Friday, May 23, 2008

Are authoritative public intellectuals extinct?

In his column today, David Brooks makes an provocative closing point:

People in the 1950s used to earnestly debate the role of the intellectual in modern politics. But the Lionel Trilling authority-figure has been displaced by the mass class of blog-writing culture producers.
Intriguingly, Brooks' observation echoes some of the reactions in the blogosphere to my public intellectuals paper.

Take Take Kevin Drum, for example:

I think I might argue that even if the overall PI scene is still vibrant, 40 years ago there were a small number of what you might call mega-intellectuals ó people like Buckley and Chomsky and Galbraith and Friedman ó who had a bigger influence on public discourse than any single public intellectual does today. Nobody on Dan's list really seems to compete on quite the same plane as some of those 50s and 60s superstars. This might just be the hindsight bias that he talks about earlier in his piece, but if you had to nominate someone to be as influential today as Buckley and Galbraith were in their time, who would you choose? No one really comes to mind.
Ezra Klein made similar points last week as well.

Let's take as given the assertion that today's public intellectual scene is robust in terms of number, but that there are fewer "giants" than there used to be (I don't, just as I don't think a lot of people in the fifties .were earnestly debating the role of the public intellectual, but whatever). Klein, Brooks and Drum all write about this with a tinge of regret.

I'd argue that the forces driving this are -- mostly -- healthy developments for public discourse....

One reason that public intellectuals might seem smaller than they used to be is that they don't wander as far off their area of specialization as in the past. While Galbraith might have been comfortable riffing about culture and Buckley could talk economics, this sort of thing is rarer today.

I'm with Richard Posner in thinking that this is a good thing, since as a general rule public intellectuals are less likely to have penetrating insights when they're talking about subject in which they have no extant knowledge. This doesn't vitiate the role of the public intellectual: as the specialization of knowledge has progressed, it becomes more difficult for the same person to flourish in their specialized field and make that knowledge accessible to the public. This does create a market niche, however, for ďsecond order intellectualsĒ to emerge, bridging the gap between first order intellectuals and the informed public.

Another reason that public intellectuals might seem smaller than they used to be is that they can measure the response to their public musings more accurately than in the past. As I pointed out last week, blogs now play an important role in policing the thinking class. When public intellectuals generate shoddy work, bloggers are perfectly willing to cry foul. Consider, for example, the responses to William Kristol's columns, last year's reaction to Michael Ignatieff's mea culpa on Iraq, or disenchantment with Paul Krugman's robotic commentary on the Democratic primary.

Again, this is a good thing. The best public intellectuals (I'd put Brooks in this category, by the way) should be able to respond to criticism and improve their commentary; the worst should fade from view (As a personal aside, I know that my paper on this topic has profited from the blog responses to the initial draft).

One negative reason for a decline in mega-public intellectuals is the rise in partisanship. It has become tougher for someone like a Milton Friedman or a Michael Harrington to be accepted across the political spectrum as a legitimate authority because they have staked out a clear ideological position that is anathema to half the pundit class.

I'm less than thrilled with this trend, but it does get to an interesting tension between promoting democratic discourse and preserving the authority of expertise. The thing about public intellectuals is that they're trying to walk a tightrope between these two poles -- trafficking in their expertise to make a public intervention -- and this is tough to do in any era.

To conclude then -- if we're living in a world where there are more public intellectuals, but they're more responsive to criticism and less willing to venture way beyond their areas of competence -- well, then let me dance on the grave of "mega-public intellectuals."

posted by Dan at 09:22 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blogs, public intellectuals and the academy

For the millions thousands close relatives who are interested in my musings on the state of public intellectuals in America, you can read a draft of "Public Intellectuals 2.0" which I'll be presenting at a conference later this week at Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs. While the dominant trope about public intellectuals is that they ain't what they used to be, I'm relatively bullish. The thesis paragraph:

[T]he growth of online publication venues has stimulated rather than retarded the quality and diversity of public intellectuals. The criticisms levied against these new forms of publishing seem to mirror the flaws that plague the more general critique of current public intellectuals: hindsight bias and conceptual fuzziness. Rather, the growth of blogs and other forms of online writing have partially reversed a trend that many have lamented Ė what Russell Jacoby labeled the ďprofessionalization and academizationĒ of public intellectuals. In particular, the growth of the blogosphere breaks down Ė or at least lowers Ė the barriers erected by a professionalized academy.
Go check it out, and don't be afraid to e-mail me about what I got wrong!

posted by Dan at 08:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The best commencement address you'll never hear

Tis the season for commencement addresses. In the Los Angeles Times, P.J. O'Rourke provides advice you're unlikely to hear elsewhere. My favorite bit:

Here we are living in the world's most prosperous country, surrounded by all the comforts, conveniences and security that money can provide. Yet no American political, intellectual or cultural leader ever says to young people, "Go out and make a bunch of money." Instead, they tell you that money can't buy happiness. Maybe, but money can rent it.

There's nothing the matter with honest moneymaking. Wealth is not a pizza, where if I have too many slices you have to eat the Domino's box. In a free society, with the rule of law and property rights, no one loses when someone else gets rich....

Don't chain yourself to a redwood tree. Instead, be a corporate lawyer and make $500,000 a year. No matter how much you cheat the IRS, you'll still end up paying $100,000 in property, sales and excise taxes. That's $100,000 to schools, sewers, roads, firefighters and police. You'll be doing good for society. Does chaining yourself to a redwood tree do society $100,000 worth of good?

Idealists are also bullies. The idealist says, "I care more about the redwood trees than you do. I care so much I can't eat. I can't sleep. It broke up my marriage. And because I care more than you do, I'm a better person. And because I'm the better person, I have the right to boss you around."

Get a pair of bolt cutters and liberate that tree.

posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The dirty little secret of academia

Over at Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns considers the merits and demerits of part-time employment in the academy. She's doubtful that, as a model, it can work for those who wish to balance work and non-work activities (parenting, etc.):

But my biggest doubt whether part-time work is such a splendid idea for academics who are doing research has to do with the nature of research: whether one works on a full-time contract or a part-time contract, the literature that one has to follow to keep up to date with oneís area of research remains the same. There are Ďfixed costsí (in terms of time and effort) for each line of research that one pursues. The consequence is that a part-timer spends as much time (in absolute number of hours) on keeping up to date with the literature, implying that she has fewer hours left for actually developing new research....

I am one of those people who (normally) doesnít go to work on Fridays (and for the next couple of months I have one extra day off so as to be able to spend more time with our baby). I do enjoy the time I can spend with the children, and the fact that this extra day off slows us down a little. But I also sometimes feel Iím cheating myself, since it seems I am doing at least as much work as many people who are working on a full-time contract (with the difference that much of my work gets done in the evenings). In the end I am just not sure whether part-time work in academia is, all things considered, a good idea for those academics who are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas.

Here's the thing: to be tautological about it, academics who "are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas" are doing so because, well, they're passionate about their research. In a good way. At worst, these academics have a love-hate relationship with their work, and at best, it's a scorching hot affair with inquiry and knowledge.

As Ingrid said, some aspects of the academic's job -- committee work, refereeing, university service, and, yes, teaching -- can be compartmentalized in a manner similar to other jobs. There's nothing part-time about research. But this isn't the fault of the employment system -- the fault, such as it is, lies within the nature of the academic. If you love what you do, nominal time restrictions do not matter a great deal -- a fact that occasionally drives my family around the bend.

There's a parallel to blogging here, in that the overwhelming number of people who blog do so because they like it, not because of any renumeration they receive. This renders the economics of blogging -- and online publishing more generally -- a little peculiar. The economics of sectors in which workers derive significant psychic benefits from their work differ from more mundane sectors.

posted by Dan at 08:08 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The oldest theme in the business

I'm beginning to wonder if there's a cognitive tic in my system that causes me to "not get" Jacob Heilbrunn's published output.

Last month I was puzzled by Heilbrunn's assertion that Samantha Power represented a vanguard of angry Democrat foreign policy mavens.

This month, Heilbrunn has an essay in World Affairs that bemoans the decline of the public intellectual:

For all the heat it has generated, for all the moments of good theater it has provided, the debate over the War on Terror has also called into question the role of public intellectuals today. In a prior time, these intellectuals could be judged by their output; today it is by the noise they make and the comment they generate....

With lifelong fights over changes of position, charges of intellectual treason, and tortured explanations to rationalize the party line, the political was personal in the 1930s and 1940s in a way it never was during the 1960s. But in recent years something has changed. Those whoíve set up shop as public intellectuals, with their keen sense of how high-stakes arguments were waged in the past and their equally keen appreciation for the role figures such as George Orwell played in those debates, have tended to be referential and self-referential in positioning themselves for maximum effect. Rather than the hard and solitary work of writing and thinking and achieving an output that far overshadowed their public presence, todayís intellectuals often succumb to celebrity culture, shouting on FOX News and MSNBC rather than arguing their ideas in books or in the pages of magazines.

While the stakes are arguably as high today as they were in the 1930s, our current crop of public intellectuals has resurrected some of the acrimony of those heady times, but little of the substance. What in an earlier era were battles grounded in strenuous intellectual engagement today often amount to little more than highbrow food fights and, in some cases, nifty career moves. The life of significant contention that the critic Lionel Trilling once lauded as the intellectualís calling has been overtaken by a life of competing for significant attention. Compared to their predecessors, who staked everything on disputes over fascism, Stalinism, and imperialism, todayís rank-breakers are mere epigones.

Having battled this meme for several years now, I'm beginning to observe a few pathologies in the standard "decline of the intellectual" essay:
1) Provide as little evidence as possible for your argument: Heilbrunn tries to persuade by asserting that, "Most of the intellectuals who stepped up to the mics at FOX News spent more energy wondering if they were the next George Orwell than writing books that would cast light on what the country faced in a time of terror." This is truly odd for two reasons. First, the only effort Heilbrunn makes to substantiate his argument about intellectual decline is to look at the trajectories of Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. This would be fine, except that neither Sullivan nor Hitchens have been shy in writing books on this topic.

Second, beyond Hitchens and Sullivan, what other public intellectuals have appeared on FOX? Seriously, I want to know.

2) Repeat past assertions of intellectual decline -- if you do it enough times, it will sink in: For example, in this essay, Heilbrunn notes that, "Richard Posner cites the craving for celebrityóand its availability because of radio and television talk shows and the Internetóas a reason for the decline of public intellectuals." Actually, no. Posner hypothesized that the professionalization of the academy was responsible for the decline in public intellectual output -- and, to be blunt, he never provided any systematic evidence for his assertion of decline.

Later on, Heilbrunn approvingly quotes Lee Seigel's thoughts on the matter -- also not a point in his favor.

3) Evoke intellectual nostalgia for the 1930's. Seriously, these kind of essays appear to be the only genre that looks back at the yeas of the Great Depression with something approaching fondness.

This matters, because even Heilbrunn seems to acknowledge in his essay that the state of public intellectual debate in the 1960's was pretty God awful. This raises the question -- what's the baseline point at which one starts to talk about a decline?

The decline-of-the-public-intellectual trope has been repeated so often -- and so baselessly -- that I'm going to make a request to readers, even though comments are down. Is there any way to objectively measure the quality of current public intellectual output?

E-mail me if you have ideas, because I'm getting tired of swatting these kind of articles down.

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 7, 2008

There are rules to using "Far From Over"

Via Eszter Hargittai, I see that sociologist Brian Donovan has devised an innoavative and fun way to broadcast the fact that the University of Kansas has granted him tenure:

My only critique: first rule of Staying Alive: you can't play a song from from Staying Alive without including at least a snippet from that movie.

So, as a public service, let me inflict on you provide the following clips:

posted by Dan at 03:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should IR scholars expose themselves?

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as your humble blogger racks up additional frequent flyer miles attends the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco. In honor of ISA, here's the following academic-y post:

Over at Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter is blogging about the motives behind scholarly research and how much should be revealed. She quotes approvingly from this dialogue by Ersel Aydinli:

Perhaps we should consider a disciplinary movement to encourage our members to develop and expand the currently accepted genre of the Ďauthorís bio noteí into something more revealing and explicit than simply affiliation and research interests. I would like to see, for example, some indication of the author's past history, such as where they have worked and lived. Has the author remained all of his or her life in one place? Did he or she take a break along the educational path to join the Peace Corps, live abroad, or work in a different field? I also think it would be valuable to know about some of the author's non-professional affiliations or interests. Of course it would be up to the individual author to determine how many or which of these affiliations to provide, but even that choice would be revealing to the readers and help them interpret the content of the text... authors [might also be] encouraged in their texts to indicate how they came to choose the research topic or particular questions they investigate. Was it simply a personal interst or were there pragmatic issues involved such as a future grant? Was the topic of global or current scholarly interest or something sparked by a dinner table conversation?
Carpenter continues:
I quite like this idea. I think it would make our research far more objective, and help us evaluate one another's work far better if such a norm of full disclosure took root. It might also help us acknowledge and make sense of our presence in the worlds we study....

I also know from first-hand experience... there is currently no such norm. Which is becoming scarily apparent to me as I complete my book... and now have to peddle it to mainstream IR presses who will no doubt insist I edit that kind of quasi-narcisisstic reflectivism right out.

Even efforts to bend in that direction just slightly result in disciplining moves from academic gatekeepers.

I'd dissent a little bit from Carpenter. There are actually two places where scholars tend to exposit a bit on the genealogy of their interests and ideas. The first place is in book prefaces. This is hardly de rigeur, but far more often than not a political scientist will explain how they decided to write about what they are, you know, writing about. They will also usually discuss the various fieldwork experiences/fellowships/affiliations that inform their scholarship.

The second place -- and this is more common -- is in the statement of research and teaching that all professors need to gin up when they are up for contract renewal/tenure/promotion. This is the one venue whe this kind of self-reflection is expected. The irony, of course, is that very few people read these statements.*

Based on my own experience, they are also excruciating to write -- imagine penning a ten page cover letter that says, "Yay!! Look at me!! Look at all of my brilliant insights that have paved the way towards truth and beauty!!" I mean, I'm a blogger, so I know from self-promotion, but writing those documents was like a very painful tooth extraction.

