists are not doing IR or comparative, the bulk of the articles published in that journal are targeted towards Americanists and political theorists. The February 2012 issue is no exception: six of the nine research essays would be uninteresting to Joyner (though, ironically, one of those is a critique of experimental methodology).
On the other hand, the three remaining essays are both pretty damn interesting and policy relevant. John Freeman and Dennis Quinn's article on the effect of financial liberalization in autocratic states puts forward an easy-to-comprehend causal logic. It's also hugely policy relevant if you're interested in authoritarian capitalism -- in fact, I cited it in a blog post last week. I should have also cited the other relevant APSR article in this issue -- by Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph and Mingxing Liu -- on the determinants of promotion to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Fortunately, Erik Voeten caught this for me.
That leaves Faisal Ahmed's essay on aid and remittances, which raises the problematic point that autocratic governments will exploit large remittance flows to substitute away from public goods to policies that favor narrow ruling coalitions, thereby extending their stay in power. All three articles use econometric methods to estimate large-N regressions -- but the causal stories are pretty easy to get. In my experience, this is a typical issue of the APSR: I probably only care about two or three articles per issue, but they tend to be pretty interesting.
As for ISQ, there are thirteen research articles, and I'm not gonna go through all of them in such detail. You should, however, because access to this issue is free for everyone! Going over the essays, I'd say that ten out of the thirteen have direct policy relevance -- i.e., they contain an explanation or hypothesis that would be extremely useful to either an operational policymaker or a strategic planner. As for the methodological barriers, of the thirteen articles in the issue, nine of them follow the same blueprint: a pretty simple and accessible theoretical section, followed by large-N testing on a data set. Three of the articles had both a readily accessible theory and used qualitative methods for their data testing. Only one article would fall under the "too inaccessible to read" category.
I think the academic/policy divide has been wildly overblown, but here's my modest suggestion on how to bridge it even further. First, wonks should flip through at recent issues of APSR and ISQ -- and hey, peruse International Organization, International Security, and World Politics while you're at it. You'd find a lot of good, trenchant, policy-adjacent stuff. Second, might I suggest that authors at these journals be allowed to write a second abstract -- and abstract for policymakers, if you will? Even the most jargonesed academic should be able to pull off one paragraph of clean prose. Finally, wonks should not be frightened by statistics. That is by far the dominant "technical" barrier separating these articles from general interest reader.
Am I missing anything?
OK, in Episode I, your humble blogger talked about what undergraduates should and should not do to get into a quality Ph.D. program in political science. In this exciting sequel, the natural question to ask is, "what if I'm not an undergraduate?"
To explain the advice I'm about to give, however, let me begin with a small parable. Consider two applicants, Johnny Undergrad and Jenny Postgrad. By a strange coincidence, Johnny and Jenny matriculated at the same undergraduate institution, received identical grades during their time as undergraduates, and both wrote fine theses. They both followed the guidance provided in my dos and don'ts post to the letter. The only difference is that Jenny is four years out of college, while Johnny is not. The latter, a senior, is now applying to grad programs. So is Jenny, but she's spent the past four years earning some coin and collecting some very relevant work experience for an important government/multinational corporation/NGO/think tank organization.
Now, you would think, ceteris paribus, that Jenny would have the stronger application for a Ph.D. admissions committee - she's more mature, more seasoned, and possesses an identical academic record. But you would likely be wrong.
See, Johnny has been in more recent contact with his undergrad professors. Since their memory of Johnny is likely stronger than Jenny, their letters of recommendation will be less bland and boilerplate. Johnny hasn't signaled that callings other than being a professor might tempt him, since he applied straight out of undergrad. Johnny's grades are an accurate reflection of his abilities, whereas Jenny's academic skills atrophy with every year out of the ivory tower (pro tip: if you don't know what ceteris paribus means, you're in trouble). Any thesis that Johnny has written is more up-to date.
This is the challenge you face if you are a post-baccalaureate applicant - and with each year further away from your graduation date, these problems get worse. So, if you want to be admitted, Jenny's goal should be to do everything possible to her file resemble something that blows Johnny out of the water. How does she do that? Here are five useful tips:
1. Reconnect with your professors. You need to have strong letters of recommendation, and almost all of those letters should come from people inside the academy. Fair or not, admissions committees will discount letters from people who themselves do not have a Ph.D.. If you're thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program, start by making sure the profs who you worked closely with as an undergraduate have a sharp memory of you. Remind them of what you were interested in as an undergrad and update them on what's your interests are now. If you've collaborated with academics during your post-bac jobs, make sure they write you a letter. You will need one recommendation from your supervisor/boss even if they don't have a Ph.D. - but make damn sure that, besides praising your overall competence and maturity, they talk about your burning desire to go back to the academy.
2. Ace your GREs. The GREs are a good first approximation of whether you have the intellectual chops to cut it in a doctoral program. If you've been out of school for a while, they might count a bit more, because there is that question of whether you're really ready to go back to school. An outstanding GRE score will not automatically get you admitted, but it can allay any fears about your abilities to earn a Ph.D.
3. Craft your personal statement with care. You have a more interesting tale to tell than undergraduate applicants, because you're like, older and stuff. That said, the statement also needs to signal an admissions committee that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and are eager for the challenge. Sure, you can talk about how your research interests are born out of your real-world experience, but make sure you also phrase your research interests in the context of the relevant literature. Again, this signals to an admissions committee that you know your interests from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, as a twentysomething, you have the luxury of reading up on the relevant academic literature and not being intimidated by big words like when you were 18 years old. Use that intellectual maturity to your advantage in your statement!!
4. Publish, publish, publish! You know that phrase "publish or perish?" It's not just for professors anymore. Demonstrating an ability to publish - even if the publication is not a peer-reviewed academic journal - is a signal to an admissions committee that you understand what you're getting yourself into. Publishing in a policy journal, or a think tank report, can count for something - particularly if it's a sustained piece of research. So, if your job requires you to write, try to get that writing into the public domain.
5. Get a master's degree. OK, let's say that your undergraduate performance was... less than stellar. Or, it's been a long time (more than five years) since you were in college. These are the situations when getting either a professional or terminal master's degree makes some sense -and a two-year program is a better option than a one-year program. If you know you want to get a Ph.D., then make sure you indicate that fact to the professors closest to your area of interest at the outset, take their courses, and have them supervise your thesis. Oh, and write a sharp M.A. thesis and think about getting it published. Strong letters from professors indicating that you did well in graduate school are the ultimate trump card, and are the one way that Jenny's application packet can blow Johnny's out of the water. With a good M.A. degree, Jenny can ensure that she is a better, stronger, faster version of Johnny.
Now, I'm still a bit reluctant to proffer this last recommendation, for a few reasons. First, a terminal master's ain't cheap. This means accruing a decent amount of debt and then going to graduate school for a few more years and then, if you're lucky, getting a job that won't help all that much in paying down your debt. Second, this approach takes at least two years to execute. You can't apply to a Ph.D. program in your first year of an M.A. program, because applications need to be in by January and your master's program profs won't know you well enough to draft good letters (that's why a two-year program is superior). Furthermore, as crazy as this sounds, for most Ph.D. programs, your M.A. coursework won't count - you'll often need to do a certain number of course requirements (it does help intellectually, however). And with all of this, there's still no guarantee you get accepted.
All that said, however, if you really want the Ph.D. and you're well out of college, this is the best gambit. A strong performance in an M.A. program - professional or not - is the best signal to a Ph.D. admissions committee that you can cut it in a doctoral program. Oh, and one last point: as a risk-averse strategy, choose an M.A. program at a Ph.D.-granting institution, so you can always try to complete your doctorate in your home institution.
After blogging last week about the gendered effects of a Ph.D. for foreign policy professionals, I got a reasonable query from Caitlin Fitzgerald: if getting a Ph.D. is so great, how does one get accepted into a doctoral program in political science?
This is a good question. Despite all of the warnings being proffered about the stultifying nature of graduate school and the horrible, very-bad, not-so-great quality of the academic job market, competition to get into top-tier grad schools is still quite high. So, how do you get in?
As someone who got accepted into a very competitive Ph.D. program in
Boston San Francisco - well, not in San Francisco, but nearby - no, not Santa Clara [OK, that's enough!!--ed.] and as someone who has sat in on more than his fair share of admissions committees, I can proffer some useful tips. I'm going to do this in two parts: first, what undergraduates should do, and then what post-baccalaureate types should do. I'm starting with the undergraduates because it's not too late for them it's at the college level when an individual applicant can lay the necessary groundwork for a strong application.
Before I jump into the five dos and don'ts, let me remind you of something: in good Ph.D. programs, admissions committees are looking for a reason to ding you. The problem is a surfeit, not a dearth, of qualified applicants. By the last stages of the process, admissions committees are often making accept-or-reject decisions on distinctions so minor that no one would admit them publicly (it's not that we want to do this - it's that admissions slots are scarce and looking at minutiae seems fairer than, say, a random draw). What this means is that any serious chink in your admissions armor - low GPA, low GREs, weak recommendations, etc. - gives an admissions committee a valid excuse to ding you. So if you're really interested, you have to make sure that every facet of your application is up to par.
With that out of the way, here are the Five Dos and Five Don'ts for undergraduates applying to Political Science Ph.D. programs in either international relations or comparative politics:
THE FIVE DOS:
1. Read some actual political science. This might sound obvious, but a lot of undergraduate programs in political science -- particularly in the first few years -- will have syllabi larded with weird textbooks and Foreign Affairs articles. And that's OK for undergrads -- but if you're thinking of getting a Ph.D. and you're not terribly familiar with either International Organization or the American Political Science Review, you're in for a world of hurt. Read the journals to get a sense of A) what it's like to write in political sciencese; B) not sound like an idiot when you write your application; and C) Make sure, one last time, that this is really what you want to do for the next six years.
2. Write a thesis. Ph.D. programs want to be sure that you will have the intellectual chops to do real research and real writing. The best opportunity you'll have to do that as an undergrad is your B.A. thesis. If you don't write one and apply to a Ph.D. program, that's a red flag. Why didn't you write one? If you can't handle that, how could you handle a dissertaton? So write a thesis whether it's required or not -- and make sure it's good.