This might explain why academic gatekeepers -- who have had to undergo this exercise -- are so reluctant to see more of it in the field.

* There is one exception that I am aware of -- chapter two of Robert Keohane's International Institutions and State Power is an updated version of his statement on research and teaching. Bob's had a pretty decent run as a scholar, so maybe the taboo lessens as one becomes an academic gatekeeper.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Walking the accessibility tightrope

The New York Times' Stephanie Rosenbloom writes about the trend of professors revealing more of their souls online:

It is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor behind the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or canít get enough of Chaka Khan.

Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television....

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professorsí Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries ďwrittenĒ by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professorís job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

Of course, those of us in the blog trenches have been aware of this problem for some time. I wrote the following in my guide to poli sci blogging for APSA:
Another potential problem is how students view a professorís blog. If an academic blogger achieves any kind of public success, then that academicís students are likely to peruse his or her blog. This is not automatically a bad thing, but academic bloggers often display more personal idiosyncrasies on their web page than they would ordinarily reveal in a classroom setting. This can be problematic because students often overinterpret their interactions with professors. They might believe they have a more informal relationship with the professoróor view a blog post as signaling a message when none is intended.
This is a tricky tightrope to walk, and after five plus years of this blog, I'm still not entirely sure I have the hang of it.

For example, it's clear that some professors create MySpace or Facebook pages to make themselves more accessible to students. As I got sucked into the Facebook vortex, however, my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. I neither accept nor proffer friend requests from current students.

I do this because, well, I'm not their friend -- and letting them think otherwise is deeply problematic. I'm their teacher, their sometimes advisor, and their occasionally harsh taskmaster. Friendship comes only after the grading portion of the relationship is over -- and only then if I'm in a good mood.

I seem to be in the minority in adopting this position, however.

UPDATE: Well, I'm not a minority of one -- Amy Zegart adopts a similar position:

Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated....

I want to make students uncomfortable-- challenging them to question their own ideas, take opposing views seriously, and grapple with difficult assignments and questions. I want to get them out of the echo chambers so many of us inhabit and learn that smart, good people can disagree. I want them to know that in the real world, effort is not the same thing as achievement, and that striving for excellence means that even an A paper can get better. Learning is hard. It is also endlessly rewarding.

College students donít need professors to be their friends. They need professors to be professors.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

What's the difference between a scholar and a reporter?

James Traub has a cover story in today's New York Times Magazine, "The Celebrity Solution," that's all about celebrity activism in global philanthropy and peacebuilding:

Stars ó movie stars, rock stars, sports stars ó exercise a ludicrous influence over the public consciousness. Many are happy to exploit that power; others are wrecked by it. In recent years, stars have learned that their intense presentness in peopleís daily lives and their access to the uppermost realms of politics, business and the media offer them a peculiar kind of moral position, should they care to use it. And many of those with the most leverage ó Bono and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and George Clooney and, yes, Natalie Portman ó have increasingly chosen to mount that pedestal. Hollywood celebrities have become central players on deeply political issues like development aid, refugees and government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Faithful readers of this blog might recall that, three months ago, I published a cover story in The National Interest, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam," that makes some awfully similar points:
Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. When media maven Tina Brown attends a Council on Foreign Relations session, you know something fundamental has changed in the relationship between the world of celebrity and world politics. Whatís even stranger is that these efforts to glamorize foreign policy are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing. This does not mean that celebrities can solve the problems that bedevil the world. And not all celebrity activists are equal in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, politically-engaged stars cannot be dismissed as merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy.
Readers might wonder if I'm feeling bitter about Traub making similar arguments for a much larger commission.

The truth is, reading his essay, I can't get too worked up about it. My essay was intended to be more of a meditation on why celebrities have become more influential. As a reporter-researcher, Traub does something in his essay that I didn't do in mine. He actually got the participants to confirm the causal mechanisms I only posited.

For example, here's what I wrote about the celebrity exploitation of "soft news" outlets:

In the current media environment, a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and cause cťlŤbres has developed. Celebrities have a comparative advantage over policy wonks because they have access to a wider array of media outlets, which translates into a wider audience of citizens. Superstars can go on The Today Show or The Late Show to plug their latest movie and their latest global cause. Because of their celebrity cachet, even hard-news programs will cover themóstories about celebrities can goose Nielsen ratings. With a few exceptions, like Barack Obama or John McCain, most politicians cannot make the reverse leap to soft-news outlets. Non-celebrity policy activists are virtually guaranteed to be shut out of these programs....

The power of soft news is not limited to television. Vanity Fair let Bono guest-edit a special issue about Africa, knowing that cover photos of Madonna and George Clooney would attract readers and buzz. Without intending to, those perusing the pages might form opinions about sending aid to sub-Saharan Africa in the process.

Here's how Traub covers the same point:
In 2004, Natalie Portman, then a 22-year-old fresh from college, went to Capitol Hill to talk to Congress on behalf of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, or Finca, a microfinance organization for which she served as ďambassador.Ē She found herself wondering what she was doing there, but her colleagues assured her: ďWe got the meetings because of you.Ē For lawmakers, Natalie Portman was not simply a young woman ó she was the beautiful Padmť from ďStar Wars.Ē ďAnd I was like, ĎThat seems totally nuts to me,í Ē Portman told me recently. Itís the way it works, I guess. Iím not particularly proud that in our country I can get a meeting with a representative more easily than the head of a nonprofit can.Ē....

Portman didnít have to do very much when she came back and became Fincaís international ambassador of hope in 2004; she simply made a point of talking about microfinance when she did any publicity. She appeared on the cover of Vogue and in the long story inside talked about her work with Finca. ďThe influence of that interview was huge,Ē says Christina Barrineau, then the director of the U.N. Year of Microcredit. ďAnyone who Googled it immediately came to our Web site, and I was flooded with e-mails from young influentials who wanted to learn more about how they could help.Ē

It's likely I'm going to do some more research on this topic -- so thanks to Traub for delivering some fine process tracing.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Faculty recruitment at Oklahoma is going to be a bitch

The New York Times' Randal C. Archibold writes about a proposal in the Arizona state legislature to make campus life more interesting:

Horrified by recent campus shootings, a state lawmaker here has come up with a proposal in keeping with the Taurus .22-caliber pistol tucked in her purse: Get more guns on campus.

The lawmaker, State Senator Karen S. Johnson, has sponsored a bill, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week, that would allow people with a concealed weapons permit ó limited to those 21 and older here ó to carry their firearms at public colleges and universities. Concealed weapons are generally not permitted at most public establishments, including colleges.

Ms. Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, said she believed that the recent carnage at Northern Illinois University could have been prevented or limited if an armed student or professor had intercepted the gunman. The police, she said, respond too slowly to such incidents and, besides, who better than the people staring down the barrel to take action?

Let me confess that after a day of back-to-back-to-back-to-back committee meetings, I find the idea of packing heat on campus to be oddly soothing. I suspect, however, that as a general public good this would probably not be a good idea.

The Times alsp provides a helpful graphic describing pending legislation across the states:

The social scientist in me hopes that all of this legislation passes, because the variance across the states would make for some nifty Freakonomics-style regression analysis. The academic in me, however, shudders at the fallout from various anti-social academics, students and staff deciding to bear arms.

Final question: what did us professors ever do to the state of Oklahoma?

posted by Dan at 09:51 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reviewing the reviews of The Israel Lobby

I have a subscriber-only essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week that takes a critical look at the public critiques of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised to learn that I have a mixed take:

Does the public understand how political science works? Or are political scientists the ones who need re-educating? Those questions have been running through my mind in light of the drubbing that John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt received in the American news media for their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Pick your periodical ó The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, National Review, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World ó and you'll find a reviewer trashing the book.

From a political-science perspective, what's interesting about those reviews is that they are largely grounded in methodological critiques ó which rarely break into the public sphere. What's disturbing is that the methodologies used in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy are hardly unique to Mearsheimer and Walt. Are the indictments of their book overblown, or do they expose the methodological flaws of the discipline in general?....

There is no doubt that Mearsheimer and Walt have captured a disproportionate meas-ure of criticism because they have targeted a high-profile dimension of American foreign policy. The public reviews of their work have been scathing, and some of them have been unfair. Nevertheless, in terms of methodology, The Israel Lobby has earned much of its criticism. Some of the criticism, however, applies not just to Mearsheimer and Walt, but to the discipline as a whole.

Space constraints prevented this section of the essay from appearing in the final version, so it seems worth putting it here:
What [Mearsheimer and Walt] do not do, however, is systematically compare Israel to similarly-situated countries in order to determine if the U.S.-Israeli relationship really is unique. An alternative, strategic explanation for the bilateral relationship would posit that Israel falls into a small set of countries: longstanding allies bordering one or multiple enduring rivals. The category of states that meet this criteria throughout the time period analyzed by Walt and Mearsheimer is relatively small: South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Compared to these countries, the U.S. relationship with Israel does not look anomalous. All of these countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies (except for Turkey, a NATO member). Mearsheimer and Walt acknowledge that Turkey receives its aid in a similar manner to Israel; the New York Times recently revealed that Pakistan has received favorable terms as well. In the past decade the United States orchestrated IMF bailouts of South Korea and Turkey that dwarf annual aid flows. Sizable numbers of U.S. troops help to guard the demilitarized zone against North Korea, and the United States Navy takes an active interest in the Taiwan Straits. All four countries have prospered economically in recent years, and they have all frustrated the Bush administration in policy disputes. Despite this, the United States has demonstrated a willingness to expend blood and treasure to provide security for all of these countries Ė despite the wide variance in the strength of each countryís ďlobbyĒ in the United States.

On a related topic, Kevin Drum has an excellent post about conducting research on the web that political scientists and non-political scientists alike should read.

posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

America's foreign direct investment in higher education

Tamar Levin has a front-pager in the New York Times on the latest trend in the American academy -- setting up satellite campuses overseas:

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities ó not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia ó are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatarís capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall.

ďWhere universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,Ē said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. ďWeíll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.Ē

I'm seeing a lot of proposals like this being floated the Fletcher School, so it's not just engineering schools. Pretty much every professional school in the United States worth its salt is contemplating about these options

Is this good for the academy? Levin gets at this in a series of rhetorical questions:

Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host countryís? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?
My answers, in order:
1) The classroom culture and teaching style will likely reflect American values -- but there's no question that opening up an American-style university in Qatar is not the same thing as having these students attend an American-style university in America. On the other hand, it's not clear that this is an actual trade-off. More likely, the students attending these institutions would not have necessarily traveled to the U.S. under any circumstances.

2) The primary reason universities are contemplating these campuses is because they are seen as money-makers -- so it's hard to see how, on net, any public monies would be lost in the process.

3) There's a strong correlation between where American universities are headed and where American foreign direct investment is headed. And, much like other forms of American FDI, universities will economize on the use of American personnel -- we're very expensive. Point is, this seems like a pretty minor concern.

4) Hmmm.... maybe we should hoard our knowledge and know-how in this country. I mean, the United States clearly has the monopoly on all information. And we should keep it that way until some device is invented that allows information to be transmitted across borders at high speed and little cost. Oh, wait....

UPDATE: The Times runs the second part of Levin's reportage today -- and, if anything, it's more positive on points (1) and (2) than I am.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hoisted from the archives: The students strike back!!

UPDATE: This contest was posted two weeks ago.... and frankly, I've been disappointed with the student response. My crack intelligence network at Fletcher tell me that some of the student body was rankled by my "Bad Student Writing contest" from last month -- yet I see no attempt by the Fletcher student body to step up to the plate.

So, I'm reposting this comment, and triple-dog-daring the students of the American academy to "Post, in the comments, the most confusing, badly-written or long-winded sentence a professor of yours has written in a published article."

Just to make things interesting, I add two additional qualifiers:

1) Judith Butler entries will not be accepted. Booooring. And it's been done to death.

2) Extra-special bonus points if you can find a God-awful sentence written by the author of this blog. C'mon, students of mine -- I've assigned a fair amount of my own crap work. If you can't find a bad sentence in my published oeuvre, you ain't trying hard enough.

Get to it, students -- or the professors of the world will be able to claim that students can't even procrastinate as efficiently as the professoriate!

The Bad Student Writing Contest was a great success -- but it came at the expense of students. Already, commenters are concluding that this is emblematic of the sorry state of American education, which suffers from a wee bit of the ol' selection bias.

So, students, your time for revenge has come. Why procrastinate during the spring semester when you can procrastinate today? Here is your opportunity to (anonymously) thumb your nose at the guardians of your grades.

I give you.... The Bad Professor Writing Contest:

Post, in the comments, the most confusing, badly-written or long-winded sentence a professor of yours has written in a published article.
Bonus points if you can provide an active hyperlink to the article.

Winners will receive a prize of unspecified but clearly inestimable value.

Good luck!!

posted by Dan at 01:09 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Going medieval on a bad paper

The editors of Foreign Policy asked me to review an article for them for their "Global Newsstand" section of the January/February 2008 issue.

The result: "Dismal Political Science":

Are economists increasingly in charge of politics? Do economists make better leaders? These are the questions that Anil Hira, a political scientist at Canadaís Simon Fraser University, is ostensibly trying to answer in his essay, ďShould Economists Rule the World?Ē in the June 2007 issue of the International Political Science Review. In the article, he claims that ďthere has been a notable rising importance of economics as a background for leaders in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.Ē But he concludes that, even if economics is appearing on more political resumes, this training does not appear to help these leaders achieve better economic outcomes. (Hira cites Peruís Alejandro Toledo, Indonesiaís Suharto, and U.S. President George W. Bush as examples of leaders who may have disappointed their economics instructors.) These are fascinating results. Alas, theyíre fascinating in ways that lead one to seriously question the refereeing process at the International Political Science Review.
I'm afraid the rest is firewalled, but here's the nut paragraph:
Simply put, the paper provides no actual evidence to support his conclusion that economists are ineffective leaders of national economies. To do that, he would have had to compare the periods when a technocrat was the national leader with the periods when there was a different kind of leader. Or he could have compared countries that had economists in charge with those countries that did not. Or he could have done both. But Hira did none of the above. Rather, he points to three trends over time: an increase in economically literate leaders, a slowdown of economic growth, and an increase in inequality. Then he simply asserts that the first trend must have caused the latter two trends. Thatís Olympics-caliber hand-waving.