3. Get comfortable with math. Even if you're aspiring to do pure political theory or qualitative work, you're going to have to take classes in methodology, game theory and econometrics in graduate school. Oh, and by the way, with the arrival of Big Data, even areas of research that used to be qualitative are becoming quantitative. The less innumerate you are, the less these courses will seem like a foreign language. At a minimum, make sure you have familiarity with intermediate-level statistics and multivariate calculus. Linear algebra is nice too.
4. Go abroad and learn a language. Experience is not weighted all that heavily in grad school applications. Overseas experience is an exception, particularly if you want to specialize in an area or region of the globe. Learning a language pertinent to that region or area will help as well. Exploit study abroad programs as a way to signal that you'll be up for the rigors of field work.
5. Get rich. Ready for some real-keeping? If you can fund your own ticket for graduate school, the admissions standards are not nearly so high. Whether you inherit family wealth, win an NSF fellowship, or finally make sure that Nigerian e-mailer comes through, having no need for fellowship support makes you a freebie to most programs. At that point, the equation changes from "is this candidate among the best?" to "is this candidate above the bar?" The latter is much easier to clear than the former.
And now.... THE FIVE DON'TS:
1. E-mail professors in Ph.D. programs at length. Your mileage may vary, but speaking personally, I'm at the point where I get so many of these emails that I ignore all of them. All. Of. Them. Why? Because professors are not stupid -- we know you're sending these out en masse, we don't know whether you really have the chops to get a degree, and because we don't make decisions like this because of e-mails. I won't deny that this tactic might work once in a blue moon, but it's been so played out that most profs' eyes glaze over a these missives.
2. Detail, at length, your plans to change the world in your personal statement. The personal statement in a doctoral admissions packet is the easiest way for a candidate to screw up -- it'll be almost as bad as your dissertation prospectus. What admissions committees are looking for are signs of emotional and intellectual maturity matched with an ambition to do first-rate research. They are not looking for "and then I realized" epiphanies about how getting a Ph.D. will allow you to change the world. Backstory matters in explaining why you're interested in doing what you're doing, but don't kid yourself -- unless you're a survivor of an ethnic cleansing, your personal narrative at 21 is just not that interesting. Side note: if you are the survivor of an ethnic cleansing, hey, go to town in your statement.
3. Put all your application eggs into one basket. Let's say you've done everything I've suggested. Let's say you've researched grad schools carefully, and have decided that, given you're research interests, the only person you can work with is Robert Bates at Harvard. Congratulations, you've gone overboard in specializing!! Apply to good programs, not just to work with one person. Individual professors move, retire, pass away, go on sabbatical, or drink too much and hit on students and make things veeeeery awkward in the aftermath. Diversify your portfolio and make sure you apply to programs with a deep bench in your area of interest.
4. Get celebrity professors to write you letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation matter a lot to this process, and I've noticed a trend among those-savvy-beyond-their-years to make sure they ingratiate themselves with well-known professors as a way of calling attention to one's application. I get this instinct, and done well it can work -- a glowing letter from, say, Madeleine Albright or Zbigniew Brzezinski that indicates deep knowledge about you can be a game-changer. Here's the thing, though -- 99% of the recommendation letters I read from people at this level of fame are bland, impersonal boilerplate. That will hurt you. So don't bend your research interests to match a star professor -- make sure that the profs who know your area well also know you well enough to write good letters of recommendation.
5. Take on debt. Let's say you work really hard and get accepted to a top tier program, but without the fellowship support that you need because -- silly you! -- you're not rich. You night start thinking, "sure, I'll have to take on some debt, but it's a great program and therefore worth it." Wrong! First of all, it's not like you're going to be raking in the bucks as a post-grad -- even a small amount of debt can be financially debilitating. Second, not getting a fellowship is a powerful signal of lukewarm interest on the part of the school, so you'd already be starting with a strike against you. Unless you're rich, only attend traditional Ph.D. programs that offer you full tuition and a stipend.
Oh, and one bonus DON'T:
5*. Talk up your blog or Twitter feed as an example of research. It isn't research, and no one cares anyway.
Part II -- what to do if you've been out of college for a while and want to apply to get a Ph.D. -- will follow this week.
Professors -- am I missing anything? Any more advice to proffer?
So my post earlier this week on the comparative advantages and disadvantages for women getting Ph.D.s to advance a career in foreign policy generated a lot of traffic, and some few very useful addendums. It also generated some accusations that my discourse is sexist, heteronormative, etc. I'm going to
marginalize ignore the latter, because the people who took offense at, say, the title of my post are the people who will take offense at sneezing wrong.
Instead, here are three follow-on thoughts from Official Friend of the Blog Amy B. Zegart, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution:
I call the PhD for women "the don't mess with me degree." Particularly in national security, when you're dealing with military officers (most of them men) who literally wear their accomplishments on their clothing, walking in the room with "Dr." in your title goes a long way to confer immediate legitimacy. The PhD says, "this woman is smart AND masochistic enough to survive a grueling doctoral program."
This is an excellent observation, and one I heard from several other women who went the doctoral route. Zegart's second observation:
Because women in national security are relatively few and far between, we tend to get asked to do more things to show that women in national security can do more things. This is where good intentions can have perverse effects: "wouldn't it be great to have a woman to speak that conference/committee/donor event/parents' weekend panel?" can lead to overload, particularly for female junior faculty. The antidote (saying no) is not hard in theory but it is in practice.
I strongly suspect that this is a problem for both women and minorities. Being underrepresented means being asked to perform a greater number of "service" functions in the name of diversity. The result is a genuine tax on junior people in policy and scholarly career tracks. Learning to say "no" without fear is an incredibly valuable and hard-to-master skill.
Zegart's last point:
I don't think... the beginning and end of the PhD [are] the only two tough times. The middle may be worse in terms of women losing ground relative to male peers. One reason is parental leave policies. Here, too, the reasons are counter-intuitive. Many dads are very involved parents, but let's face it, they don't have the same body parts as women. Biology means that most women have a much greater physical toll associated with childbirth and the raising of small kids than men do. So treating dads and mom the same (tenure clock extensions, course reductions for all faculty, regardless of gender) really isn't treating them the same at all -- because there's a higher chance that dads can physically use the extra time for research while moms are still brain dead from round-the-clock nursing and infant childcare. By my third kid, I finally figured out that the best strategy was NOT to use maternity leave right after childbirth; instead, I taught, and negotiated to bank the maternity leave time for the following year, when I was rested enough to make the most of that time to write my next book.
So here you go.
Erik Voeten reminds us that now is the time "when undergraduates interested in a career in political science have to choose between PhD programs." Erik offers some very useful pointers on how to choose, but there is a deeper question to ask -- is it worth it to get a Ph.D. in political science? As one graduate student blogging at Duck of Minerva puts it:
I'm loving graduate school; it's been on balance the best time of my life; and nevertheless there have been times when (to quote a colleague) I've wished I'd taken the blue pill and kept my job.
Or, as Steve Saideman phrases it:
[A] PhD in Political Science should only be for those who are passionate and curious and do not care where they end up living. And that they need to be aware that the job market can be pretty challenging and stressful.
Checking my blog archives, I see that I've mused on this topic before -- so, rather than repeat myself, here are some links. If you're wondering about the virtues of getting a Ph.D. vs. a policy degree like SAIS or Fletcher, click here and here. If you're really interested in politics and are debating between a Ph.D., a law degree, or going the apprentice route, click here.
But I want to blog about a question related to something buzzing about the foreign policy blogosphere: what if you're female? Micah Zenko at CFR and Diana Wueger at Gunpowder & Lead have blogged about the underrepresentation of women in foreign policy positions in the government, think tanks or the academy. Wueger asks readers to "spend 10 minutes thinking about what you can do to help your female staff or friends or Twitterbuddies to advance in their careers."
After ten minutes, I have some positive words and some cautionary, bordeline controversial pieces of advice. Here goes.
My hunch is that, all else equal, the value-added of getting a Ph.D. might be greater for women than men. Wueger blogs about a big problem: the difficulty/trepidation that women have when seeking mentors, particularly if their field is dominated by men. The advantage of getting a Ph.D. is that it pretty much forces the person to work hard at collecting mentors and advisors. Furthermore, these relationships are forged through years of TAing, RAing, and pleading for dissertation advice. So, even if women are shyer about seeking mentors/male advisors are warier about advising female students, these barriers can be broken down with time.
That's the good news. The bad news is two-fold. First, Wueger argues that the assignments women get at the outset have a powerful effect on their later careers:
There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.
OK, for the record,
my male RAs were too forgetful to request as little starch as possible this is a problem, but I suspect it's decreasing. The more serious problem operates through a subtler channel -- women might get shunted into research areas that are seen as more female-friendly. For example, I believe that more women study international political economy or international organizations than international security. Even within security studies, I suspect that there are more women studying "human security" than more standard guns & bombs kind of security. This might be due to interest, but there are path-dependent effects at work, and so successive waves of women go into those fields in greater numbers. So, that's a thing.
The second problem is, I suspect, even greater and trickier to discuss, but here goes. Unlike the apprentice or professional degree paths, the Ph.D. route to a foreign policy career has a few BIG decision-making nodes that have profound effects on a person's career choice. For the Ph.D., the first job after getting one's doctorate matters a lot, particularly if said Ph.D. is pursuing the academic career track. The first job can define whether you want to be thought of as a researcher first, a teacher first, a policy wonk first, and so forth. Also, it usually requires moving -- with the exception of Ph.D. granting institutions in-Boston-well-not-in-Boston-but-nearby-no-not-Tufts, universities do not hire their own.
The thing is, most people are between 27-32 years of age when they complete their Ph.D.. This also happens to be the peak demographic of the whole getting married/having children phase of life. And, women tend to marry men a few years older than them. The professional difference between 50 and 53 is negligible, but those few years can make a HUGE difference in one's late twenties/early thirties. It means that, on average and regardless of career choice, the man in the relationship is more firmly embedded down his career path.
For newly-minted women Ph.D.s, this can impose profound constraints on career choices. Their best job offer might be inconvenient for their spouse's career, and so they pass on it. I saw this very dynamic play out multiple times with female colleagues when I was in graduate school. There are a lot of good reasons to subordinate one's first job choice to family considerations, but it has a negative impact on one's long-term career trajectory.
[What about you?--ed. As a man, the age effect was reversed. My fiancee was younger and therefore at a more embryonic stage of her career, which meant she was more portable. For the record, I accepted a post-doc that I otherwise wouldn't have taken for her career, but this was a minimal sacrifice. It only delayed my first job by a year and I got a ton of writing done during those twelve months.]