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Worst student sentences...revealed!!!

Last month, I asked professors to "post, in the comments, the single-worst sentence you have read in a student paper."

And lo, academics from around the land heard of this contest, and proffered their best quotes. And, lo, the results are in.....

And the result is..... a three-way tie!!!

Reading through the entries, it quickly became apparent that there were three different kind of bad sentences, each deserving of their own award.

The first kind relies on a really bad malapropism. The winner in this category is... from David Sousa:

Given politicians' efforts to maninpulate coverage, citizens cannot easily distinguish between fact and fornication.
The second kind relies on really, really bad writing. And the winner in this category is BN, who submitted the following sentence:
The Civil War lasted no more than four years, but the red and blue blood that was spilt will last a life time.
In the final and most difficult category, the writer must demonstrate a near-complete lack of factual or analytical control over the subject matter. And the hands-down winner in this category is Diodotus, with the following grad student sentence:
In order to make an intelligent argument, I determined that I first had to have a genuine understanding of the conflict. I sought this information in several books because I felt that they would be the most unbiased and factual.
Thanks to one and all for participating -- and students should not fear, as their opportunity to strike back will be coming tomorrow.

posted by Dan at 09:34 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why there will never be a fake reality show about academia

Earlier this year I explained in laborious detail why the academy was not a fertile ground for a reality show.

Undaunted by this pronouncement from on high, some Harvard graduate students have come up with a brilliant end-run around this dictum -- an Office-like show about the academy (hat tip: CoreEcon):

If you're in the "field," as it were, I dare you to watch this and not laugh (my favorite part -- the third flash card).

I am curious whether those not in the social sciences will find it as funny. My guess is "no," but I'll leave it for the commenters to decide.

Either way, there are two lessons to draw from this video:

1) Harvard grad students have way too much free time at their disposal.

2) Firing political theorists is always comedy gold.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell draws other useful lessons.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No one send any job applications to me

A friendly note to aspiring professors of international relations:

In a story about the Fletcher School's 75th anniversary, the Financial Times reports that, "Faculty is also earmarked for expansion. The school has 30 full-time faculty, a figure that has grown by approximately 30 per cent over the past five years. [Dean Stephen] Bosworth says he hopes to see a comparable increase over the next five years."

This does not mean that

a) we're hiring any of these people right now;

b) I will have exclusive say over who we hire five years from now;

So you can stop sending me your cvs.

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A contest just for professors

At this very moment, academics in North America are in the middle of grading their final papers.

I'm knee-deep in mine, and they inspire the usual range of emotions -- fear, hope, dread, nausea, and somnolence.

As professors across the continent look for a reason -- any reason -- to procrastinate in their grading, the hardworking staff here at hereby invites them to participate in the following Bad Student Writing Contest:*

Post, in the comments, the single-worst sentence you have read in a student paper.
Some ground rules:
1) In-class exams do not count -- you can't expect polished writing in that setting. Besides, Brad DeLong already wins this category.

2) Gven the fragility of some students, be as anonymous as you can in your submission.

3) Bonus points if it's a grad student paper.

I'll open with a grad paper I just graded (and, intriguingly, received a decent grade despite this opening sentence):

Time and again, one can hear about history repeating itself.
Top that.

The winner will be determined by a staff vote here at the blog, and will receive a prize of unspecified but clearly inestimable value.

*In the spirit of reciprocity, students will get their own contest sometime after the new year.

posted by Dan at 08:21 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Best Prudence... ever

Emily Yoffie -- a.k.a., Slate's Dear Prudence -- provides the best response to an academic query:

Dear Prudence,
I'm a youngish professor dealing with a bad apple in an otherwise great class. I'm pretty good at handling difficult personalities, but this student (male, older) was extremely rude to me in several e-mails and voice messages over an issue early in the term. I elected not to engage him or reply to his inappropriate correspondence, and he either got the message or didn't get the fight he was hoping for, and things settled down (save for a nasty note on a quiz about the same issue). He added my e-mail to a list he distributes, which means I get some benign stuff about local veteran's events, as well as some pretty awful anti-Islamic stuff. Again, I chose to ignore it, rather than get into a political debate with a student who wants to spar with a "liberal professor." Today, he asked where he could buy my book and whether I would inscribe it to him. Signing the book would make him go away, but I hate the thought of giving him anything that's personal or indicates that I like him. Is there any way I can appropriately get out of his request without telling him directly what I think of him?

óI'd Rather Sign a Monkey's Behind

Dear Rather,
Let me see if I understand this: You wrote a book, someone wants to buy it, but you'd prefer he didn't so you don't have to sign his copy. I haven't checked with Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but I have the feeling that if Jesus Christ showed up at one of his book signings, Hitchens would autograph a copy for him. I assume you're not closing down debate with this student because he's challenging your liberal assumptions (see letter above), but because he's loutish and won't engage in civil discourse. But putting your signature on the flyleaf does not mean you like this man, and refusing to sign seems unnecessarily churlish, especially to someone who wants to buy your book.


The only problem with Yoffie's answer is that it's incomplete -- Hitchens would also try to get Jesus to procure him several drinks and a pack carton of cigarettes as well.

posted by Dan at 07:45 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The mainstreaming of blogging in political science

When a former editor of the American Political Science Review gets into the blogging biz, you know things have changed.

So go check out The Monkey Cage, a group blog of three George Washington University professors of American politics. Their raison d'etre post is worth reading.

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Most awesome simulation ever

Robert Farley details a "mini-simulaton" at the Patterson School, "informed by repeated viewings of Independence Day."

And suddenly, millions of men who spend their weekends watching FX prick up their ears.

My favorite bit:

We worked out that the Vice President and the Cabinet (with the exception of the Secretary of Defense) have all, perhaps with a straggler or two, been killed. Congress fares much better, as we figured that most Senators and Representatives wouldn't be in DC during the attack. We're guessing about 85% of Congress survives.
No cabinet, little civil service, but a functional Congress? I predict the new capital would be in Bozeman, Montana -- which, as anyone who's been to Bozeman knows, it not an entirely bad outcome.

posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's in an M.A., redux

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Rob Farley have fired additional volleys on the utility of an M.A. in international relations.

Except that with this round, the debate is actually about something more fundamental -- the utility of international relations theory to policymaking.

These paragraphs suggest where Jackson is coming from:

[W]here it gets controversial is the relationship between scholarship and object. We have two ideal-typical positions on this: scholarship ought to improve practice, and scholarship can't possibly improve practice, at least not directly. Rob clearly prefers door #1; I prefer door #2. Rob's position is the classic Enlightenment hope for the sciences of society: place practice on a more rational basis, achieve better results, produce a world that looks more like the world we want to live in; I think that's both dangerous and a little naive -- dangerous because it puts a potential transcendental justification for coercion in the hands of would-be reformers (after all, if the experts told us that we can do this, and you disagree, then you're either stupid or obstinate, and in either way you're in the way so forcibly removing you starts to look like a good idea) and naive because it presumes that scholarly knowledge translates more or less simply to the actual world (and once again, if it doesn't, maybe we ought to use force to make the world look more like the model . . .).

I prefer option #2 -- scholarship can't possibly improve practice, at least not directly -- in part because people claiming to have Reason/God/Truth on their sides ("Jesus/Buddha/Muhammad/science likes my policy better!") have been responsible for most of the senseless death in human history, in part because systematic scholarly knowledge is by nature an abstraction (and sometimes a severe abstraction, in which the actual practice of anyone in particular disappears -- the sports analogy here would be to sabremetric analyses of baseball, and we've seen what happens when actual baseball teams try to directly implement strategies that look valid sabremetrically) and therefore not fit for any sort of direct translation into practice, and in part because scholarly knowledge is irreducibly perspectival and thus does not seem to me to be a good solid basis for decision-making (although it can certainly inform decision-making as one element among others).

Farley's response to this is here. My response is below the fold....

From this excerpt, I've concluded that Jackson is likely correct that he should not be teaching anyone in an M.A. program. I am more skeptical that this stricture should be applied to others.

The problem with Jackson's argument is that it sets up a false dichotomy. Neither ideal type holds, and most profs in policy schools are smart enough to know that. International relations theory provides some useful constructs through which one can interpret world politics. Now -- and this is important -- they are far from perfect. Most IR theories -- hell, most social science theories -- do a much better job at after-the-fact explanation than before-the-fact prediction. In teaching them, therefore, one has to be wary of having your students believe that what they are learning is some sort of gospel. [This, by the way, is one reason why an M.A. has value-added -- most M.A. students eventually realize that sometime there is no right answer to a question. B.A. students are more reluctant to believe that the Wizards of IR are not all-powerful.]

Why teach theory at all, then? Two quick answers. First. to paraphrase Churchill, IR theory is a lousy rotten way of understanding the world -- until you consider the alternatives. Policymakers who claim to disdain abstract theories just use implicit ones -- poorly chosen historical analogies, bad metaphors, you name it. Jackson's "intellectually isolationist" approach to teaching policy doesn't make the situation any better -- it just deprives would-be policymakers of a component in their analytical tool kit.

Second, good teachers don't just teach the strengths of a particular theoretical approach -- they also teach the weaknesses and blind spots of each approach. This is the "procedural liberalism" that Michael Berube is so fond of. As Farley puts it:

Why wouldn't it be better if the policymakers in question had some theoretical training, such that they could, on their own, evaluate elements of the claims that the scholars are making? This IS teaching students; it's teaching students to be better, more critical policymakers.
Teaching students theoretical concepts and how to critique them is a two-fer. Hopefully, it provides them with some useful knowledge about how the world works. More importantly, however, it should teach them how to judge for themselves about how the world works. That's the best way to get students to temper the idealism that scares the crap out of Jackson.

Oh, one last point -- Jackson's sabremetric metaphor is crap. The Boston Red Sox have been successful in the past half-decade because of a combination of sabremetric analysis, traditional scouting, and a larger budget to fill out the roster. Sabremetrics was not solely responsible -- but without it, there's no way they win two World Series either.

This is how IR scholarship should be viewed as well -- an insufficient but necessary base of knowledge from which one can craft effective policies.

posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Training the MAs

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson has a rather odd post at Duck of Minerva in which he questions the utiliy of an MA in international relations. Which is OK, except I'm pretty sure that's the degree program in which he teaches:

I have to admit that at some level I simply do not understand the idea of a terminal MA degree in international relations, although I teach in a policy school that awards large numbers of them every year. I do not understand what is supposed to be gained through the course of study that most MA students engage in, since they don't do enough coursework to develop a real scholarly grasp of the field (or even of their specialized portion of it) and at least in my experience they generally don't do enough concrete skills-training to really develop themselves as competent professionals (and when they do, it comes in their internships rather than in the classroom, which is what virtually any MA in international relations will tell you if you ask them where they learned the most during their graduate school experiences). So as far as I can tell it is largely a certification and networking exercise, and an expensive one at that.

When I teach and work with MA students I am generally looking for those students who really wanted a Ph.D. but perhaps didn't know it yet. Either that or I am looking for those rare MA students who are actually interested in scholarship as a vocation.... as a professor I largely only have one thing to offer to anyone: I press people to clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously. Period. In my experience a very small minority of MA students find this helpful, and I primarily work with those students.

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Rob Farley dissents from this view:
The courses in a terminal MA program (at least the one I'm part of) are far more policy oriented, with a correspondingly greater focus on the empirical over the theoretical, than students would encounter in a political science program. Memos are a learned skill, as is the ability to skim the news for noteworthy events, manage time, and so forth.... it's possible that nothing genuinely productive is happening here, but I'd really like to think that students emerge with a firmer grasp of the debates, a stronger sense of the empirical, and a few skills that they'll need in the workplace. As such, it's really irrelevant whether they have a scholarly grasp of the field; indeed, such a grasp might even be counter-productive....

I came to the conclusion very, very quickly that looking for potential Ph.D. candidates would be a serious mistake, both in terms of projecting my own interests onto students who didn't care, and in shortchanging those very talented students who couldn't give a rat's ass about the arcane debates that define the academic study of international relations. In general, I've been very reluctant to encourage even the most capable students to pursue further study, in no small part because I think that they'll have more lucrative and productive careers outside of academia than within.

As I begin my second year at Fletcher, I'm definitely with Farley on this one. If you want to ensure a life of wretched misery, teach at a policy school and try to convert persuade your favorite students to get a Ph.D. Most likely you'll fail in your efforts, which will embitter you. If, God forbid, you succeed, you'll embiter the student 90% of the time.

You cannot and should not coax a student into getting a Ph.D. You can tell them they have the intellectual chops for it, but for them to commit to four five six more than six years of grad school, they need to have the internal compulsion to do it. (To be clear, I'm not actively dissuading my MAs either. If they come to me with the Ph.D. ambition, I'll try to suss out their underlying motivations. If I'm persuaded, then I'll offer my full-throated support.]

As for the training, the goal shouldn't be to ensure that the students have "a real scholarly grasp of the field." You should ensure, however, that they are trained well enough to become discriminating consumers of the policy and scholarly literature (I suspect that Jackson does this when he presses his students to, "clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously"). Beyond that, as Farley suggests, the skill set of policymakers looks rather different from those of scholars.

UPDATE: A commenter to this post makes an excellent point:

I feel that the best IR/Policy MAs are those earned from institutions that requre their applicants to have actually DONE something before matriculating....

Mr. Jackson teaches at a MA program with a significantly younger study body, and which admits a very significant number of MA students directly out of undergrad. Maybe this makes a difference?

So true.

posted by Dan at 11:02 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Stay away -- I have a syndrome!!

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Gravois writes about a syndrome that's so pervasive I'm not sure it can be called a syndrome so much as an occupational hazard:

On a recent evening, Columbia University held a well-attended workshop for young academics who feel like frauds.

These were duly vetted, highly successful scholars who nonetheless live in creeping fear of being found out. Exposed. Sent packing.

If that sounds familiar, you may have the impostor syndrome. In psychological terms, that's a cognitive distortion that prevents a person from internalizing any sense of accomplishment.

"It's like we have this trick scale," says Valerie Young, a traveling expert on the syndrome who gave the workshop at Columbia. Here's how that scale works: Self-doubt and negative feedback weigh heavily on the mind, but praise barely registers. You attribute your failures to a stable, inner core of ineptness. Meanwhile, you discount your successes as accidental or, worse, as just so many confidence jobs. Every positive is a false positive.

By many accounts, academics ó graduate students, junior professors, and even some full professors ó relate to this only a little less than they relate to eye strain.

Of course, there's the question of whether it's such a bad thing:
According to [professor of psychology Gail] Matthews, a person with impostor syndrome typically experiences a cycle of distress when faced with a new task: self-doubt, followed by perfectionism, then ó sometimes but not always ó procrastination.

"The next step is often overwork," Ms. Matthews says. "It has a driven quality ó a lot of anxiety, a lot of suffering.

"Then comes success," she says. "So you do well!"

(Pause for a brief sigh of relief.)

"Then you discount your success," she says. "Success reinforces the whole cycle."

So the academy's occupational hazard is society's welfare benefit.

The story links to this site about imposter syndrome -- which has some imposter-y like qualities to it. Take the quiz to see if you have the syndrome. If you have one of eight symptoms -- including perfectionism -- you have the syndrome!!

[And how many symptoms do you have?--ed. All of them. But on the other hand, I also have a blog, which is likely a symptom of the polar opposite of imposter syndrome -- the belief that you are an expert on anything and everything. Indeed, we'll know when the blogosphere has really become professionalized when paid bloggers start fessing up to imposter syndrome.]

UPDATE: Of course, as David Leonhardt points out in today's New York Times, sometimes there really are imposters or frauds amidst us.

posted by Dan at 08:45 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The kind of conversations that happen at IR conferences

UPDATE: As God is my witness, I did not know about this when I posted the exchange below.

The following transcript approximates a real exchange that took place at the conference I attended this past weekend among serious members of the international relations community.

This is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent:

POLICYMAKER A: You know, they've done experiments with monkeys where they have to do tricks to earn a cucumber. The two monkeys can see each other do the tricks, as well as the rewards they receive.

After a few days of trick, cucumber, etc., the experimenter gave the first monkey a cucumber, but then gave the second monkey a red grape after his trick. The first monkey nibbled at his cucumber, but did not finish it.

The next day, this was repeated. And the first monkey took the cucumber and threw it on the ground.

The third day, the first monkey took the cucumber and threw it at the experimenter.

So the point is, all primates have an innate sense of fairness, and will react when they see it violated.

IR THEORIST A: Here's the thing... if the experimenter shoots the monkey when it throws the cucumber, the other monkeys will process that information as well. So it's not only about a sense of fairness, it's about survival.

POLICYMAKER B: Yes, the experimenter could shoot the monkey, and maybe that would cow the other monkeys into submision. If you keep shooting monkeys, however, it might encourage the remaining ones to rise up and overthrow the experimenters and establish their own cucumber plantation.

For the rest of the conference, this last exchange was referred to as "the cucumber paradigm."

I wonder if George Orwell hung around international relations types all that much.

posted by Dan at 12:17 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

BDM, in profile

Good Magazine has a long Michael Lerner profile of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, the chair of political science at New York University (in the field, Bruce will forever be known by the three letter acronym "BDM.")

Lerner's story is about BDM's political forecasting techniques, his use of rational choice methodology... and the uniqueness that is Bruce:

If you listen to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and a lot of people donít, heíll claim that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. Whatís more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. ďSome people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,Ē says one colleague. ďOthers think heís a quack.Ē

Today, on a rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, Bueno de Mesquita appears to be neither. Heís relaxing in his stately home, answering my questions with exceeding politesse. Sunlight streams through the tall windows, the melodic sound of a French horn echoing from somewhere upstairs; his daughter, a musician in a symphony orchestra, is practicing for an upcoming recital. Itís all so complacent and genteel, which is exactly what Bueno de Mesquita isnít. As if on cue, a question sets him off. ďI found it to be offensive,Ē he says about a colleagueís critique of his work. ďThis is absolutely, totally, and utterly false,Ē he says about the attack of another....

To verify the accuracy of [BDM's] model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langleyís more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. ďWe tested Bueno de Mesquitaís model on scores of issues that were conducted in real timeóthat is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,Ē says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. ďWe found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,Ē he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquitaís real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that ďthe probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.Ē Whatís more, Bueno de Mesquitaís forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. ďThe real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,Ē says Feder. ďWe found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the modelís forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, thatís great. But if you hit the bullís eyeóthatís amazing.Ē

How does Bueno de Mesquita do this? With mathematics. ďYou start with a set of assumptions, as you do with anything, but you do it in a formal, mathematical way,Ē he says. ďYou break them down as equations and work from there to see what follows logically from those assumptions.Ē The assumptions heís talking about concern each actorís motives. You configure those motives into equations that are, essentially, statements of logic based on a predictive theory of how people with those motives will behave. From there, you start building your mathematical model. You determine whether the predictive theory holds true by plugging in data, which are numbers derived from scales of preferences that you ascribe to each actor based on the various choices they face.

Read the whole thing if you want a mostly accurate but incomplete discussion of rational choice theory and its critics -- Mearsheimer and Walt make cameo appearances!

[Jeez, doesn't BDM seems like a bit of a self-promoter?--ed. Compared to whom? Relative to many IR scholars, Bueno de Mesquita has not been shy in trumpeting his own horn. Compared to others, however, BDM seems pretty normal.]

The part that grabbed my attention was BDM's proposal for how to address the Israel/Palestinian conflict:

Recently, heís applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ďIn my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ainít going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,Ē he says. ďLand for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, ĎYou made a good step, itís a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I canít give you peace just for this, itís not enough.í Conversely, if we have peace for landóyou disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the landóthe reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once youíve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.Ē

Bueno de Mesquitaís answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. ďIn a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists donít come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. Itís completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and thatís that.Ē

I'm not sure the long-run demographics of the region would support this idea, but it's certainly intriguing.

Full disclosure: When I was putting together my dissertation committee oh so many years ago, I was fortunate enough to persuade Bruce to join -- and The Sanctions Paradox is a much, much better book because of that decision.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What the f@#% is going on with the University of California Regents?

I've been remiss in not posting about the rather disturbing incidents involving the U of C Regents. Fortunately, University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway does an excellent job of summarizing the state of play:

When the University of California Regents rescinded former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's invitation to speak at a Board dinner this month, it was too easy to link Summers with Erwin Chemerinsky: Just days before, the University of California at Irvine had rescinded Chemerinsky's invitation to serve as dean of their new law school. While the two cases share some common elements--in both, the officials reneged under pressure on commitments presumably made in good faith and for good reasons--the superficial similarities conceal deep differences. In the Chemerinsky case, UC threatened Chemerinsky's academic freedom; in the Summers case, UC threatened mine--and that of everyone else who teaches here.
Read all of Rauchway's essay. Given that it was UC-Davis faculty who started the petition to uninvite Summers, I imagine Rauchway is going to have some awkward conversations the next few days.

One last point. According to this San Francisco Chronicle story:

"I was appalled and stunned that someone like Summers would even be invited to speak to the regents," said UC Davis Professor Maureen Stanton, who helped put together the petition drive. "I think many of us who were involved in the protest believed that it wouldn't reflect well on the university that he even received the invitation."

The petition called Summers' invitation "not only misguided but inappropriate" at a time when the university is working to diversify its community....

While delighted that the regents have decided to replace Summers, Stanton now hopes the dispute will be quickly forgotten.

"Frankly, we'd like to see the story just die at this point," she said.

At least Stanton is consistent -- she apparently doesn't want to have a debate about anything.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A post in which I go against my material self-interest

Greg Mankiw links to a James Miller column in Inside Higher Ed on how to promote better teaching in the academy. It involves -- wait for it -- giving more money to professors:

What tools should colleges use to reward excellent teachers? Some rely on teaching evaluations that students spend only a few minutes filling out. Others trust deans and department chairs to put aside friendships and enmities and objectively identify the best teachers. Still more colleges donít reward teaching excellence and hope that the lack of incentives doesnít diminish teaching quality.

I propose instead that institutions should empower graduating seniors to reward teaching excellence. Colleges should do this by giving each graduating senior $1,000 to distribute among their faculty. Colleges should have graduates use a computer program to distribute their allocations anonymously.

Some academics have already pointed out the potential effects on grade inflation. There are two other reasons, however, why I think this idea wouldn't work.

First, the professor-student relationship does not necessarily end at graduation. A large swath of students rely on their former professors for letters of recommendation on the job market and for graduate school. My fear about this proposal is not that it would lead to grade inflation, but praise inflation in letters of recommendation.

My second reason is more amorphous, and perhaps more easily dismissed, but I just don't think professors will warm to the idea. This is not (only) because bad teachers would be the relative losers, but because the good teachers would feel weird about getting the money. I suspect that most professors do not want to be part of a profession that thrives on gratuities. This might be a blinkered bias (or it might be an example that supports Tyler Cowen's assertion that some market transactions only work under certain environmental conditions), but it still exists. And I'm not entirely sure the students would feel comfortable with this idea either. Even if the professor-student relationship is a market transaction, it's also an authority relationship, and this will inhibit market-based activity to an extent.

Of course, it is useful to point out that the greatest economist of them all would have heartily agreed with Miller:

The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions.

In some universities the salary makes but a part, and frequently but a small part, of the emoluments of the teacher, of which the greater part arises from the honoraries or fees of his pupils. The necessity of application, though always more or less diminished, is not in this case entirely taken away. Reputation in his profession is still of some importance to him, and he still has some dependency upon the affection, gratitude, and favourable report of those who have attended upon his instructions; and these favourable sentiments he is likely to gain in no way so well as by deserving them, that is, by the abilities and diligence with which he discharges every part of his duty.

In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

This is what happens when you ask me to deliver a convocation speech

I was recruited to be the faculty speaker at The Fletcher School's fall convocation. My talk was modestly titled "On Global Governance, Think Tanks, and Angelina Jolie."

Go check it out. One of my opening jokes:

I feel like I am obligated to impart some priceless nugget of wisdom, something that can be of use to you for the rest of your lives. After racking my brain for six weeks, here was what I was able to come up with (take paper out of pocket)Ö. never, under any circumstances, buy a cheap mattress. You will spend a quarter to a third of your lives on this particular piece of furniture. If you buy an inexpensive bed to save some money in the short term, your back will remind you of this error for the rest of your life. Take it from someone who once made this mistake Ė always splurge on your mattress.
Just because it's funny silly doesn't mean it's not true.

I should add that the student speaker, Isabel De Sola, acquitted herself quite well. Click here to read her speech.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

An APSA wrap-up

Another year, another APSA into the archives. A few random thoughts about this year's meetings.

1) Here's an interesting etiquette question. Say you're a very senior scholar who's in the audience for a panel of interest. Now say the panel chair calls you out by name to say that it's great that you're here and that everyone is looking forward to hear your thoughts on the panel during the Q & A. Are you obligated to stay and say something profound?

2) Rob Farley dissents from my "anti-dowdy" defense of political scientists:

Color me unconvinced that the sartorial sense of political scientists has improved. Casual observation on the night before the first day of the conference indicates that the uniform remains substantially unchanged; navy blazer with brass buttons, button down shirt with no tie and t-shirt showing at the neck, pleated slacks.... and please, people; there's no reason to be wearing your name tag to the bar before the damn conference even starts.
First, let me say "Amen!" on Farley's last point.

Second, I'll concede to a bit of hindsight bias on the sartorial question. I realize now that after a conference, the stylish choices stick in my brain while the "uniform" washes away from my brain. Of course, Farley's "uniform" is mostly the domain of graduate students, who face harder budget constraints

Nevertheless, I'll stand by my statement on the whole. Remember, I was declaring political scientists as less sartorially challenged than economists. I've seen enough of the latter to remain firm in this conviction. Plus, this weekend downtown Chicago was populated by either a) political scientists, and; b) Iowa football fans -- and the political scientists won that dress competition hands down.

3) Speaking of sports, this result revealed a surprising amount of anti-Michigan sentiment among APSA attendees.

4) You know you have a good panel topic when 30 people show up for an 8:00 AM-on-Thursday time slot. Props to Laura, Tim Groeling, Matt Baum, and the other paper presenters.

5) The most interesting thing I learned at this conference: back in the 1930's, APSA produced a weekly broadcast for NBC radio. Matthew Hindman explains:

From 1932 to 1936, the APSA sponsored a nationwide radio program on NBC. Entitled "You and Your Goverment," it was run by some of the most famous scholars in the discipline's history, including Charles A. Beard and Charles Merriam. Incredibly, the show aired on Tuesday nights after Amos 'n' Andy--guaranteeing a lead-in audience of tens of millions. Six percent of the APSA's membership--and nearly all of its leading lights--were featured in the most prominent time slot in broadcast history.

At the start of the broadcasts, the committe organizing the broadcsats declared that they were "the greatest single opportunity directly to effect citizenship in the United States that has ever been offered." The program signified "the opening of the door of wider usefulness for the political scientist." Yet a few years later, when NBC cancelled the program, these same political scientists had changed their tune, calling broadcasting "a positive menace to culture and democracy."

Click here to read Hindman's paper on the subject.

6) When booksellers offer a book for three or five dollars during the peak of the conference, it's a sign that they overestimated demand. Among the books I saw in that category this year: Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift, and the paperback version of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat.