This problem is not unique to those earning doctorates. Those with non-Ph.D. career tracks , however, have more career-decision nodes at later and earlier ages. I suspect this problem is magnified for Ph.D.s in a way that it isn't for those who pursue more apprentice-oriented or shorter-degree tracks. But I'd be interested in hearing differing opinions on this in the comments below.
So, to sum up: if you're a woman and you're trying to pursue a foreign policy career, there are some advantages by getting the Ph.D., but there are big pitfalls at the beginning and end of getting the doctorate. I urge you to have a good sense of what you want to study before someone shapes that decision for you. And have some good, long conversations with any potential spouse about what you want to do with your career.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I?
When James Q. Wilson passed away earlier this week from leukemia, political science lost a legend. Wilson was like his onetime colleague Samuel Huntington: he wrote far and wide and without fear. His most well-known argument was the "broken windows" theory of crime. He posited (along with George Kelling) that the best way to reduce serious crime was for a neighborhood to be vigilant about more minor (but publicly visible) signs of disorder, like grafitti and broken windows.
For me, however, it was his work on bureaucracy that stood out. His two books on political bureaucracy -- Political Organizations and Bureaucracy -- are landmarks in the field. Bureaucracy in particular is a fantastically rich work, akin to Tom Schelling's Strategy of Conflict, in that a generation of organizational politics scholars could take a half-page of Wilson's musings and spin them into entire books.
For some lovely obituaries, see Arthur Brooks in the Wall Street Journal, Harvey Mansfield in the Weekly Standard, and Mark Kleiman at SameFacts. Wilson was a conservative, and many of his arguments were consistent with conservative principles. He was first and foremost a social scientist, however, acutely conscious of his own biases and willing to reverse course when need be. Kleiman's post encapsulates this point nicely:
The things that made Jim special – beyond is massive intellect, wide reading, and graceful, accurate prose – were his generosity of spirit and his deep moral and intellectual seriousness. At a time when he was very much committed to the Red team, he helped spread my ideas despite what he knew were my strong Blue loyalties. (Unsolicited, he gave When Brute Force Fails, which is largely a rebuttal to Thinking About Crime, its best blurb.) Jim wanted to get things right, even when that meant acknowledging that he had earlier been wrong: a tendency not common among academics, or among participants in policy debates.
Recently I was asked to sign on to an amicus brief in a case involving the constitutionality of imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who were legally juveniles at the time of their offending behavior. The argument of the brief was straightforward: legislatures had passed juvenile LWOP under the influence of the idea that the 1980s had seen the rise of a new generation of “juvenile super-predators,” whose propensity to violence put the nation at risk of a bloodbath once they became adults unless they were kept behind bars. In fact, the upsurge in deadly violence by adolescents turned out to be merely a side-effect of the crack markets; instead of soaring, violent crime fell sharply. But the laws passed while the theory was in vogue remain in force.
Jim had been one of the promoters of the “super-predator” theory, though he was not its originator. When I glanced down the list of signatories for the amicus I found, at the bottom, “James Q. Wilson.”
Brooks has a nice quote from Wilson about how to be a conservative in the overwhelmingly liberal profession of academia: "Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues." That was James Q. Wilson.
The best way to honor his legacy is to buy and read Bureaucracy. You won't be sorry.
One could argue that the job of ambassador has been made obsolete by macrotrends in technology and politics. Oh, sure, maybe traditional envoys from great powers still play an important role in smaller countries that don't normally capture much attention in major capitals. Among the great powers, however, one could posit that ambassadors are superfluous. In a world in which heads of government and foreign ministers have multiple direct means of communication, in which you can't go a week without some big global summit, and in which leaders are wary of confiding with ambassadors because
they'll quit and then run for head of government that's just another press leak waiting to happen, what can ambassadors really do? Will we see the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, or even Anatoly Dobrynin ever again?
Probably not, but even in the 21st century, great power ambassadors to other great powers still serve a purpose. In the case of American ambassadors to Russia and China, they can excel at getting under the skin of their host country governments. Gary Locke seems to be doing that pretty well in China, in no small part by being an ethnic Chinese politician that doesn't seem to be behaving like Chinese politicians.
In the case of Russia, there's the new ambassador Michael McFaul, who before this was in Obama's National Security Council and one of the architects o the "reset" policy, and before that was a professor of political science at Stanford (full disclosure: Mike's first year at Stanford as a professor was my last there as a grad student, and he's been a friend to me ever since).
In the annals of American diplomacy, few honeymoons have been shorter than the one granted to Michael A. McFaul, who arrived in Russia on Jan. 14 as the new American ambassador.
Toward the end of the ambassador’s second full day at work, a commentator on state-controlled Channel 1 suggested during a prime-time newscast that Mr. McFaul was sent to Moscow to foment revolution. A columnist for the newspaper Izvestia chimed in the next day, saying his appointment signaled a return to the 18th century, when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business.”....
Mr. McFaul, 48, has arrived in a city churning with conjecture and paranoia. The public attack illustrates how edgy the Kremlin is about the protest movement that has taken shape, turning Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election campaign into a nerve-racking test for the government. It also reveals how fragile relations are between Washington and Mr. Putin’s government, which has repeatedly accused the State Department of orchestrating the demonstrations.
If the blast of venom that greeted Mr. McFaul was intended as a warning to maintain a low profile in his new role, he seems unlikely to comply. At the end of his first week, he was exuberant, saying his goal was to “destroy cold war stereotypes,” especially misstatements about the United States’ intentions in Russia.
“I know I’m just going to go in full force, I’ve got nothing to hide, and we feel very confident in our policy and in selling our policy,” said Mr. McFaul, a native of Bozeman, Mont., who spent much of his career in academia. He does not need to fret over his next diplomatic posting, he added, because there will not be one.
“I ain’t going nowhere else,” he said, with a big smile. “This is it. I am not a career diplomat. And so I am here to do that in a very, very aggressive way.”
As someone who spent a short stint in DC, I recognize the sentiment McFaul expressed in that last paragraph. The exit option is one of the greatest assets an academic has if they enter the foreign policymaking world. Of course, that option can also encourage policymakers to stray way outside the reservation, so it kind of depends upon which academic has been appointed. In the case of McFaul, I'm very confident he will use this power for the forces of good.
The New York Times' Roger Cohen files an optimistic column today, arguing that predictions of American decline are premature. I tend to agree with Cohen's sentiment but not his logic because, well, it's God-awful. Here's the key bits:
Perhaps the most successful U.S. chief executive of the past decade is stepping down this month. Samuel Palmisano of I.B.M. has presided over a remarkable transformation of the technology giant, extracting it from the personal computer business and shifting it toward services and software to power a “Smarter Planet.”
In a fascinating interview with my colleague Steve Lohr, Palmisano said the first of the four questions in his guiding business framework was, “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?” At root, business is still about getting money out of your pocket into mine. By being unsentimental in making I.B.M. unique, Palmisano ensured a lot of money flowed the company’s way.
Profits followed. The stock price surged. Warren Buffett, who knows which way the wind blows, recently acquired a stake of more than 5 percent. I.B.M. has been re-imagined, not least in the way it has shifted from being a U.S. multinational to a global corporation powered by rapid expansion in growth markets like India and China.
The question arises: If an American colossus like I.B.M. can be turned around, can America itself? (emphasis added)
A small aside: if Cohen's logic is correct, then the 2012 election is over and everyone should vote for Mitt Romney. This kind of ruthless turnaround is exactly what Romney did while at Bain. While his track record can be disputed, there's no doubt that he was willing to be ruthless to increase profits. So, whether he knows it or not, Cohen is making the argument that a turnaround specialist like Romney would be just the ticket for the United States, transforming America's political economy into a leaner, more efficient engine for progress.
The thing is -- and this is kind of important -- governments are not corporations. I cannot stress this enough. There's the obvious point that in democracies, legislatures tend to impose a more powerful constraint than shareholders, making it that much harder for leaders to execute the policies they think will be the most efficient.
There's also the deeper point that it's a lot harder for governments to be "unsentimental" when it comes to the provision of public services. It's a lot harder for states to eliminate the functions that are less efficient. Frequently, demand for government services emerges because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area. This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do. It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich's claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable. Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan.
To be fair, there are some policy dimensions where this analogy holds up better. Cohen implicitly argues that America's willingness to jettison costly and inefficient foreign ventures -- cough, Iraq, cough -- is an example of this kind of turnaround strategy. Fair enough. Even on foreign policy, however, it's hard to execute this kind of ruthless efficiency. Israel is prosperous enough to not need the $3 billion it gets in U.S. aid. Good luck to anyone trying to cut that. Africa is not a vital strategic areas of interest for the United States, but I suspect AFRICOM isn't going anywhere. I've been a big fan of getting the United States out of Central Asia, but critics make a fair point when they observe that the last time the United States tried this gambit, Al Qaeda took advantage of it.
There's been a lot of bragging in the 2012 primary about candidates that have "real world" business experience, and how that translates into an effective ability to govern. That logic is horses**t. Being president is a fundamentally different job than being a CEO -- because countries are not corporations.
Yesterday Foreign Policy published the graphics-friendly results of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP), as conducted by William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. Some of the results -- there's a plurality of constructivists in the field -- have already provoked some interesting blog discussion. There's also the more juicy debates over the best Ph.D. programs, best M.A. programs, and most influential people in our small, small universe.
Your humble blogger must confess to having a different interest in the results. The good folks running the survey were kind enough to add some questions about how scholars think Web 2.0 technologies -- blogs, wikis, tweets, podcasts, etc. -- fit into our discipline. This is a natural follow-on to some research that Charli Carpenter and I published recently. Since this is the first time these sorts of questions have been asked, this is strictly a "snapshot" of where the field was in 2011, not the trend over time. Still, given the anecdotal evidence of prior hostility to these technologies, it's an interesting snapshot.
Looking at the topline survey results, here are the most interesting tidbits I found:
1) More than 28% of respondents cited a blog post in their scholarship, and more than 56% used blogs as a teaching tool. The positive responses for newer Web 2.0 technologies -- Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube -- were much smaller on the research side. On the other hand, a stunning 90% of respondents said they used YouTube in their teaching.