7) Your quote of the conference, "For $750,000, I'd blame the Israel Lobby for all our problems too."

posted by Dan at 09:52 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The unsolved mysteries of APSA

Blogging will be light the next couple of days as your humble blogger attends this year's annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Despite my strong preference for Las Vegas, APSA has yet to be held in that city -- we'll see if they ever get another chapter from me!!

I've blogged about this conference before. The theme of this year's post will be "unsolved mysteries." Here are the burning questions I have about APSA going forward:

1) Will Laura McKenna wear sling back heels for her 8:00 AM on Thursday panel? If she doesn't, will her panel chair be cross with her?

2) What's the worst time slot to present at APSA? The two obvious candidates are the earliest panel time (which would be at 8:00 AM on Thursday) and the latest panel time (which would be Sunday at 10:15 AM). My vote is for the Sunday slot -- the dregs of a conference are more depressing than the beginning. Plus, at least the people who have the first time slot get their obligation out of the way.

3) There is a distinguished scholar who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this posy. This scholar attends APSA on a regular basis and, as near as I can figure, displays the identical sartorial choice at every conference. He always wears a rolled-up red bandana around his neck (political scientists, you know of whom I speak, so no naming names in the comments).

Here's what I want to know: does the man have more than one kerchief? Is there a drawerful of them? Does he change it every day? Does he wear them when he's not at APSA or ISA? To quote an old Bloom County strip, "Does it get the chicks? I mean, in truckloads?"

4) As previously observed, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have complained about the lack of available venues for them to present their argument (whether this complaint is always sincere is another question entirely). Why, then, is there no APSA panel or roundtable devoted to their forthcoming book? Did APSA reject the panel? Was one never submitted?

Political scientists are encouraged to contribute their own APSA mysteries.

posted by Dan at 03:48 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 27, 2007

This blog post is dedicated to the incoming Fletcher students

Incoming Fletcher students who are curious about taking Classics of International Relations Theory and/or The Art and Science of Statecraft this fall can access the syllabi for these courses at my teaching page.

Those of you determined to take Classics of International Relations Theory would do well to purchase The Landmark Thucydides (edited by Robert Strassler) as soon as possible -- be it through,, or other means.

Those of you determined to take The Art and Science of Statecraft would do well to purchase Statecraft, by Dennis Ross, as soon as possible -- be it through,, or other means.

That is all.

posted by Dan at 09:02 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An interesting definition of free speech

The New York Times' Patricia Cohen reports that John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's book-length treatise, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, will be released on September 4th. Because of the controversy, some venues, like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, have cancelled appearances by the authors.

Part of the problem, however, seems to stem from how Mearsheimer and Walt define "free speech":

ďOne of the points we make in the book is that this is a subject thatís very hard to talk about,Ē Mr. Walt said in an interview from his office in Cambridge. ďOrganizations, no matter how strong their commitment to free speech, donít want to schedule something thatís likely to cause controversy.Ē

After the [Chicago Council's] cancellation Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall, a store in Winnetka, Ill., offered to help find a site for the authors. She said she tried a Jewish community center and two large downtown clubs but they all told her ďthey canít afford to bring in somebody Ďtoo controversial.í Ē She added that even she was concerned about inviting authors who might offend customers.

Some of the planned sites, like the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, a cultural center in Washington, would have been host of an event if Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt appeared with opponents, said Esther Foer, the executive director.

Mr. Walt said, ďPart of the game is to portray us as so extreme that we have to be balanced by someone from the Ďother side.í Ē Besides, he added, when youíre promoting a book, you want to present your ideas without appearing with someone who is trying to discredit you.

Yes.... I can see how presenting an 'opposing view' stifles free speech and debate.

UPDATE: Mearsheimer and Walt elaborate on why they don't like sharing the stage with the 'other side'. This paragraph is particularly interesting:

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us personallyósuch as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled to include ďcontending viewsĒ in order to preserve ďbalanceĒ and to insulate themselves from external criticism.
I think it's actually pretty easy to parse between charges of anti-Semitism and charges that "The Israel Lobby" is a slipshod work of social science. And, hey, what do you know, so do people quoted in Cohen's story:
As for City University, Aoibheann Sweeney, director of the Center for the Humanities, said, ďI looked at the introduction, and I didnít feel that the book was saying things differently enoughĒ from the original article. Ms. Sweeney, who said she had consulted with others at City University, acknowledged that they had begun planning for an event in September moderated by J. J. Goldberg, the editor of The Forward, a leading American Jewish weekly, but once he chose not to participate, she decided to pass. Mr. Goldberg, who was traveling in Israel, said in a telephone interview that ďthere should be more of an open debate.Ē But appearing alone with the authors would have given the impression that The Forward was presenting the event and thereby endorsing the book, he said, and he did not want to do that. A discussion with other speakers of differing views would have been different, he added.

ďI donít think the book is very good,Ē said Mr. Goldberg, who said he read a copy of the manuscript about six weeks ago. ďThey havenít really done original research. They havenít talked to the people who are being lobbied or those doing the lobbying.Ē

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Michael Ignatieff's incredibly long learning curve

I was in Montreal for the weekend (brief side note to the Department of Homeland Security -- loved that two-and-a-half hour wait at the border to drive across; much more friendly than the 15-minute wait to get into Canada).

While chatting with some McGill folk, the topic of Michael Ignatieff came up. Ignatieff was a Harvard political theorist who re-entered Canadian politics with great fanfare a few years ago. For a brief time, he was the frontrunner to be the head of the Liberal Party, before engaging in a series of blunders that have rendered him to backbencher status.

One of Ignatieff's difficulties during the leadership race was his vocal support for the Iraq invasion. He just wrote a sorta mea culpa in the New York Times Magazine, in which he tried to apply what he learned in the world of politics to his prior policy pronouncements as an academic:

Iíve learned that good judgment in politics looks different from good judgment in intellectual life. Among intellectuals, judgment is about generalizing and interpreting particular facts as instances of some big idea. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way.
Matthew Yglesias, Jim Johnson, and Brad DeLong all take Ignatieff to task for omitting the fact most academics with any expertise in U.S. foreign policy and/or the Middle East opposed the war. DeLong summarizes this point well:
I think what Michael Ignatieff is talking about is not an academic mode of thought but a student mode of thought--a not-too-bright-student mode of thought. A not-too-bright student achieves success by (a) figuring out which book on the syllabus is favored by the instructor, (b) taking that book to be the gospel, and (c) regurgitating large chunks of that book on the exams and in the papers.

It surprises me that Michael Ignatieff thinks that opining about a situation while knowing that one is massively ignorant about it is an academic mode of thought.

What's breathtaking to me about Ignatieff's essay is that it represents the apotheosis of what Ignatieff thinks is academic reasoning: lots of banal generalities and big ideas, very little about the particulars of Iraq (apparently, the exiles got to him). If you're going to write a mea culpa, you have to be more specific about your mistakes.

Also commenting on the essay, the Crooked Timberites have a go at one of my posts.

Henry Farrell challenges a question I made over the weekend: "If there are no virtues to a monolithic, cartelistic 'foreign policy community,' what are the virtues of an ideologically uniform, progressive foreign policy community?":

[I]t was less important to commentatorsí careers to be right than to be ďseriousĒ (i.e. to fit somewhere within the limited spectrum of views that is considered acceptable by the community, not to challenge treasured shibboleths etc etc). This is where I think Dan Drezner is wrong, and Duncan Black is right. The netrootsí critique of the ďforeign policy communityĒ isnít that foreign policy experts walk in lockstep on the wrong side of the aisle, and they should instead be walking in lockstep on the right one; itís that there is something structural that is rotten in how this Ďcommunityí systematically excludes certain points of view while privileging others, even after the latter have been shown to be deeply, badly, and arguably irreparably flawed.
Kieran Healy also jumps in here:
Presumably if the outsiders had been wrong on Iraq this would have deepened Danís skepticism as well. But the guys who were wrong are still inside the tent, and this doesnít seem to be a problem for him.
Kieran has misinterpreted me. I'm not condoning O'Hanlon and Pollack, and I agree that a price should be paid for getting things wrong. My point is that I'm unconvinced that substituting "netrootsy" people for the current foreign policy community will result in better policy or a better marketplace of ideas. The factors that restricted debate about Iraq -- individual desires for influence, a desire to please colleagues, etc. -- will not go away. Nor am I convinced that the netrootsy folks have a better grasp on foreign policy than the current mandarins.

Henry's structural point is well taken, but I see no reason why the structural forces will not apply to any group of individuals that believe themselves to be approaching the levers of power.

UPDATE: Over at Democracy Arsenal, Heather Hurlburt gets to a similar point while traveling down a different road:

Eventually, the people who are elected to office are going to have to work across party lines to fashion new policies for Iraq, anti-terrorism, global warming, etc. (If you've seen polling that suggests Democrats -- the left end of the party at that -- getting veto-proof majorities in both houses in '08, send it along. But I'm not holding my breath.) That means the policy professionals have to retain some minimum levels of respect and listening skills for each other. That doesn't mean we have to like each other. It doesn't mean that what John Negroponte oversaw in Central America in the 1980s is now ok, for example. But it does mean we need to evaluate his policy proposals -- or anyone else's -- on their merits.

Not everybody has to maintain minimum levels of respect and courtesy. That's the joy of the blogosphere. There's a vital place in American political discourse for the unbound truthteller, the glorious rant, the savage, scathing partisan. And there's a place for people who love the grey amid the black and white, the nagging details, who prefer to be up to their elbows in the guts of compromise that actually is policy-making on every issue -- because compromising, like ranting, is human nature.

The openness of new media and the blogosphere -- plus the depth of national anger over this misbegotten war -- is mixing up the two spheres in ways that are sometimees productive and sometimes not. Policy professionals need to grow thick skins fast -- and maybe get used to listening to what the non-experts have to say. Opinionators, for their part, could use a more visceral sense of how much harder making policy is than writing about it.

posted by Dan at 02:15 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Why there will never be a reality show about academia

Four years ago (?!!), I blogged the following:

[T]he caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male who inevitably bed one or more of their students.
In The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz uses many more paragraphs to make a similar point:
Look at recent movies about academics, and a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Jeff Daniels plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In One True Thing (1998), William Hurt plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, has just been left by his third wife, and canít commit to the child heís conceived in an adulterous affair with his chancellor. Danielsís character is vain, selfish, resentful, and immature. Hurtís is vain, selfish, pompous, and self-pitying. Douglasís is vain, selfish, resentful, and self-pitying. Hurtís character drinks. Douglasís drinks, smokes pot, and takes pills. All three men measure themselves against successful writers (two of them, in Douglasís case; his own wife, in Danielsís) whose presence diminishes them further. In We Donít Live Here Anymore (2004), Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause divide the central role: both are English professors, and both neglect and cheat on their wives, but Krause plays the arrogant, priapic writer who seduces his students, Ruffalo the passive, self-pitying failure. A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004) divides the stereotype a different way, with John Travolta as the washed-up, alcoholic English professor, Gabriel Macht as the blocked, alcoholic writer.

Not that these figures always teach English. Kevin Spacey plays a philosophy professor ó broken, bitter, dissolute ó in The Life of David Gale (2003). Steve Carell plays a self-loathing, suicidal Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Both characters fall for graduate students, with disastrous results. And while the stereotype has gained a new prominence of late, its roots go back at least a few decades. Many of its elements are in place in Oleanna (1994), in Surviving Desire (1991), and, with John Mahoneyís burnt-out communications professor, in Moonstruck (1987). In fact, all of its elements are in place in Terms of Endearment (1983), where Jeff Daniels took his first turn playing a feckless, philandering English professor. And of course, almost two decades before that, there was Whoís Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Whatís going on here? If the image of the absent-minded professor stood for benevolent unworldliness, what is the meaning of the new academic stereotype? Why are so many of these failed professors also failed writers? Why is professional futility so often connected with sexual impropriety? (In both Terms of Endearment and We Donít Live Here Anymore, ďgoing to the libraryĒ becomes a euphemism for ďgoing to sleep with a student.Ē) Why are these professors all men, and why are all the ones who are married such miserable husbands?

Deresiewicz answers his own question with a Jungian flourish ( "they are a way of articulating the superiority of female values to male ones: of love, community, and self-sacrifice to ambition, success, and fame"). Actually, there are several Jungian flourishes, to match the many answers he provides.

Rather than tangle with Deresiewicz, let me offer up an explanation, provided my the Official Blogwife, that Deresiewicz leaves unexplored: "The reason professors sleep with their students in fiction is because any realistic portrayal of your jobs would bore readers out of their skulls within ten minutes."

Alas, this is true. I'd like to think I've carved out an interesting career, but a diary of a typical working day for me would probably run as follows:

9:00 A.M.: Dan turns on computer.

9:01 A.M.: Dan checks e-mail.

9:10 A.M.: Dan surfs news sites.

9:30 A.M.: Dan considers writing referee report that was due ten days ago; decides it's better tackled after lunch.

9:31 A.M.: Dan opens up Word document containing manuscript du jour and stares blankly at it for a while.

9:41 A.M.: Dan decides that he's really itching to work on the other manuscript du jour, because this is where his mind is wandering. He opens up that document and stares blankly at it for a while.

9:51 A.M.: On a good day, Dan gets a small piece of inspiration that he quickly converts into a paragraph of prose that will buttress his thesis.

9:56 A.M.: Dan scratches his ass.

And so on.

UPDATE: Jeez, even the librarians have more fun. At least, however, professors retain their mighty fun advantage over either economic journalists or graduate students.

posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Earn yourself a high-profile acknowledgement!!!

The hard-working staff here at is calling on its readers for help.

Your humble blogger has a forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics that, in draft form, used the following editorial cartoon to explain a particular theory of public opinion formation:


In order to publish the cartoon in the article, I need to locate a cleaner version of this caroon, plus copyright permission from the syndicate that distributes it.

The thing is, I have no idea who drew this editorial cartoon, or which syndicate distributed it. As the cartoon probably suggests, I clipped it out of a newspaper more than a decade ago because I thought it was funny. I had no idea I'd be using it for a scholarly article.

So, whoever can identify the artist and syndicate that distributed this sucker will get added to the acknowledgments in the paper itself. {Wow, a real acknowledgment!! Are employees eligible?--ed. Eligibility restricted to individuals not directly related to the blogger.]

Go to it!!

UPDATE: Thanks to the many readers who responded with the correct answer -- the Akron Beacon Journal's Chip Bok. Alas, only the first responder gets the acknowledgement.

posted by Dan at 06:52 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

In praise of social science

Virginia Postrel is attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, and has a scabrously funny post on the opening festivities. Her basic complaint -- too many humanities types and not enough social scientists:

[The opening night] illustrated a bizarre lacuna in the conference in general: a distinct lack of social scientists. The absence of economic thinking is glaring, especially given its dominance in the rest of public discourse, but it's not as though the lineup is full of sociologists or psychologists either. The presumption seems to be that anyone can opine on those topics, especially if they're experts in something else, and that there are no new ideas or discoveries to be found in the social world.
This is a problem Brad DeLong encountered last month as well in the pages of The New Yorker.

This leads to an interesting question: what publication outlets and/or bigthink conferences would benefit the most from an infusion of social scientists?

And, just to be contrary, which publication outlets and/or bigthink conferences would benefit the most from an infusion of humanities types?

posted by Dan at 08:58 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Henry Farrell creates a poli sci public good

Ezra Klein believes that there is a poli sci gap in the blogosphere.

In response, Henry Farrell decides to create a public good to partially address this issue.

The result won't be more poli sci blogs, but it will provide some connective tissue between political science and the blogosphere.

Henry explains:

Welcome to the political science papers blog, which seeks to serve as a rough-and-ready guide to political science papers which are likely to have some appeal to a general audience (as measured by the editorís idiosyncratic notions of Ďappealí). As currently constituted, the blog will post entries consisting of the abstracts of the papers, bibliographic details, and, where available, links to the papers in question. Where the editor has something additional to say about the paper, and time to say it, heíll include this too. To submit papers for consideration, send the details (including URL, cut-and-pastable abstract and bibliographic details please) to henry at the domain name henryfarrell with the suffix .net. If the paper is available outside a journalís paywall, this is obviously likely to make non-academics more likely to read and download it.

posted by Dan at 07:09 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Following up on Finkelstein

In Reason, Cathy Young follows up on Norman Finkelstein's tenure denial. Young's conclusion: "one may legitimately ask if the real political bias lay not in the denial of tenure to Finkelstein, but in the political science department's support for his tenure bid." I'm not quite as sanguine about the case as Young, but she may well have a point here.

Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz reports the following in FrontPage Magazine:

According to a news story in todayís Chicago Sun-Times, a report filed against his tenure by three members of the Political Science faculty ďclaims that Finkelstein allegedly called a female staff member a Ďbitch.íĒ The report also claimed that Finkelstein ďshunnedĒ colleagues who disagreed with him and that his boorish conduct extended to ďdramatically closing his office door when his colleague arrives.Ē In addition to describing his abusive sexist behavior toward a subordinate, the report characterized Finkelstein as ďmean spiritĒ and as ďunprofessional.Ē

This negative report was suppressed by Finkelstein supporters who leaked other, more favorable assessments.

I tried to find this story at the Sun-Times web site and couldn't find it. Props to anyone who can find this story.

UPDATE: Ask and you will receive. Props to Martin.

posted by Dan at 08:42 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Regarding Norman Finkelstein

I've acquired a passing interest in Chicago-based professors of political science who are denied tenure, so I've been reading up on DePaul's decision to reject Norman Finkelstein's tenure case.

Here's what I think I think....

1) Finkelstein and his supporters are crying "outside interference" in the form of Alan Dershowitz's jihad against Finkelstein. As someone who has been on the receiving end of a tenure denial, and been told by many, many people that idiotic reason X must be the key explanatory factor, I have to take this kind of charge with a whopping grain of salt. The decision-making process looks a bit odd (more on this below), but the official DePaul letter by President Dennis Holtschneider to Finkelstein explicitly stated that:
I am well aware of the outside interest in this decision, and the many ways in which the university community was 'lobbied' both to grant and to deny tenure. Examining the written record, I am satisfied that the faculty review process maintained its independence from this unwelcome attention. As much as some would like to create the impression that our process and decision have been influenced by outside interests, they are mistaken.
DePaul's press statement quoted its president again on this point: "Over the past several months, there has been considerable outside interest and public debate concerning this decision. This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case."

Are they speaking the whole truth? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, to issue such statements indicates that at the very least the officials involved believe it to be true. This makes me very skeptical that outside influence was the paramount factor here.

2) Finkelstein's supporters do not help his case by overpraising him. The final paragraph of the Guardian story on Finkelstein reads,"Mr Chomsky said before the announcement that the dispute was "outrageous. [Finkelstein] is an outstanding scholar. It's amazing that he hasn't had full professorship a long time ago."

Well now. Looking at a cached cv and Finkelstein's Wikipedia entry, a red flag for me is the fact that Finkelstein has been in the field for twenty years and apparently has never published a single peer-reviewed article. I looked on multiple search engines and the only journal articles I found were book reviews. Sorry, Noam, no one deserves a full professorship with that record. [Dude, he's published five books!!--ed. Yes, but I haven't heard of his primary book publisher, and peer-reviewed articles remain the gold standard in our field. DePaul ain't a top-20 institution, but it's good enough that this should have been an issue.]

3) If Finkelstein's supporters and detractors agree on one thing, it's that he's a nasty sparring partner. He likes to characterize the ADL as "Nazis." on his web site. His biggest boosters allow that he has a "polemical" writing style -- you can guess what his detractors think. [UPDATE: For an interesting conceptual exercise, read Henry Farrell's post on how to debate David Horowitz and try to apply that logic to Finkelstein.]

4) Despite all of this, DePaul's decision is really, really troubling to those of us who like academic freedom. The political science department voted 9-3 to grant him tenure, and they also exonerated him of academic misconduct charge that were levied against him. I would have understood if the department or the university had denied him because of holes in his scholarly record, but that was clearly not their reasoning. Indeed, in his letter to Finkelstein, DePaul's president him as "a nationally known scholar and public intellectual, considered provocative, challenging, and intellectually interesting." That's an "above-the-bar" description.

Instead, both the academic Dean and the President cited a lack of collegiality in Finkelstein's responses to his critics. The President quoted from the University Board on Tenure and Promotions [UBPT] report:

Notwithstanding the strength of some aspects of Dr. Finkelstein's record, the [UBPT] expressed several concerns touching upon his scholarship, specifically what they consider the intellectual character of his work and his persona as a public intellectual. The [UBPT] acknowledges that Dr. Finkelstein is a controversial author, provocative and challenging. Yet, some might interpret parts of his scholarsip as "deliberately hurtful" as well as provocative more for inflammatory effect than to carefully critique or challenge accepted assumptions. Criticism has been expressed for his inflammatory style and personal attacks in his writing and intellectual debates. These concerns are relevant to the [UBPT] in the recognition that an academic's reputation is intrinsically tied to the institution of which he or she is affiliated.
No question, there's the whiff of being "deliberately hurtful" in some of the record (Finkelstein accused Dershowitz of plagiarism in writing The Case For Israel). Style is not the same thing as substance, however, and DePaul's political science department found the substance worthy of tenure and promotion and the critiques of style not to rise to the level of character assassination.

Crudely put, you cannot and should not deny tenure to someone just because they've been an asshole in print. If you rigorously applied that criteria to the academy, you'd have to kick out a lot more people than Finkelstein.

The American Association of University Professors, in a statement on collegiality, observed the following:

Historically, ďcollegialityĒ has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm. The invocation of ďcollegialityĒ may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display ďenthusiasmĒ or ďdedication,Ē evince ďa constructive attitudeĒ that will ďfoster harmony,Ē or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty memberís right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.
I've never met Norman Finkelstein, I've never read any of Finkelstein's work, and based on the reviews, I suspect I'm none the poorer for it. I also suspect I wouldn't like him very much. There might well be valid reasons for having denied him tenure. But reading the paper trail on this case, it's hard not to conclude that DePaul did not use a valid reason. Indeed, it's hard not to conclude that Finkelstein got a raw deal.

posted by Dan at 09:41 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Citation protocol

In a strange confluence of blog streams, Ross Cameron and Brian Weatherson debate the propriety of posting papers online with the "Do not cite without author's permission" caution. The comment thread on Weatherson's post is particlarly interesting, and does highlight a growing problem. Since working paper versions of published journal articles are often easier to access online, they might generate citations when the final paper is an improved version.

At the same time, Eric Rauchway and Brad DeLong discuss the fears of non-blogging academics that anything they do or say on the web will come back to haunt them. DeLong believes the fear of having one's ideas stolen from an online paper is vastly exaggerated (this is a phobia that seems particularly concentrated among graduate students).

I agree with DeLong, but Rauchway makes an interesting point about disciplinary divides:

I expect [DeLong's belief] derives from the difference in scholarly discourse between History-Department historians and Economic-History historians: History-Department historians tend to operate individually, cooking up ideas slowly over time, until we can publish a book bristling with defenses, counterarguments, and qualifications; Economic-History historians tend to work with each other, to toss ideas out in working papers, conference papers, and articles long before they get committed to books (if indeed they ever do). Ideas in the latter form of discourse enjoy a more experimental status; one need not fully commit oneself to their defense; one can even play with them, scattering them like paper boats to test the wind and currents.

In this respect, History-Department historians, and practitioners of other disciplines that emphasize books over articles, may be especially unsuited to derive benefits from blogging. We don't do brisk give-and-take. We lay the keels of large vessels slowly, load them with our ideas and evidence, and launch them deliberately. Thus projected, they rarely meet direct objection. A review cannot supply a counterargument of sufficient weight to scuttle them (and, perhaps acknowledging this, few reviews really try for a fair fight). Other historians' books follow their own paths, and normally avoid direct contact; engagements if inevitable usually occur briefly and inconclusively.

With one possible exception, political scientists tend to fall in with the economists when it comes to sharing work -- we get a lot out of workshops, conferences, and the like (if you doubt this, consider the following hypothetical -- if Mearsheimer and Walt had actually presented the academic-y version of their "Israel Lobby" paper at a few public and private conferences, how many subsequent errors, omissions, and brushfires would have been avoided?).

The possible exception is political theory, and here's why. In my experience, political theorists devote the greatest amount of energy to making their prose as precise as possible in their written work. For example, when theorists present their papers to an audience, they tend to read the actual text rather than riff from notes -- a practice shared by historians but not by other political science subfields. With these kind of practices, it would not be surprising that theorists act more like historians when it comes to questions of online publishing activities.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Who I want to blog

Henry Farrell and I were talking the other day about the good thing that economist bloggers have going. The exchanges between Dani Rodrik, Tyler Cowen, Mark Thoma, Greg Mankiw, and Brad DeLong on trade issues have been engaging and informative. These kind of interactions have been all to rare among international relations scholars.

In part, this might be because a critical mass of blogging IR scholars has yet to exist. Which got me to thinking -- who among our colleagues would I like to see in the blogosphere?

The list is not as obvious as one might think. Obviously, you would want people who have active and interesting research programs. However, you would also want people who would "get" the blogosphere, would actually enjoy the prospect of blogging, would care about policy-relevant topics, and would write in a manner accessible enough to attract the interested layman. Also, to be on the safe side, they have to be tenured.

With those criteria in mind, here is my top 10 list of international relations scholars I want to see in blogspace:

1) James Fearon. Really, this guy just sickens me. It's not enough that he gets cited by anyone and everyone, or that he's one of the few formal modelers who can explain their work to the innumerate. Now he's actually starting to write for a wider audience. He should just start a blog and shame all of us at this as well.

2) Elizabeth DeSombre. Because I have the pulse of the internets at my finger, I'm dimly aware that environmental issues might be kinda important over the next few decades. Beth always has an interesting take, she's published two books on environmental regulation, and I know for a fact that she read blogs. Go on, Beth, take the next step.

3) Michael Tierney. Mike is an occasional commenter to this blog, but he has a set of interesting research interests, ranging from World Bank governance to what other IR scholars think. In other words, he knows enough about enough topics to be well-suited to the blogosphere. Besides, he's living my dream -- he's gone back to teach at his alma mater.

4) David Victor. Hmmm.... let's check out his research interests -- energy policy, climate change, role of technology, innovation and competition in development. Too bad no one cares about those things.

5) Erik Gartzke. Erik has a citation count that would shock and awe entire departments. He's one of the best large-N security scholars in the field, and he's already had a blog run-in with R.J. Rummel. He doesn't bruise easily -- perfect for blogging.

6) Iain Johnston. China is an important country. You would think IR people would therefore know a lot about it, but you would be wrong (to be fair, this is being corrected very quickly. I have had conversations with at least a dozen colleagues planning research trips to China). Iain, on the other hand, knows a great deal about the place. He should share a little.

7) Sumit Ganguly. India is important too. Furthermore, Sumit holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, which just sounds great.

8) Amy Zegart. Not enough has been written about the organizational politics that plague foreign policy agencies. Amy, however, has written two excellent books on the topic. People should listen to her more often.

9) Hein Goemans. Hein is one of those people who has research programs exploding from his brain. I think a blog would do Hein good, allowing him to figure out which research ideas are really good and which ones just need a few blog posts. Plus, he was darn cute as a child.

10) Randy Schweller. Last fall, on 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin had a great line to describe one character: "In five years we'll either all be working for him or be dead by his hand." This is how I kind of feel about Randy's place in international relations. If Randy ever translates his seminar persona to the blogosphere, the rest of us will be as interesting as wallpaper paste.

[Besides your fruitless exhortations, how can you entice these people into the blogosphere?--ed. I hereby plead the creators of the Fantasy IR game to offer five points to senior IR scholars who start blogs.]

Readers are encouraged to offer their own suggestions.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Are China scholars bought and paid for by Beijing?

Carsten Holz has a must-read in the Far Eastern Economic Review on the relationship between China scholars and the Chinese state:

Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or donít ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.