2) 28% of respondents had, at a minimum, contributed to a blog. 7% of respondents "regularly contrribute" to a blog.
3) I tweeted some wrath last month about grading a paper that footnoted a Wikipedia page (for the record, I don't mind students using Wikipedia as a first-stop for research, but I do mind students who don't follow the hyperlinks). I see I would be joined in that assessment by about 85% of my IR colleagues.
4) No respondent thinks that contributing or maintaining a blog is important for advancing their academic career. Intriguingly, however, there is certainly more appreciation about the role of blogs in the discipline than is commonly understood. To be specific:
a) 25% of respondents do think blogs devoted to international relations should count in evaluating a professor's research output. I guarantee you that number would have been much lower even a few ywars ago;
b) More than 66% of respondents thought such an activity should count in evaluating a professor's service to the profession.
c) 90% of respondents believed that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on foreign policy formulation;
d) More than 51% of respondents thought that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on the discipline of international relations.
There's a lot more data to discuss, but I would say that this veeeeery interesting snapshot should be enough to generate some discussion for now. For example, do readers think that these numbers will plateau, grow or recede over time?
Assistant Professor of International Political Economy
Rank of assistant professor beginning September 2012. While we are open to specialty, consideration will be given to candidates with a substantive interest in emerging market economies or Europe and a methodological interest in quantitative approaches (emphasis added).
Review of applications will begin January 3, 2012. Questions relating to this search should be emailed to IPEsearch-at-Tufts.edu
Now I know there's just a booming market for junior IPE types, so I'm sure no one reading this will be interested in a tenure-track position in the Boston area. Still, I thought I'd put it out there.
And, now that my home institution is actually creating a job, I'd like all of the tax cuts and subsidies that politicians seem so eager to proffer nowadays. That, or a dedicated parking spot.
So the eurozone crisis is metastasizing from really bad to even worse. Over at The New Yorker, James Surowiecki blogs that what's so frustrating about the situation is that the impediments to a solution are easily surmountable:
[W]hat’s easy to miss, amid the market tremors and the political brinksmanship, is that this is that rarest of problems—one that you really can solve just by throwing money at it....
The frustrating thing about all this is that there is a ready-made solution. If the European Central Bank were to commit publicly to backstopping Italian and Spanish debt, by buying as many of their bonds as needed, the worries about default would recede and interest rates would fall. This wouldn’t cure the weakness of the Italian economy or eliminate the hangover from the housing bubble in Spain, but it would avert a Lehman-style meltdown, buy time for economic reforms to work, and let these countries avoid the kind of over-the-top austerity measures that will worsen the debt crisis by killing any prospect of economic growth....
So the problem is not that the E.C.B. can’t act but that it won’t. The obstacles are ideological and, you might say, psychological.
As someone who agrees with Surowiecki on the economic diagnosis, the political scientist in me is forced to call a flagrant foul on this kind of analysis. In labeling the problem as one of "ideology" or "psychology," Surowiecki is explicitly arguing that it's just so absurd that the correct policy is not being pursued. If only someone could talk some sense into the key policymakers, then -- snap! -- the crisis would be resolved.
As someone who studies this stuff for a living, simply saying that political ideology, interest, or institutions can be easily changed borders on the comical. Ideas, interests and institutions are the bread and butter of politics, and all of them are far stickier than economists would like you to believe. There's more than seven decades of entrenched thinking that would require the Bundesbank and the ECB to alter their approach. Crisis or no crisis, that's not just easily dismissed.
Furthermore, looking at the Franco-German crisis bargaining, any actual deal to bolster EFSF resources, empower the ECB, and/or create something approximating a fiscal union would require that Southern Europe agree to remake their domestic economies to more closely resemble the German model. This has always been Merkel's bargain: she's been willing to cede greater power to the EU provided that EU policy preferences looks more like Germany. This makes sense for Germany, but the kind of wrenching changes and adjustments that will be asked of Spain and Italy are massive. The fact that Berlin -- rather than Brussels -- is the source of this diktat will add a fun new level of political difficulties as well.
A deal could be reached, but no one should be kidding themselves -- it is fantastically difficult, and saying that just "politics" or "ideology" or "psychology" is getting in the way doesn't make it any easier.
Earlier this week Walter Russell Mead blogged about the mortal danger facing a prominent international relations theory:
American fast food continues to worm its way ever deeper into Pakistani affections. Hardee’s recently joined McDonald’s in Islamabad and both are doing well, says the Washington Post.
Since McDonald’s is also thriving in India, an IR theory is about to be put to a test. The “McDonald’s theory” holds that no two countries with McDonald’s in them will ever go to war. Once you have a middle class big enough to support hamburger franchises, the theory runs, war is a thing of the past.
I wish. The 2008 war between Russia and Georgia dealt the theory a blow; an India-Pakistan war would be the end.
Whether or not that happens, the theory is a bust. Countries often become more militaristic as their middle classes rise.
A touch a touch, I do confess it!! It appears that the collective reputation of international relations theory has been tarnished, yet -- wait a second, who came up with that theory in the first place?
As it turns out, it was not some academic IR theorist like me, but rather a Prominent Foreign Affairs Columnist of Some Renown … kinda like Mead (but not really). Yes, it was indeed Tom Friedman who first suggested "The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention."
Mead concludes that the theory is a bust, and Wikipedia appears to back him up:
(Actually, Wikipedia is underestimating how many times the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention has been falsified … according to Wikipedia. The Kargil War was in 1999, not 1998, and according to casualty estimates, there were more than 1,000 battle deaths, which meets the standard definition of a war.)
Empirical quibbles aside, this certainly falsifies Friedman's original "strong" hypothesis of "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." The thing is, international relations theories are kinda like … er … zombies. Even if you think you've killed them off, they can be revived.
Let's water down Friedman's strong hypothesis a bit. Is it true that, "two countries that both have a McDonald's are significantly less likely to fight a war against each other?" Mead thinks the answer is no, but my hunch is that it would be yes. A cursory glance at the scholarly literature suggests that no one has actually tested it, so … get to it, aspiring MA thesis writers!!
That said, even if the weaker version was true, would it be useful from either a theoretical or policy perspective? I think the answer here is no, and this is one important way in which academic IR theorists do better than, say, Tom Friedman. The comparative advantage of the Golden Arches Theory is pedagogical -- it's easy to explain to anyone. The problem is that McDonald's is really an intervening variable and not the actual cause of any peace. And while IR scholars sometimes roll their eyes at democratic peace theory, the literature has produced significant progress about the ways in which that hypothesis is constrained (in a world of democratizing states, for example).
Mead is correct to observe that this particular IR theory is in trouble. I'm marginally more sanguine about the state of academic IR theory overall, however.
MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Your humble blogger has been rather persistent in pointing out the virtues of bridging the gap between international relations scholars and policymakers, and rather adamant in insisting why this hasn't happened:
Now I see in The Forum that James Lee Ray is also arguing that political science merits a greater role in foreign policymaking. The abstract for his article:
Foreign policy decision makers tend to rely on historical analogies. The “surge” in Afghanistan, for example, was inspired in part by the “surge” in Iraq. Processes for dealing with foreign policy issues involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were substantially different from those processes in the Bush and Obama administrations aimed at dealing with economic crises in 2008 and 2009. The latter processes were influenced extensively by economists, especially in the Obama administration. The decisions to send additional troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved relatively few political scientists. More substantial input from political scientists in the decision making process about the surge in Afghanistan might have produced more knowledgeable and informative analyses of relevant historical and political data in the form of structured focused comparisons of the wars and counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as analyses and interpretations of data on larger numbers of cases pertaining to broader phenomena of which the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are examples. Perhaps political scientists deserve a role within foreign policy making processes more similar to that reserved for economists in processes focusing on economic issues.
Within the article itself, Ray is quite explicit in comparing the influence of political scientists to economists:
[I]t is probably safe to say that no President would consider appointing anyone but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers. So perhaps there could be a space for political scientists in foreign policy-making processes analogous to that niche for economists on the Council of Economic Advisers in processes set in place by the U.S. government to deal with economic issues?...
It is true, perhaps, that economics is a more coherent academic field of inquiry than political science, or than the subfield that deals with international politics. Perhaps for that reason, economists are better placed to offer advice to governmental decision-makers than are political scientists. Nevertheless, the argument here is that the greater deference shown to economists by government officials when economic issues are dealt with than that accorded to political scientists when foreign policy issues arise is not entirely justified....
If the argument here is valid, then perhaps there should be more space set aside in foreign policy-making processes in the U.S. government for political scientists. For example, perhaps National Security Advisers should be political scientists, for reasons analogous to those that have up to this time led to the appointment of nothing but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers.
I pretty sympathetic with Ray's conclusions, and therefore I really, really want to agree with his causal logic. It's just that I don't.
The gist of Ray's evidence is that the Obama administration relied on analogical reasoning in deciding on the Afghan strategy in 2009, and therefore concluding that a "surge" there would work as it did in Iraq. If more political scientists had been in the room, Ray posits, perhaps this cognitive failure would have been avoided. In comparison, Ray observes that the Iraq surge decision was lousy with advanced poli sci degrees (including David Petraeus, William Luti, Eliot Cohen, J.D. Crouch, and FP's own Peter Feaver).
There are a few holes in this analysis. First, I'm not totally sold on the cases used by Ray. True, political scientists played a large role in the surge decision in Iraq, which is conventionally viewed as having worked. The thing is, political scientists (Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol) played an even larger role in the decision to invade Iraq , which is conventionally viewed as having not worked. Ray's case slection is too circumscribed.
Second, had Obama consulted more international relations scholars, he would have received perfectly muddled advice. Ray himself acknowledges this:
The evidence just reviewed that is potentially relevant to the decision by the Obama Administration about the surge in Afghanistan tends to point in diverse directions. Some of it casts doubt on the prudence of the Obama Administration’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while other findings could be used to support that decision.
Had Obama or his advisor consulted extensively with academic IR specialists, he still would have needed to exercise political judgment to determine which advice was worth following.
To be clear, I strongly favor having more Ph.D.s in political science in the loop on foreign policy decisionmaking. I'm just not sure Ray's case is all that persuasive.
What do you think?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
To commemorate the fifth-year anniversary of being denied tenure, the Official Blog Wife and I have joint essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education today on the aftereffects of that decision. For most people who are denied tenure, the costs are financial, familial and emotional. In my own idiosyncratic case, I was fortunate enough to be spared the first two of the three, which allowed this to be a "controlled case" focusing solely on the emotional legacy.
My big takeaway:
To be blunt, my wife's essay is much better than mine, and is chock-full of embarrassing anecdotes like this one:
Erika Drezner is a social worker and coordinator of teen services at the Asperger’s Association of New England. She has learned over time that when arguing with Dan she is right all of the time."
Your humble blogger is currently knee-deep in dissertation prospectuses (prospecti?), a rather curious literary form. Here at the Fletcher School, a dissertation prospectus is a Ph.D. student's attempt to describe his or her dissertation topic, including the central puzzle, the deficiencies in the existing literature, the proposed hypotheses and the testing strategy.
A prospectus runs about 60-80 pages and, to be blunt, is extremely painful to both authors and readers. It's painful for the authors because, after having spent most of graduate school ripping what they read to intellectual shreds, they discover that coming up with their own original arguments is actually a pretty challenging experience. It's painful for the readers because it's the academic equivalent of teenage poetry -- there's a lot of strong feelings and beliefs surging through the text in a thoroughly out-of-control and ungainly manner (and that's the final version of the prospectus -- you can only imagine what the draft versions of these documents look like). Indeed, the adolescence metaphor works astonishingly well -- I have engaged or witnessed many a conversation like the following:
Ph.D. ADVISOR: I think you should stop reading Wendt [or insert other trendy academic name here]. I don't like the way his arguments are shaping your argument.
Ph.D. STUDENT: But you don't understand!! I love him -- as much as love can be socially constructed!! He's let me see the world in a whole new way. He's the key to everything!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: You're writing a dissertation on cooperation among transnational criminal groups -- I just don't think his argument works here.
PH.D. STUDENT: How would you know which arguments work and which ones don't?! When was the last time you read someone who moved you -- the Stone Age?! I bet you've never read a piece of constructivist scholarship in your life. You don't understand me at all!!!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: Calm down -- I just think you might be better off if you read other people is all. This is just an intellectual crush. It will pass.
Ph.D. STUDENT!!! No!! Never!! I've never read anyone else who can speak to my topic like him. Wendt and I will stay together forever!!
Usually, the final dissertations look significantly better -- and thank God for that.
As you might surmise, this is not an easy literary form to conquer, and in most cases is just a hoop that should be jumped through as quickly as possible. Reading a bunch of these back-to-back can cause one to start muttering about how grad students ain't what they used to be and what-not. I am usually able to resist such mutterings by forcefully reminding myself that my own dissertation prospectus was such a bland and vague piece of crap ("I want to write something about sanctions") that I purged it from my hard drive as soon as possible in order to
thwart all my future biographers achieve some peace of mind.
Every once in a while, however, a Ph.D. student hits upon the delicate alchemy of fear and arrogance necessary to write an engaging prospectus that suggests an excellent dissertation. Maybe not even an excellent prospectus, but just a scintillating paragraph or two that suggests the student's intellectual trajectory is really, really promising.
This morning I stumbled across one of those paragraphs in a fascinating prospectus on international water boundary disputes (really!), which I now share with you:
While other water law studies have attempted to analyze the origins of water law, the study of water law in ancient societies tends to be cursory and rife with misnomers and mistakes. For instance, most cite the Hammurabi Code as the oldest water law, when with little effort it is easily discoverable that both the codes of Lipit Ishtar and Ur Nammu both contain water provisions, pre-date Hammurabi by at least 250 years, and clearly provide the normative underpinnings on which the Hammurabi Code was constructed. This study will therefore seek to build a solid historical foundation on which to ground further analysis of modern transboundary water law.
It's the phrase "easily discoverable" that tickled my intellectual fancy -- and, fortunately, the rest of the prospectus appears to back up the promise of that paragraph.
It's moments like these that forcefully remind me that, for all of the problems and pathologies with the modern academy, I really, really, really, really love my job.
I'm starting to read Dani Rodrik's provocative book The Globalization Paradox, which is well-written, accessible, and (so far, at least) quite fair-minded with respect to the various economic debates over the costs and benefits of globalization. It's also, really, a book of political economy, so it's nice to see that, based on his footnotes, Rodrik has more than a passing familiarity with political science in general and global political economy in particular.
I'll blog more about Rodrik's substantive arguments once I've finished the book, but I wanted to take this opportunity to offer a mild dissent from an early point he makes about the social sciences. In his introduction (p. xx), Rodrik argues that the ideas of economists are very powerful -- more powerrful than the other social sciences. Why?:
It is perhaps natural for an economist like me to think that ideas--and economists' ideas in particular--matter a whole lot. But I think it is hard to overestate the influence that these ideas have hadf in molding our understanding of the world around us, shaping the conversation among politicians and other decisionmakers, and constraining as well as expanding our choices. Political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others would no doubt claim equal credit for their professions. Policy choices are surely constrained by special interests and their political organization, by deeper societal trends, and by historical conditions. But by virtue of its technical wizardry and appearance of certitude, economic science has had the upper hand since at least the end of World War II. It has provided the language with which we discuss public policy and shaped the topology of our collective mental map (emphasis added).
Now, Rodrik is correct up to a point. Economists have been viewed as being at the head of the ssocial sciences for quite some time, and their unity of method probably has something to do with it. That said, this explanation only goes so far. As many have lamented, the field of international relations has increasingly embraced the tools of economics to develop and test theories, and yet the foreign policy community has not displayed an equal eagerness to have the topology of their mental maps shaped by this kind of analysis. Rodrik does not explain why economic policymakers decided to accept these methods as a valid basis to form policy.
To repeat a point I made a few months ago:
[T]he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
I had this observation confirmed in conversations I had with a political scientist working for the current administratioon who shall remain nameless. Whenever this person attempted to discuss generic political science observations in a staff meeting, the inevitable response by someone in the room was, "well, that sounds nice in theory, but it doesn't apply to this concrete situation." I guarantee you that no one has ever said anything like that to Ben Bernanke in a policy setting.
So, to sum up: when economists use formal models, it's technical wizardry. When political scientists do the same, it's hidebound scholasticism.
There's a supply side and a demand-side to the interactions between academics and policymakers. Both economists and political scientists have supplied copious amounts of high-quality research, much of it relying on formal models and statistical tests. On the demand side, however, only one group of policymakers has embraced this research with open arms.
Am I missing anything?
Last week I received the following news release from the National Research Council:
A new report from the National Research Council recommends that the U.S. intelligence community adopt methods, theories, and findings from the behavioral and social sciences as a way to improve its analyses. To that end, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) should lead a new initiative to make these approaches part of the intelligence community’s analytical work, hiring and training, and collaborations.
The report, which was requested by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, urges the intelligence community to routinely evaluate the performance of its analytical methods. One important step in that direction is to attach whenever possible numeric probabilities with uncertainty estimates for the events that analysts assess and forecast. Without explicit quantifiers, analysts cannot communicate their conclusions clearly or evaluate the accuracy of their analyses over time. Policymakers need to know how confident analysts are and how well they understand the limits to their knowledge, the report emphasizes. It recommends many specific steps that DNI can implement as part of analysts’ everyday work.
"The social and behavioral sciences have long studied topics central to analysts’ work, such as how people evaluate evidence and collaborate on difficult tasks,” said Baruch Fischhoff, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of social and decision sciences and of engineering and public policy at
Carnegie Mellon University, . “That research has had some impact on that work. Our report shows how the community can take full advantage of that research – and of its dedicated analysts – by adopting an evidence-based approach to its own analytical methods. We envision a community engaged in continual learning, both absorbing scientific research into the analytical process and evaluating its own performance." Pittsburgh
Now, this all sounds good to this social scientist's ears, but there's one little thing nagging at me. A quick glance at the "Committee on Behavioral and Social Science Research to Improve Intelligence Analysis for National Security" reveals the following membership: four psychology professors, three political scientists, three business professors, and a public policy professor.
Now, no offense, but is it really shocking that a group of social and behavioral scientists conclude that their work should be embraced more by the intelligence community?
None of this is to say that I disagree with the report's findings. I concur that the intelligence community should “ensure that the intelligence community (IC) applies the principles, evidentiary standards, and findings of the behavioral and social sciences.” And I wholeheartedly agree that there should be more "exchange of expertise between the IC and academic research environments." (Based on this survey, by the way, a fair percentage of IR scholars already do paid or unpaid work for the government).
The tools of social sciences are not magic bullets, but they're actually quite useful, and I want analysts to rely on every tool in their cognitive arsenal. To use a baseball metaphor, think of this report as suggesting that sabermetrics would be a useful complement to traditional scouting as a way of analyzing talent..
The thing is, as much as I might want to be viewed as a thoroughly detached and dispassionate expert on these questions, I fear that the rest of the world will view this an exercise in interest group lobbying. The report would have been more persuasive if more "old-school" intelligence analysts had signed off on the report (though Thomas Fingar was one of the signatories).
The latest issue of International Studies Review is a special symposium on theory and practice in international relations. Thomas Weiss and Anoulak Kittikhoun edited the special issue. The goal, according to them:
This special presidential issue addresses the theory–practice question across major institutions and global challenges. First, what is the influence of scholars on institutions? What accounts for influence or the lack thereof? What type of future engagement should exist for scholars on these institutions? Second, what are acceptable theoretical approaches to a given global challenge? What are the existing policies and practices, and do they coincide with dominant scholarly approaches? What relationship would be most useful between theory and practice on any issue?... [T]hese pages explore the impacts of scholars on policymaking and institutions as well as the limitations of theory in responding to global challenges. Stereotypes obfuscate the complex reality that scholarship matters.
The whole issue is a real treat, including great articles by Bruce Jentleson and Ely Ratner on how to bridge the scholar/policymaker gap, Ann Florini on international relations theory and the rise of Cina and India, Roland Paris on failed and failing states, Elizabeth DeSombre on global environmental politics, Andrew Hurrell on global governance, and
some zombie fanatic yours truly on targeted economic sanctions.
This looks like it should be a great way to get policymakers interested in the academic study of world politics, and vice versa. Of course, to be useful, it helps to be able to access the articles in the first place. And since all of these essays appear to be subscriber-only, it looks like
this is yet another brilliant self-inflicted wound demonstrating how academic journals guarantee their continued irrelevance in the policymaking world by hiding behind a friggin' paywall the bridging will be mostly on the academic side of the ledger.