Foreign academics must cooperate with academics in China to collect data and co-author research. Surveys are conducted in a manner that is acceptable to the Party, and their content is limited to politically acceptable questions. For academics in China, such choices come naturally. The Western side plays along.

China researchers are equally constrained in their solo research. Some Western China scholars have relatives in China. Others own apartments there. Those China scholars whose mother tongue is not Chinese have studied the language for years and have built their careers on this large and nontransferable investment. We benefit from our connections in China to obtain information and insights, and we protect these connections. Everybody is happy, Western readers for the up-to-date view from academia, we ourselves for prospering in our jobs, and the Party for getting us to do its advertising. China is fairly unique in that the incentives for academics all go one way: One does not upset the Party.

What happens when we donít play along is all too obvious. We canít attract Chinese collaborators. When we poke around in China to do research we run into trouble. Li Shaomin, associate professor in the marketing department of City University in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen, spent five months in a Chinese jail on charges of ďendangering state security.Ē In his own words, his crimes were his critical views of Chinaís political system, his visits to Taiwan, his use of Taiwanese funds to conduct research on politically sensitive issues, and his collecting research data in China. City University offered no support, and once he was released he went to teach at Old Dominion University in Virginia. One may wonder what five months in the hands of Chinese secret police does to oneís psyche, and what means the Party used to silence Mr. Li. To academics in Hong Kong, the signal was not lost.

China researchers across different disciplines may not all be equally affected. Economists and political scientists are likely to come up against the Party constraint frequently, and perhaps severely. But even sociologists or ethnographers can reach the forbidden zone when doing network studies or examining ethnic minority cultures.

[What about academics that rely on U.S. government funding? Isn't that the same thing?--ed. Potentially, and scholars have made this point. Because of the large number of U.S. foundations that can supply independent research funding, however, the effect is much more muted.]

This paragraph stood out in particular:

Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectorsófinance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securitiesó85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

An open question to faculty readers

According to the Washington Post, there were some warning signs from Cho Seung Hui before he killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech: "Cho was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service, the Associated Press reported."

This fact prompted an e-mail from a colleague that raises a disturbing question:

In 8 years, I've taught hundreds of students. 2 of them so alarmed me by their behavior, I contacted the Dean of Students office to see what could be done. The answer: nothing. The best I got was a half-baked assurance that voluntary counseling would be suggested to one of them (he was an undergraduate who had insisted on taking my graduate seminar, showed up and refused to leave on the first day of class, and then sent me increasingly enraged emails filled with expletives and threats to bring charges against me to the Dean of Students). I ended up having to have a staff member escort me to class in case the student showed up again. He didn't, fortunately. But I didn't follow up and I bet nobody else did, either.

When a faculty or staff member reports disturbing student activity, what is the appropriate response? Can any actions be mandatory? What feedback loops should be regularly instituted? I don't have any answers, but I do have an acute sense of vulnerability -- universities, esp. public ones, are wide open.

All professors have encountered or will encounter this problem in their careers -- the student who seems way too intense for their own good.

That said, I'm also concerned about overreaction. What happened at Blacksburg is a rare event, and red-flagging students just for being intense and weird can create problems as well. [UPDATE: Megan McArdle elaborates on this point.]

Time's Julie Rawe has one story on how different universities are coping with this problem.

A few questions to faculty readers out there, however:

1) Have you ever encountered a student you suspected of being capable of violence on this scale?

2) What action did you take?

3) What, if anything, could or should universities do to improve security?

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 2, 2007

It's your last chance to help me help APSA to help you

I've finished a draft of my chapter on how to be a successful political science blogger for the American Political Science Association. If you want to take a gander, click here.

Political scientists are strongly encouraged to read and critique draft, as I should have one more pass at it. I'm particularly curious if I've made the downsides seem too scary.

posted by Dan at 08:42 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Newton North sure is getting a lot of media play today

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have big stories on Newton North High School today [Hey, won't your children be attending this high school at some point?--ed. Yes, but that is many, many years from now and I'm sure the time will pass very, very, slowly.]. Sara Rimer's front-pager for the New York Times is clearly an excerpt from her forthcoming book an in-depth discussion of how talented and driven girls at Newton North High School cope with being talented and driven:

Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. ďAmazing girlsĒ translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

But being an amazing girl often doesnít feel like enough these days when youíre competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.

There's a lot of additional material on the Times web site -- including Esther's and Colby's college application essays.

I confess that I'm not entirely sure why this is on the front page of the New York Times. Is it a news flash that smart boys like girls who are smart as well? The thesis I gleaned from Rimer's story is that, despite all the internal and external pressures placed on these adolescents, they're coping pretty damn well. I suppose it's nice to see a long story about well-adjusted adolescents -- but I really have to wonder if Bill Keller is getting a kickback on Rimer's book advance.

As a Williams alum, however, my heart grew heavy when I read this section of the story:

Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College ó her ideal of the small, liberal arts school ó had arrived.

Her father would be at her brotherís basketball game when she got home. Her mother would still be at the office. Esther did not want to be alone when she opened the letter.

ďDad, can you bring it to school?Ē she asked.

Ten minutes later, when her father arrived, Esther realized that he had somehow not registered the devastating thinness of the envelope. The admissions office was sorry. Williams had had a record number of highly qualified applicants for early admission this year. Esther had been rejected. Not deferred. Rejected.

Her father hugged her as she cried outside her classroom, and then he drove her home.

Esther said several days later: ďMaybe it hurt me that I wasnít an athlete.Ē

But she was already moving on. ďI chose Williams,Ē she said, with a shrug. ďThey didnít choose me back.Ē

About that thin envelope: Mr. Mobley, unschooled in such intricacies, said he hadnít paid much attention to it. He had wanted so much for his daughter to get into Williams, he said, and believed so strongly in her, that it was as if he had wished the letter into being an acceptance.

It is actually Ms. Rimer who is unschooled in admission letter intricacies -- unless Williams has changed its practice in recent years, everyone gets a thin envelope. For those who are accepted, the thick envelope with all the pertinent information comes later.

So Esther, don't blame your father for not being clued in (click on the story to see which colleges were bright enough to accept Esther -- she'll land on her feet).

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Ralph Ranalli reports on the new Newton North High School that will be built in the next 5-10 years:

It is already tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts: a $154.6 million showplace, designed by an internationally renowned architect and awaited with some anxiety by the residents of Newton.

The new Newton North High School's design features a new outdoor stadium, an indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art vocational education workshops, a glass-walled cafeteria, a restaurant, and an architecturally trendy zigzag shape. At 1,040 feet, the building is 200 feet longer than the Mall at Chestnut Hill.

But now, even before ground has been broken, some are wondering how the cost got so huge, and whether the project is ushering in a new era of budget-buster high schools.

UPDATE: Wow, in Episode #245 of How Gender Affects Interpretation in the Blogosphere, Bitch Ph.D has a very different take on the Times article: "Kinda depressing article.... high-achieving women feel a constant sense of inadequacy."

Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but by the standards of In-Depth Newspaper Stories About Adolescent Girls, the subjects of Rimer's story seem remarkably well-adjusted.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Socrates' teaching evaluations
This class on philosophy was really good, Professor Socrates is sooooo smart, I want to be just like him when I graduate (except not so short). I was amazed at how he could take just about any argument and prove it wrong....

Socrates is a real drag, I don't know how in hell he ever got tenure. He makes students feel bad by criticizing them all the time. He pretends like he's teaching them, but he's really ramming his ideas down student's throtes. He's always taking over the conversation and hardly lets anyone get a word in....

I learned a lot in this class, a lot of things I never knew before. From what I heard from other students, Professor Socrates is kind of weird, and at first I agreed with them, but then I figured out what he was up to. He showed us that the answers to some really important questions already are in our minds.

Click here to read the rest of them.

posted by Dan at 09:13 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 12, 2007

A subtle look at the academic bias question

I normally do not like to dredge up the academic bias question unless I'm reviewing books, but Cathy Young has a fine piece in Reason that takes an appropriately nuanced approach. Some highlights:

While the HERI [Higher Education Research Institute] does an annual survey of incoming college freshmen that includes questions about political beliefs, no one has tried tracking changes in student political beliefs over the college years. One interesting glimpse is provided by HERI's 2004 report on political attitudes among freshmen and college graduates. In 1994, 82 percent of students in the class of 1998 agreed that "the federal government should do more to control the sale of handguns" and 61 percent agreed that abortion should be legal. In 1998, these opinions were held by, respectively, 83 percent and 65 percent of college graduates in that cohort.

Thus, while college-educated Americans appear to be much more liberal than the general population-at least on certain issues-they also seem to hold those views before they first enter a college classroom....

What is difficult either to deny or to quantify is that, especially at the more prestigious colleges and universities, the social climate fosters a strong presumption of liberal like-mindedness and a marginalization of dissent. Being left of center is the norm, and it is freely assumed that other people around you, be they students or faculty members, will share in your joy at the Democratic victories in Congress or your dismay at the passage of a ballot initiative prohibiting racial preferences in college admissions. This can translate into not only a chilly climate for conservatives but in some cases outright hostility.

If a student doesn't subscribe to the campus orthodoxy, the likely effect is not to convert her but to alienate her from intellectual life. Others learn only about a narrow range of ideas. One woman, a Ph.D. student in the social sciences at a Midwestern university, told me recently that when she started reading conservative, libertarian, or otherwise heretical blogs, "it was a whole perspective I had never been exposed to before in anything other than caricature."

When that's the norm, the harm is less to dissenters than to the life of the mind. It's not good for any group of people to spend a lot of time listening only to like-minded others. It is especially bad for a profession whose lifeblood is the exchange of ideas.

posted by Dan at 10:20 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Exporting university education?

Via Greg Mankiw's rave, I see David Ignatius has column in the Washington Post talking about the global power of American Universities:

America's great universities are in fact becoming global. They are the brand names for excellence -- drawing in the brightest students and faculty and giving them unparalleled opportunities. This is where the openness and freewheeling diversity of American life provide us a huge advantage over tighter, more homogeneous cultures. We give people the freedom to think and create -- and prosper from those activities -- in ways that no other country can match.

This "education power" may be the best long-term hope for dealing with U.S. troubles abroad. Global polls show that after the Iraq debacle, the rest of the world mistrusts America and its values. But there is one striking exception to this anti-Americanism, and that is education. American-style universities, colleges and schools are sprouting up around the world....

What worries... university presidents is that at a time when the world's best and brightest are still hungry for an American education, U.S. immigration regulations are making it too hard for students to come here. That's shooting ourselves in the foot.

Pentagon generals are always bragging about their "smart bombs," which sometimes go wide of the target. American education is a smart bomb that actually works. When we think about the foreign outreach efforts by these university presidents and dozens of others, we should recognize that they are a national security asset -- making the world safer, as well as wiser.

I hope Ignatius is correct -- but as a useful corrective, one should check out William Brody's "College Goes Global" in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Brody, the president of Johns Hopkins, has some experience in exporting American education, and offers some sobering advice:
Since the end of World War II, the United States has been recognized as the world leader in higher education. It has more colleges and universities, enrolls and graduates more students, and spends more on advanced education and research than any other nation. Each year, more than half a million foreigners come to the United States to study. A widely cited article written by researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University that looked at the academic ranking of universities worldwide based on faculty quality and research output found that more than half of the top 100 universities in the world -- and 17 of the top 20 -- were in the United States.

It would also seem that higher education is a market ripe for globalization and that U.S. universities -- by right of their acknowledged achievements, outstanding reputations, and considerable advantages in size and wealth -- are predestined to take on the world in the way that Boeing, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft have done within their respective industries. But as the president of a U.S. university that has operated one campus in China for two decades and another campus in Italy for more than half a century, I can say that consolidating U.S. dominance in international education will not be as easy or as likely as it seems....

The loosening of the affiliation between faculty and universities is an inevitable consequence of the globalization of knowledge. In the quantum physics model, faculty obey a kind of uncertainty principle: you may know where a professor is at any given time or you may know his institutional affiliation. But the more you try to ascertain the former, the less sure you may be about the latter, and vice versa. This phenomenon prompted the former president of Boston University, John Silber, to actually propose taking roll call to see whether faculty members were on campus. But such a measure would go against the grain of how knowledge is generated and diffused in today's information-sharing environment, and Silber's proposal unsurprisingly has come to nothing.

One consequence of these changes is that the relationship between faculty and universities has become more and more one-sided. Tenure provides a lifetime, no-cut contract for faculty. But professors' and researchers' allegiance is linked to their research, and they have no requirement to stay until retirement with the university that granted them tenure. At the same time, faculty whose field of study becomes obsolete or is no longer within the primary purview of the university's mission cannot be removed. This is a potential Achilles' heel for world-class universities bent on remaining relevant in an environment that places a premium on research and development and evolves at a rapid pace....

Drucker, Friedman, and others may have observed that the power of the nation-state has withered, but by no means has it disappeared. Universities and the nations they call home exist in an extremely close and elaborately constructed symbiosis. Every nation in one way or another makes significant financial contributions to its resident universities and demands considerable returns in exchange -- both in numbers of qualified graduates and in terms of the economic benefits that the education and research carried out by the universities provide. Also, credentialing -- always a vitally important part of the educational process -- is exclusively defined and controlled by the host nation, and it would behoove the soothsayers to remember that few nations are willing to adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward the teaching, beliefs, and activities on their campuses.