Erik Gartzke, an associate professor of political science at UCSD and a man who's Google Scholar citation count makes me feel very, very small, sent me the following thoughts on political science and policy relevance. I reprint them, below, without edits or comment:
by Erik Gartzke
Dan Drezner's penchant for zombies may have yet another application. In the policy relevance debate, political scientists are like Renfield, Dracula's sidekick (or possibly like Thomas the Tank engine if children are present). We really want to be "useful." I know of no other discipline that is so angst-ridden about mattering, even those that don't matter in any concrete, "real world" sense. Obviously, what makes us different from poets, particle physicists, or Professors of Pediatric Oncology is that we study politics and occasionally imagine that this gives us some special salience to that subject. Policy makers, too, want us to be "relevant," though I think what they have in mind differs in important respects.
There are three ways that political science can be relevant to politics. On both sides of the debate, attention seems focused on only one of these roles. Interestingly, each side has chosen a different role to emphasize. First, academics could have expertise that is valuable in connecting policies to outcomes. We have lots of examples of this. Economists invented theories like adverse taxation and tools like GDP to help policy makers more effectively manage the economy. Unfortunately, there are very few insights or tools from political science, and those we do have are either very narrowly relevant (i.e. techniques for gerrymandering congressional districts to achieve affirmative action objectives), or very imprecise (i.e. nuclear balancing). Academic political scientists consciously _want_ this role, but the complaint from policy makers is that they do it poorly, providing policy guidance that is not expert enough, or overly nuanced and complex. This would seem to imply that political science should remain in the ivory tower, developing better tools. Instead, however, the argument appears to be that political science should give up these tools and practice a form of political consultation more comprehensible by the policy community. One then has to ask why, and what this will achieve. Is it the case, as many argue, that non-expert political scientists will be more useful? Why?
Interestingly, one of the critical exceptions to the general trend, and examples where political scientists have prospered in Washington as experts, involves pollsters. Survey methodology got its start in political science and has penetrated deeply into the political process, precisely because pollsters can provide valuable information to politicians and policy makers about cause and effect. Pollsters are now even regulars as pundits, asked to shill for policies and politicians on the basis of their expertise.
The second thing that academics can provide is thus credibility. We can "speak truth to power" or perhaps just generally speak the truth, at least as we see it. This could be valuable if policy makers themselves have become zombies, enslaved to a process that prevents them from stating things, even when obvious, that are unpopular or controversial. We see this happening in processes such as the Base Closure Commission, where outsiders helped to smooth a transition that was politically difficult. This kind of relevance is difficult, however, as politics is not really about the truth. Paul Pillar, one of the protagonists the debate ("In your face, political science!") found this out, much to his regret. One of the least zombie-like people in the national security bureaucracy, Paul was the perfect foil as author of the national intelligence estimate that legitimated the Bush policy of invading Iraq. In his, and his boss's moment to speak truth, they propagated a politically-expiedent myth. This kind of policy relevance really _is_ valuable to policy makers, especially since credibility is such a scarce commodity inside the beltway, and so valued elsewhere. The problem, of course, from an academic perspective is that selling credibility has nothing directly to do with expertise and everything to do with what, for lack of a better phrase, was once called "moral turpitude." The value in academics in holding forth in Washington may have as much to do on occasion with their _lack_ of contact with policy making, as with their putative expertise, at least in terms of credibility.
A corollary to this is the role of academistic consultants, some with faculty positions, others with beltway connections, that provide "research" that feeds the beast of the Washington policy machine. This can be financially rewarding, but the desire for funding leads to varying degrees of compromise, a zombification by extension.
The third contribution that academics can make to the policy community is one that all seem to agree upon, but which makes the least direct demand on political science as a substantive discipline. The intellectual discipline of first getting a PhD and then practicing as an academic gives one an ordered, logical mind, which can then be applied to tasks in the policy community, as well as to more purely intellectual pursuits. There is nothing wrong with this, but then again, there is nothing particularly unique about how political science does this that prevents scholars in other disciplines from applying themselves to policy making as well. Indeed, this is what we observe. Sociologists, economists, engineers and physicists (even the occasional poet) enter public service.
What makes political science different from most other fields is that we have failed to resolve our conflict with our subject matter. Poets report the human condition. They do not expect to alter it, at least not permanently. Physicians can make you better, so they do intervene, but their detachment is credible in the sense that they do not want to become illnesses. No physicist I know of hankers to _be_ her subject matter, though of course we are all of us made of matter. Political science alone wants to be different but engaged.
Imagine suggesting to a congressional committee that Congress should abandon the forecasting models of the OMB as esoteric and speculative. Try to suggest to someone like Paul Pillar that he should hanker after the "good old days" of pre-GDP census taking and data collection. Economics became policy relevant in the first sense because it developed tools that could help policy makers better connect their actions with outcomes. These are not perfect, as recent events illustrate, but they work better than the old way of doing things (i.e. whatever we did last time, or holding one's thumb up to the wind). The problem is that political science does not yet have "killer apps" like GDP. Optimists would say we are still working on these things. Pessimists would say that they will never come. I will not weigh in on that debate because in some sense it does not matter.
The real point, however, is that the debate does not matter. Either way, the search for policy relevance, as it is pursued by many in the policy community, makes no sense.
If you believe the optimists, then the correct role of political science is to get back in the kitchen (metaphorically) and cook up some good insights and tools so that we can eventually fulfill role number one. If you are instead pessimistic and despair of political science ever achieving much headway in terms of expertise, then you should still prefer us in our academic enclaves, only occasionally venturing down from the mountain, since this is what gives us our credibility as unbiased agents. The largely pessimistic perception of policy practitioners implies that they should treat political scientists like poets, or perhaps adherents of atonal music. Someone gets it, but thank God it is hidden in academic cloisters! This is perhaps what policy makers often do, as suggested by Paul Pillar's example of the debate between academics over perestroika witnessed by James Baker.
Another possibility is that those in the policy community wish academic political scientists were more like them for reason number three. This, however, does not make much sense. There can be no harm in making some political scientists esoteric if after all not everyone can move in policy circles. The training of academic political scientists still provides disciplined minds. Nor does it appear to be the case that there is a shortage of policy-eager political scientists to staff government bureaus and policy-focused beltway agencies and advocacy groups. In this light, academic political science may be accused of leading the youth astray, but no more than poetry or physics departments.
So what is it that makes many in the policy community so uncomfortable with academic political science, and for that measure why are political scientists so anxious about being labeled as not policy relevant? The best I can come up with again involves those zombies. Zombies eat the living. They move slowly, clumsily, if inexorably. People who run away can escape the zombies. So, the problem for zombies is that they cannot really catch unwilling prey. Academic political scientists, for their part, are strangely attracted to these undead creatures. They run, but not vigorously. Having your brains eaten is bad, but still, it is nice to be valued for something in which you have considerable pride....
Academic political scientists keep looking back to see if they can make eye contact with one of those zombies, maybe share a good anecdote, provide some advice, secure funding for the next research project...
There is the hint of the symbiotic relationship between predator and prey, political scientist and policy community. Each needs something from the other, even as both communities see the other as distant, alien. Policy practitioner-political scientists who disdainfully remark that they cannot even read the American Political Science Review would never see the need to make such a comment about a journal like Solid State Physics, or the Journal of Philosophy. Academic political scientists, for their part, should stop pretending that their main value to the policy community at present is in their expertise and fess up, if appropriate, to providing credibility or intellectual discipline (directly or through our students).
Becoming comfortable with this duality as a community also means embracing the differences that follow from that duality. Some of us should be in the ivory tower, just like physicists, chemical engineers, and art historians. In order for political science to fulfill the objective of expertise, it must --- like other fields of expertise --- become "expert", and unfortunately that really means becoming largely incomprehensible to all but those deeply enmeshed in the field or a particular subfield, at least for the purposes of "inhouse" debates. Others will work best in applying, interpreting, or otherwise interacting with the "real world" -- though if this characterization of non-academia were true, we would not need anyone studying (i.e. how does one know the real world and still hanker after insights that would connect his-or-her actions with the (unknown) implications of policy?). In any case, those of us on the academic side should stop teasing the zombies, just as the zombies should stop pretending that every academic brain is a ready meal. "Policy relevance" is a complex set of social phenomena that both attract and repel political scientists on both sides of the policy divide. Let some of us be more like our poet, mathematician or linguist brethren and become one with our academic-nerd nature. Others can prefer to engage Washington more directly, but they will make themselves, and their sponsors happier if they are candid about the fact that those within the beltway want your brains (or your soul), not your incites.
My last post on the role of political science and political scientists in dealing with Egypt generated some interesting responses via the blogosphere, e-mail, comments, etc. Let's deal with all of 'em.
First, Apoorva Shah responds with the following:
I’m not blaming what happened in Egypt on political scientists, as the title of his blog post implies. Rather, I’m saying that the methods with which the political scientists in our academy study the world are so rigid that policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react and make immediate policy decisions when our foreign policy was on the line. Simply put, our administration equivocated. I think they were too confused by all the “variables” involved in Egypt: the protesters themselves, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hosni Mubarak, etc. In other words, their mental multiple variable regressions failed to produce statistical significance, so they sent mixed messages instead....
None of this is to say that we should shut ourselves off from structured thinking about politics and international affairs. In fact, it should be quite the opposite. Our political scientists shouldn’t be hiding themselves behind theoretical models. They should be studying more history, getting on the ground, doing qualitative research. But look at the syllabus of any graduate level “qualitative methods” class, and I guarantee you it will be just as mind-numbing as their quantitative methods courses.
Perhaps a few months or years from now political science will help us clarify what happened in Egypt over this past week, and it may even look back and dictate what should have been the correct U.S. response. But none of the academic work to date helped policy makers make the right decision when it mattered this week. And that’s the crux of this story. In crunch time, the political scientists failed to get the policy right.
On Shah's first point -- that "policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react" -- well, to get all political science-y, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that Obama administration policymakers were paralyzed by rigid adherence to political science paradigms? Looking at the policy principals, what's striking about the Obama administration is that most of the key actors don't have much academic background per se. Tom Donilon is a politico, for example. Hillary Clinton is a politico's politico. I could go on, but you get the idea.
One thing all social scientists want to see is evidence to support an assertion. So, I'm calling out Shah to back up his point: what evidence is there that the U.S. government was slow to react because of adherence to "scholasticism"? Simply responding "but the response was slow!" doesn't cut it, either. There are lots of possible causal explanations for a slow policy response -- bureaucratic inertia, conflicting policy priorities, interest group capture, poor intelligence gathering, etc. Why is "scholasticism" to blame?
Shah's last two paragraphs are also confusing. Encouraging "structured thinking" requires an acceptance that theories are a key guide to understanding a ridiculously complex world. Area knowledge and deep historical backgrounds are useful too -- oh, and so are statistical techniques. The judgment to assess when to apply which area of knowledge, however, is extremely hard to teach and extremely hard to learn. And, just to repeat a point from that last post, some political scientists got Egypt right. Whether policymakers were listening is another question entirely.
A deeper question is why Shah's view of political science is so widespread. A fellow political scientist e-mailed the following on this point:
I think there is a deeper problem here. We political scientists/political economists may be aware of all of this, but I sense that it is too easy for outside observers to come to the conclusions Shah's post illustrates. Quick perusal of journal articles and conference papers, some textbooks, and a great deal of current graduate (and some undergraduate) education in the field can easily lead a rational and intelligent observer to conclude that political scientists are indeed only concerned with plugging cases into models, caring mostly about the model and little about actual political dynamics. (Have you seen conference presentations in which grad students lay out their dissertation models? Often sounds more like Shah's description than yours.) Practitioners may share your understanding of the role of theory, but they often don't do a good job of making this clear to non-specialist readers...and I think to themselves. I'm not sure what to do about this, but I suspect that Shah's kind of reading of the discipline is just too easy to come to and can seem quite reasonable.
Hmmm.... no, I'm not completely buying this explanation, for a few reasons. First, as I noted in the past, there are good and valid reasons why academic political science seems so inpenetrable to outsiders. Second, if this was really the reason that the foreign policy community disdains political scuence, then the economic policy community would have started ignoring economics beginning around, oh, 1932. Economic journals and presentations are far more impenetrable, and yet I rarely hear mainstream policymakers or think-tankers bash economists for this fact [Umm..... should they bash economists for this?--ed. I'll leave that to the economists to
construct clashing formal models debate].
Why is this? This gets to the third reason -- the fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community, and Shah simply provides another data point to back up that assertion. Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracy hostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
Am I missing anything?
Pundits are clearly scrambling to figure out what the hell is happening in Egypt, and what Egypt means for the rest of the world. And I'm beginning to notice that some of them are blaming international relations theory for being asleep at the wheel.
First, over at AEI's Enterprise blog, Apoorva Shah argues that these events suggest the poverty of modern political science:
Did anything in academia foresee the unrest in Egypt, and more importantly, can something explain how Western foreign policy can appropriately react to the events? Of all the “schools” of IR thought—liberal internationalism, realism, isolationism, etc.—did any theory make sense of this and guide us on what to do next?
My amateur opinion is no. Because of an academic world obsessed with increasingly complex empirical analysis where every revolution is a mere data point and every country a pawn in the great game, our political science departments and the scholars they have trained (many of whom serve in and advise our current administration) were caught flat-footed, searching for some logical, rational approach to a particularly unique and country-specific event. While digging for the right IR theory, they instead produced a mishmash of mixed messages and equivocation.
If I’m wrong, please correct me.
OK... you're wrong. Let me correct you.
First of all, let's clarify the division of labor in political science a bit. Crudely put, international relations focuses on the interactions between governments and other transnational and subnational actors. Comparative politics focuses on the domestic politics within countries.
To put this in the context of Egypt, it's the job of comparative politics scholars to explain/predict when we should see mass protests and when those protests might cause authoritarian regimes to buckle. It's the job of international relations scholars to predict what effects the regime change/authoritarian crackdown would have on both Egypt's foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East.
Calling out IR scholars for not predicting the uprising in Egypt is like calling out a cardiologist for not detecting a cancerous growth.
But here's the thing -- as Laura Rozen has observed, political scientists and those they've trained did call this one!! From her September 2010 story:
A bipartisan group of senators and foreign policy analysts is pushing the Obama administration to prepare for the looming end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt by putting a new emphasis on Egyptian political reform and human rights....
“The bottom line is that we are moving into a period of guaranteed instability in Egypt,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar with the Brookings Institution who co-founded the Egypt Working Group with Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “So the idea [that] we can keep puttering on as if nothing is going to change is a mistake. ... What we need now is to move to deliverables.”
The pressure from the academic and political community comes amid widespread expectation that the 82-year-old Mubarak — who reportedly is seriously ill — may soon cede power to his son, Gamal.
If that's not enough, consider that Joshua Tucker blogged about the spread of revolutions last week, before Egypt blew up. Even before that, my fellow political scientist and FP blogger Marc Lynch's January 5th blog post:
For years, both Arab and Western analysts and many political activists have warned of the urgent need for reform as such problems built and spread. Most of the Arab governments have learned to talk a good game about the need for such reform, while ruthlessly stripping democratic forms of any actual ability to challenge their grip on power....
Meanwhile, the energy and desperation across disenfranchised but wired youth populations will likely become increasingly potent. It's likely to manifest not in organized politics and elections, but in the kind of outburst of social protest we're seeing now in Tunisia.... and, alarmingly, in the kinds of outburst of social violence which we can see in Jordan and Egypt. Whether that energy is channeled into productive political engagement or into anomic violence would seem to be one of the crucial variables shaping the coming period in Arab politics. Right now, the trends aren't in the right direction.
Not surprisingly, the Obama administration met with many of these people this week.
Finally, a small point I made earlier this week regarding Mubarak's options:
Everyone assumes that the Egyptian leader is a dead man walking, and given his speech on Friday, I can understand that sentiment. There are, however, remaining options for Mubarak to pursue, ranging from a full-blown 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown to a slow-motion 2009 Tehran-style crackdown.
Obviously, these aren't remotely good options for anyone involved. The first rule in political science, however, is that leaders want to stay in power, and Mubarak has given no indication that he wants to leave. (emphasis added)
Alas, based on this morning's events, it appears that Mubarak has selected the Tehran 2009 option.
So I think Shah is pretty much wrong. That said, I agree that there are profound limits on what IR theory can do in a situation like Egypt. Ross Douthat sorta made this point earlier this week:
[Americans] take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.
But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.
Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic.
Douthat is sorta correct -- but it's precisely because the world is so complex that we rely on theories. While they're often wrong, they're vastly superior to the alternatives.
Consider that, instead of explicit theories, a lot of commentators are simply asking whether 2011 Egypt parallels 1978/79 Iran. This is a great question to ask, but the only way to answer it is to rely on explicit or implict theories of how revolutions play out and how the international system reacts to them.
Of course the theories will fail from time to time. Unfortunately, this is not rocket science, because rocket science is way easier than the social sciences. There are too many variables, too many idiosyncratic elements to each case, too much endogeneity, and so forth. But simply saying "the world is tragic" is a pretty lousy substitute to organizing foreign policy.
Shorter Logan: it's a big deal, and the insularity of policymakers is to blame.
Shorter Pillar: it's not that big a deal, and the eggheadedness of academics is to blame.
I have some sympathy to both sides of the argument here. Pillar is correct to point out the ways in which this gap has been exaggerated, and Logan is correct to point out that there's still a gulf to traverse between the two communities. Both posts are worth reading in full.
Then we get to Jacob Heilbrunn's intervention:
Should policymakers pay attention to academics? Should policy makers actually be academics? No and no. For the most part, policymakers should avoid them like the plague....
I would say that SAIS, the Fletcher School, and other such finishing schools for foreign affairs mavens have supplanted traditional political science departments, which became enamored of game and rational-choice theory. The only truly serious discipline in political science is political theory--Aristotle to Weber to Rawls. Is there much in international relations, by the way, that has not already been discussed by Thucydides--a dip into the Sicilian Expedition might have served George W. Bush well before he headed into Iraq (emphasis added).
Hah!! Fletcher wins!! In your face, traditional political science departments!! Heilbrunn has authoritatively--- no... wait, I can't do it. I can't gloat over a horses**t argument like this one, even if it advances my home institution.
I have to assume that the Committee on Social Thought has some of Heilbrunn's family hostage to produce that blog post. It's so rife with blanket assertions that I'll be warm all winter reading it.
First, as Pillar noted in his post, and speaking from my own experience, the training involved in getting a political science Ph.D. or other social science doctorate is actually pretty useful when stepping into the policymaking world. Even if the theoretical models and empirical results of political science might be contested, the mode of analytical thinking usually leads to some useful insights.
Second, I love Thucydides more than most IR scholars, and I teach him on a regular basis. Having read History of the Peloponnesian War every other year, however, yeah, there's actually a fair amount that's not in Thucydides that is part and parcel of modern-day international relations. There's very little on international political economy and/or economic interdependence in the text. The material on the democratic peace is interesting but radically incomplete. Last I checked neither Athens nor Sparta possessed nuclear weapons, which even realist lovers of Thucydides concede is a game-changer. I came up with those in less than five minutes, so I'm thinking that there's more if I bothered to ponder about it some more.
As for what's in Thucydides, there's so much fascinating content that no consensus exists about the key takeaway points. Ask five people who've read History of the Peloponnesian War about its central theme and you'll get ten answers.
Thucydides is a great text, and I want everyone to read it, but there's a lot more out there in the world. As for political theory being the only "discipline" in political science, I'll leave it to other political science bloggers to
open up a can of whup-ass and address Heilbrunn's argument.
Heilbrunn might be correct that institutions like Fletcher have more of an impact on policymaking than standard political science departments. Whether's that's as good of a thing as Heilbrunn thinks, however, is a seriously dubious proposition.
Now is the winter of your humble blogger's discontent, only to be made glorious once writing letters of recommendation/grading papers has ceased. After that, I'm looking forward to reading or re-reading the following six books and articles:
1) Charles Kupchan, How Enemies Become Friends. A lot of international relations theory starts off with the basic question of "what causes war?" Kupchan flips this question on its head, asking how enduring rivals decide not go to to war.
2) Ben Wildavsky, The Great Brain Race. The first discussion I've seen of how universities are competing in an era of globalization for the
deepest pockets best minds to educate. Plus, I was a big fan of this series as a kid.
3) McKinsey Global Institute, Farewell to Cheap Capital?. Think of it as a sequel to the global savings glut hypothesis.
4) Tyler Cowen, "The Inequality that Matters," The American Interest, January/February 2011. I think Cowen is overemphasizing the role of finance in explaining rising inequality in the United States (my hunch is that the economics of superstars plays a big role as well), but he raises a very interesting question about whether the financial sector is the Achilles' heel of free-market democracies.
5) The Economist's year-end issue. This is always a treat -- a double issue filled with articles about the interesting and the arcane. This essay on the inefficiency of getting a Ph.D. ("America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships.") is a must-read for anyone contemplating getting a doctorate.
6) Linda Schlossberg, Life in Miniature. All non-fiction and no fiction makes Dan a dull boy. This delicate first novel, a child's narrative of her mother's descent into paranoia, will be of interest for those policy wonks currently working on the war on drugs: it's a theme that runs through the book. Full disclosure: Linda is a friend and gives a great reading.
Every year I give a talk to Fletcher students entitled, "So you want to get a Ph.D...." in which I do my darnedest to convince them to seek alternative paths -- kinda like how a rabbi responds when someone wants to convert to Judaism. I am all too familiar with the possible downsides and relate these to the Fletcherites as clearly as humanly possible.
I bring this up because it's been impossible to avoid this "So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in Political Science" video over the last 24 hours, as apparently all of my friends/colleagues feel compelled to blog, tweet, or link to this sucker on Facebook. And I'm glad to have finally seen it. See, I was worried that I was becoming the most cynical person in political science. After having seen it, however, I'm now certain that whoever put that together possesses oceans of bitterness that I could never dream of consuming.
Look, pursuing a political science Ph.D. carries all sorts of risks and all kinds of occasionally pernicious socialization effects. That said, I'm not sure that alternative career pathways for someone interested in politics are all that much better at this juncture. The intern route? [Insert your own joke here about interns here -- ed.] It's no less demeaning and far more cutthroat than graduate school. Law school? Supply vastly exceeds demand in that field too, plus it's a vastly more expensive enterprise. Political journalism and/or publishing? That sound you hear right now is the collective gallows laughter from the employees orf that industry about its future prospects.
The key piece of advice I would give someone who is undeterred in getting a political science Ph.D. at this point is to recognize five important facts:
1) The process of getting a Ph.D. can provide you with a set of analytical skills that are of some use in the non-academic job market;
2) 99 percent of Ph.D. programs are geared to make you think that the only job worth having is becoming a political science professor.
3) If you really want to be a political science professor, you might as well know now that the odds are not good, the job market is terrible, and your control over your future professional destiny is extremely circumscribed.
4) Remember how your parents told you that if you really loved something and applied yourself, you would excel at it? Yeah, that's not always true. At the doctoral level, simply wanting something really badly is not sufficient to attaining your goal.
5) If you think you can resist the siren song of the academy, however -- and this is an important if -- then I can think of worse career paths.
Enough of this silliness -- I have a talk about zombies I have t prepare.
The post-mortems on the political journalism and political science APSA panel have been pouring forth like the body count in The Expendables. There's one thread in particulat that has piqued my interest, however. It starts with this Rob Farley observation:
By and large, IR and comparative haven’t had the same impact on the journalist community in either their quantitative or qualitative forms. I think that several major concepts/grand theories from both comparative and IR have found their way into the general policy conversation (deterrence theory, for example) but it’s more difficult to find uses of clear, sound political science research. IPE might be an exception to this. The immense political science literature on ethnic conflict seems utterly detached from the way that ethnic conflict is treated in the popular media.
To which, Matthew Yglesias responds:
I think you find almost no journalistic interest in comparative politics scholarship as just part and parcel of the overall solipsism of American popular political debates which take place in a kind of comparison-free void. The IR scholarship issue is quite different, since there’s tons and tons of journalistic work on subject matter to which scholarly IR research is plainly present. And the issue here, I think, is really primarily one of politics. The kinds of policy approaches that find support in the IR literature or can be usefully illuminated through it are just too far off the center of the American political consensus.
There are all kinds of problems with this. To begin with, [Yglesias] basically starts by admitting that journalists really couldn't care less about educating their readers, at least if the prerequisite of that is having a basic familiarity with the subject they are covering. Instead, all journalists care about are the "bounds of the DC debate", not stupid boring messy things like facts or scientific inquiry. No, those get in the way of "catastrophically misguided" right-wing policies that Democrats supported, dammit! Better to have a purely insult-based foreign policy discussion, completely void of theory or substance....
I would be surprised if Yglesias could outline more than one or two "scholarly controversies" in IR in any detail, much less describe how foreign policy has no interaction with those arguments. Bush 43's entire foreign policy was based on a mutation of democratic peace theory, which is hotly contested in the academy and elsewhere. Clinton's foreign policy was the largest experiment in neoliberal institutionalism that the world has ever seen, and it too was vehemently debated in the scholarly circles, and still is. The whole Cold War was practically a petri dish for IR theory. In all cases American foreign policy was engineered in part or full by IR scholars. What on earth is Yglesias waiting for?
In other words, it's just not true that scholarly debates have nothing to say about political controversies, or that they are "too far off the center of American political consensus". Every foreign policy decision that governments make has been discussed and analyzed, however imperfectly, by IR scholars and has been adopted or denied by politicians and ideologues. Yglesias just hasn't done his homework. Which is sad, because "homework" in this case basically entails e-mailing Drezner. Or even me.
Boys, boys!! Everyone in a neutral corner please!!
There are a few things to unpack here. In essence, I have to take issue with all of these excerpts. Part of the problem is that the panel that inspired this whole discussion in the first place was dominated by people who blog/write/care a hell of a lot more about American politics than world politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but it's dangerous to tease out implications from such a group.
As someone who has consumed and interacted with foreign affairs journalists from time to time, here are my observations:
1) The big mismatch between American journalists and IR academics is that when journalists are writing about international relations, they're likely focusing on a single event or episode -- a crisis with China, a disaster in Pakistan, sanctions against Iran, etc. International relations scholars, on the other hand, tend to think in more abstract terms that involve multiple observations: great power relations, humanitarian disasters, or sanctions episodes. Because journalists are far more interested in the particulars of individual narratives, however, the skill set does not always match up. Journalists writing about a particular case are understandably not fond of stating the average probability of policy success in a generic class of events. Doing so eliminates the particularities and idiosyncracies of the individual event -- i.e., the very value-added provided by the journalist.
This doesn't mean that IR scholars are completely ignored -- I find I get calls/queries when journalists are writing their "news analysis" pieces that take stock of a particular policy. It does mean that our research is not likely to appear in the first wave of stories about an event, however -- and that wave has a way of framing the subsequent narrative.
2) To be honest, I suspect that this state of affairs bothers IR scholars all that much, for two reasons. First, as I suggested at the panel (and Yglesias blogged), there are a lot of professional reasons why political scientists don't want their work to break through to the public sphere. Second, good IR scholars care less about access to journalists because they have better access to the actors they really care about -- the policymakers themselves. There is a decent amount of interaction between mid-ranking officials and IR academics, and those channels can influence policy a lot more than talking to journalists. Of course, this contributes to gaps between public opinion and foreign policy elites, but that's been going on for many a decade already.
3) To be honest, I'm not sure what Yglesias is talking about with respect to IR scholarship and political partisanship. It might be that the IR paradigms don't map neatly onto political cleavages. Realist and liberal approaches can be found in the mainstream of both party's foreign policy communities. More broadly, rational choice thinking is shot through the foreign policy mainstream. There are some schools of thought -- constructivism, feminism, etc. -- that might be thought of as outside the mainstream. On the other hand, these approaches aren't exactly mainstreamed within the scholarly community either.
Scholars who advocate policy positions out of favor with the current administratio n have opportunities to exercise their voice, through op-eds, congressional testimony, etc. Once they've done that, political journalists can find them to get critical quotes, etc.
4) Drezner to Yglesias: please call Winecoff before calling me. My cup, it runneth over right now.
Am I missing anything?
Among the most popular New York Times articles of the past 24 hours (not to mention my Twitter feed) is this Christopher Shea essay about tenure. Shea reviews two recent books by university professors who are so bold as to suggest abolishing the institution.
After reading the essay, however, I must conclude that the reason it's so popular is that the only people who read the New York Times on Labor Day weekend are academics and their relatives.
Here's the part where Shea lost me -- the opening paragraphs:
In tough economic times, it’s easy to gin up anger against elites. The bashing of bankers is already so robust that the economist William Easterly has compared it, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole, to genocidal racism. But in recent months, a more unlikely privileged group has found itself in the cross hairs: tenured professors.
At a time when nearly one in 10 American workers is unemployed, here’s a crew (the complaint goes) who are guaranteed jobs for life, teach only a few hours a week, routinely get entire years off, dump grading duties onto graduate students and produce “research” on subjects like “Rednecks, Queers and Country Music” or “The Whatness of Books.” Or maybe they stop doing research altogether (who’s going to stop them?), dropping their workweek to a manageable dozen hours or so, all while making $100,000 or more a year. Ready to grab that pitchfork yet?
That sketch — relayed on numerous blogs and op-ed pages — is exaggerated, but no one who has observed the academic world could call it entirely false. And it’s a vision that has caught on with an American public worried about how to foot the bill for it all (emphasis added)
OK, here's my question: where is the evidence for this public ire? Compared to bankers, politicians, or American Muslims, where exactly is the outpouring of outrage against tenured radicals?
I'll tell you where the evidence ain't -- Shea's essay. His review of the two books is perfectly adequate, but there is zero evidence beyond that stray reference to "numerous blogs and op-ed pages." One of those op-eds, of course, was by one of the book authors he reviews, however, so I don't think it could count.
As a tenured professor who's recent scholarly output could be accused of trending towards the whimsical, I should be a Big Target for this kind of attack. I ain't seeing it, however. Maybe this is because I'm ridiculously out of touch, but compared with the other groups listed above, academics have not faced much public scorn.
Indeed, if anything, the past few years should have been an "easy test" for hostility towards tenure, as hard times should have triggered a massive outpouring of support for this kind of higher education reform. Again, however, I see no evidence for such a groundswell.
I'm going to file this under Jack Shafer's "Bogus Trends" watch and enjoy the rest of my Labor Day. I suggest you do the same.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.