Finally, as is so often the case, the advent of the Global U really comes down to a question of money. Plato would not have had his Academy but for the generosity of friends who helped him buy the land it was built on. It was supported, according to a medieval account, by rich men who "from time to time bequeathed in their wills, to the members of the school, the means of living a life of philosophic leisure." That model of the university survives to this day. The only thing that may have changed is the question of degree. Ancient and medieval universities were expensive hobbies of the rich and the royal; today's modern research universities are several orders of magnitude more costly to run and sustain. Virtually every great university today depends on government funding, student tuitions (each of which covers only a portion of the cost of an education), alumni support, and the outstanding generosity of philanthropists to make ends meet. Even so, financing is always a struggle, and the price of a university education in the United States has marched determinedly ahead of the rate of inflation for decades now. To be successful -- and even to stay in business -- a global university would somehow have to garner consistent and dependable financial support from many different nations simultaneously.

posted by Dan at 03:30 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

So you want to write for a wider audience

David Damrosch has a thoroughly accessible essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the difficulties scholars face when they try to write for a wider audience. This paragraph in particlar explains why academics generally don't do this all too well:

The problem isn't that academics "can't write," as is often claimed, but that we are typically engaged in what scholars of the Renaissance know as coterie writing. In 16th-century England, for instance, small groups of aristocrats such as Sir Philip Sydney, his sister Mary Herbert, and their circle would compose poems for their mutual entertainment, circulating them privately from one country estate to another. Scholars today may reach a somewhat larger circle, but most academic writing is part of a continuing conversation among a coterie of fellow specialists with common interests and a shared history of debate. Even for scholars who are elegant prose stylists, it isn't an easy matter to make the transition from writing for Milton's "fit audience, though few" to a larger but less fit readership.
Damrosch then discusses his own efforts to write an accessible book that doesn't feel "dumbed down." He runs into an editor at Holt who provides the way:
Not only did the people at Holt want the book I wanted to write ó antiquity and all ó but they also suggested ways I could revise my sample chapters to better effect. The "Aha!" moment came when John Sterling, Holt's publisher, pointed to the opening of my first chapter. I had begun with a flourish, emphasizing the excitement created when a young curator at the British Museum first deciphered the Gilgamesh epic, with its seeming confirmation of the biblical story of the Flood: "When George Smith discovered the Flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh in the fall of 1872, he made one of the most dramatic discoveries in the history of archaeology." Sterling ran his pen along these lines, but instead of praising this bold beginning, he tapped the page and asked, "Couldn't you make this opening just a bit more dramatic?"

He was right. I had told the reader that George Smith had made a dramatic discovery, but I had failed to dramatize the scene at all. Rewriting my opening, I placed Smith at the long trestle tables where he worked amid the watery sunlight coming in through the museum's windows. I went on to detail his awkward social position: Never having gone even to high school, he had been apprenticed as a bank-note engraver. Brilliant and ambitious, he had taught himself Akkadian and begun to haunt the museum's Near Eastern collections during his lunch hours, making his way up from Fleet Street through the press of carriages, pedestrians, and hand-drawn carts full of cabbages and potatoes.

With the scene now set, Smith was on his way, and so was my book. I could still make my central cultural and political points, but they had to be carried by a strong narrative line, built around intriguing characters and fleshed out with a judicious use of telling detail. An ominous mongoose, for instance, made an effective lead-in to a chapter on the Assyrian empire, "After Asurbanipal, the Deluge." The mongoose's sudden appearance beneath King Esarhaddon's chariot led to a revealing exchange of anxious correspondence between the king and his chief scribe, who tried to reassure the king that the mongoose was not a warning sign from heaven but merely a bit of imperial roadkill.

The lesson I would draw from my Goldilocks experience is that it is neither necessary nor desirable to dumb our projects down when writing for a general audience. At the same time, we need to write quite differently when we want to reach beyond the comforting confines of our disciplinary coteries. It is good to have a clear and vivid style, but equally, we have to retrain ourselves to write for readers who don't already know what we're talking about, and who need to be shown why they should care about the things we know and love so well. The trade market can bear an impressive degree of scholarly substance if we can teach ourselves to reach out to a substantial nonscholarly clientele.

posted by Dan at 09:21 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Reflections on the International Studies Association

Another conference in the books. Some thoughts:

1) No, I do not miss Chicago weather from late February or early March.

2) My most surreal moment had to be when a non-conference person, upon finding out what I did for a living, went on to say, "Now let me ask you something -- I've read this somewhere.... do you think it's true that some Jews in government have had divided loyalties? Is that why we invaded Iraq?" What made this moment extra-surreal -- it happened in the hotel jacuzzi.

3) Bob Wright will be very happy to learn that book publishers do, in fact, watch

4) A warning shot across ISA's bow: the number of panels at your conference is well beyond the point of diminishing returns. I know that most panels are accepted because that allows people to receive travel funds to attend the conference in the first place. At this point, however, there are simply too many panels per session -- and too many paper presented per panel. The wheat-to-chaff ratio has gone way down, and there are too many panels where the presenters outnumber the audience. If this trend continues, it will not surprise me if senior people abandon the conference all together (unless it's back in Honolulu) in favor of smaller, more narrowly focused conferences.

posted by Dan at 01:16 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Defining public intellectuals down

The passing earlier this week of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. caused some gnashing of teeth at Tapped about where the next generation of public intellectuals will be found. Ezra Klein writes:

So who takes their place? Will Sean Wilentz or Michael Kazin be remembered as Arthur Schlesinger is, because I don't think Doris Kearns Goodwin or Stephen Ambrose possess the grand moral compass necessary to claim the mantle. The Clinton administration had a Kennedy-esque aura of intellectual ferment, but the public intellectuals it furnished are Paul Begala and James Carville. Ira Magaziner, it turned out, lacked star power. I guess the bright spot on the horizon is Barack Obama's campaign, which boasts a glittering orbit of policy advisors and public thinkers whom the Obama camp has taken a Kennedyesque approach to, encouraging them to retain their public profiles. Hence, the world has not lost Samantha Power or Karen Kornbluh, but they are in the inner circle of a presidential candidacy. Maybe that will elevate them. Or maybe we're just done with public intellectuals, and cable news has time for little but public personalities. (underline added)
Then there's Marc Schmitt:
Obviously, there's no factory for creating new Schlesingers or Galbraiths (although those two families do pretty well) but anything that can be done to change the system of incentives for young academics or would-be academics so that there are rewards to making relevant contributions to public life, rather than incrementally advancing some narrow question within their field, would be good.
I've occasionally been accused of falling into the "public intellectual" category, so a few thoughts on this matter:
1) I recognize that there's a Potter-Stewart-"I know it when I see it"-quality to defining a public intellectual, but applying that label to either Begala or Carville is just wrong. They are were sharp political operatives, and God knows they're public about it. That's different from advocating or promoting abstract policy or political ideas to a larger audience.

Ezra Klein is a smart blogger. The fact that he's even positing these guys tells me more about the declining state of the public intellectual than his original post. Also, a friendly warning to Klein -- Benjamin Barber might be coming after you with a large baseball bat.

2) Contrary to Schmitt's claim, there actually are factories for public intellectuals. In the past five years a few degree programs have sprouted up to offer training as a public commentator or public intellectual. It's just that no one seems to pay attention to these factories -- except in news articles commenting on their existence.

3) Schmitt and Klein seem particularly worried about the liberal side of the public intellectual ledger. To which I will reply: Cass Sunstein. Jacob Hacker. George Lakoff. Anne-Marie Slaughter. Thomas Franck. Those names took me less than a minute to recall. As I pointed out recently, the Republic will stand with the current crop of public intellectuals.

4) Here's a subversive thought -- given the performance of public intellectuals in the Kennedy/Johnson years -- not to mention the Bush administration -- maybe this category of thinker does better when not affiliated with the U.S. government.

posted by Dan at 05:10 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gone ISAing

Blogging will range from intermittent to light over the next few days, as I will be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in Chicago. [Chicago in February?--ed. Well, not all of us get invited to Firenze, like some other bloggers I know. Besides, the previous two years, ISA was in San Diego and Honolulu, so I've decided not to complain.]

If you want to peruse some of the papers, click here. I'll be presenting a newly revised version of "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion."

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: Mark Harris complains in Entertainment Weekly that conservative characters on television are neither conservative nor nasty enough:

As a member of the self-deluding Eastern liberal politically correct media elite (so my reader mail tells me), I would like to learn more about the opposition. The problem is, they keep going soft on me. Last fall, TV promised us two conservatives: Kitty Walker on ABC's Brothers & Sisters, and Harriet Hayes on NBC's now-shelved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Kitty was supposed to be a brash, Ann Coulter-like firebrand in a family of whole-grain blue-staters, and deeply religious Harriet was going to redress the injustices done to people of faith by godless showbiz types. As each series has unfolded, both women have been portrayed as multidimensional, sensitive human beings. Not incidentally, they seem to be turning into liberals....

Brothers & Sisters is, I think, pulling off an excellent liberal spin on conservatism, systematically demolishing Kitty's beliefs by depicting her as a right-winger who has never confronted the human side of her arguments. When she does ó when the endangered soldier or the homosexual whose rights are denied is in her own family ó politics becomes personal, and she becomes more ideologically flexible. Dick Cheney would call that fighting dirty; I would call Brothers & Sisters a really fun way to make Dick Cheney mad.

Question -- doesn't everyone become more ideologically flexible when politics becomes personal?

posted by Dan at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The vocabulary of international relations

Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Jackson asks a very good question:

I am considering for my introductory World Politics class in the Fall. I call it "IR Vocabulary," and the basic idea is to split students into pairs and have each pair go off and find consensus definitions of key IR terms, My intuition here is that in order to have a good discussion about world politics, there are some basic terms that we need to know; some of these terms are more or less empirical and refer to objects in the world, while others are more or less conceptual and refer to ways of making sense of those objects. [Yes, yes, this is an unstable distinction; yes, empirical terms are conceptual and vice versa . . . but there is still a difference, if only a difference of degree, between a term like 'the balance of power' and a term like 'the Security Council.']

So here's my question for all of you: if you were going to draw up a list of twenty key terms that people ought to have working definitions of in order to sensibly and meaningfully talk about world politics, what would they be? What is the basic vocabulary that people have to know before they can start in with the arguing and the debating and the pondering?

Click on over to give your answers. Of the top of my head, mine are below, split 50-50 between empirical and conceptual:
Treaty Peace of Westphalia
July 1914
Bretton Woods
Security Council
Cold War
European Union
globalization (admittedly, could go in either category)

balance of power
security dilemma
prisoner's dilemma
credible commitment
offense/defense balance

UPDATE: I've fixed the Westphalia term, because there actually is no Treaty of Westphalia. I knew this, but was sloppy about it in the post. Apologies.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You be the ethicist!

Harry Brighouse poses an ethical question to the readers over at Crooked Timber:

Graduate Admissions Committee... is deciding whom to admit.... there is a website on which potential students gossip share information about the departments to which they are applying, and many do so anonymously. However, many such students say enough about themselves that if you are in possession of their file (as graduate admissions committee is) you can identify them with near, and in some cases absolute, certainty. One applicant to said department behaves on the website (under the supposed cloak of anonymity) likeÖ well, very badly, saying malicious things about departments he has visited, raising doubts about whether he is honest and the kind of person it would be reasonable to want other students to deal with, and generally revealing himself to be utterly unpleasant.

Question: is it wrong for the GAC to take this information about the applicant into account when making a decision?

My take: yes, it's wrong. More precise information (how ironclad is the ID'ing of this applicant? How bad is the behavior?) might make it a tougher call. That said, it sounds like the only difference between this applican't behavior and 99% of all grad students I have known in my day is that this person put these things into print rather than speaking them at a party after several beers.

[So you're saying all grad students are utterly unpleasant?--ed. No, I'm saying that all grad students, like all professors, have a side to their personalities that is best shielded from public view. I think it's safe to assume that this applicant never thought that a GAC, armed with information from the file, would put two and two together on a web site. So what would you do?--ed. Assuming the person was admitted and came, if I were the GAC I'd probably have a closed-door meeting with the person to ascertain the truth, and then put a bit of a scare into him or her. That should be sufficient to deter future printed displays of bad behavior.]

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Help me help APSA to help you

The American Political Science Association is putting together an edited volume on how to publish in political science. There will be an an overview of the current state of scholarly publishing, as well as how-to essays on writing university press books, textbooks, review essays, op-eds, converting dissertations into books, etc.

In their infinite wisdom, APSA has asked me to contribute a chapter on writing a political science blog.

So, a request for comments from other political science bloggers out there on the following questions:

1) What do you think are the do's and don'ts of poli sci blogging?

2) Does your blog help your scholarly pursuits? If so, how?

3) Are your colleagues aware of your blog? If so, what is their reaction? Has it changed over time?

4) As a political scientist, which blogs, if any, are must-reads for you (something like IR Rumor Mill or Fantasy IR doesn't count).

[You don't have answers to these questions?--ed. Oh, I have answers, but I'd like to get some different views on this.]

Post a comment, e-mail me directly, or post on your own blog and link back. Remember, this is for APSA....

posted by Dan at 08:34 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 22, 2007

A post in which I suck up to my employers

The Financial Times' Rebecca Knight has a story on the Fletcher School and why it's better than sliced bread:

It may not have been on purpose, but the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Ė the oldest graduate school of international relations in the US Ė has suddenly found itself in the executive education business.

Last year, Microsoft and Raytheon, as well as a non-profit group, approached the school, at Tufts University in Massachusetts, to develop customised programmes for their mid- to upper-level professionals.

The programmes, which involved courses on international political and economic affairs, were a big hit. This year, Fletcher has three repeat customers on its hands and is ďquietly and cautiouslyĒ working to attract others, according to school officials.

Executive education programmes Ė which have in the past been the domain of business schools Ė are typically marketed to companies as a way to hone their workersí skills with courses in finance, marketing, and sales. But, according to Stephen Bosworth, the dean of Fletcher, companies nowadays are in search of more than management refresher courses. Rather, they are looking for ways to boost their executivesí knowledge of international politics, culture and business.

Fletcherís programmes are ideal for those companies seeking to ďupgrade the globalisation skillsĒ of key employees, says Mr Bosworth. ďThe rationale for all of this is the perceived need for a greater understanding of the political, economic, and cultural context within which these companies are operating,Ē he says.

The programmes, which are conducted by Fletcher and Tufts faculty, are individually tailored, depending on their varying needs and specifications of the companies.

For instance, Microsoft asked for a distillation of the schoolís overall international curriculum, while Raytheon, the military contractor, requested a programme on political, economic and cultural issues for operating in the Middle East.

Deborah Nutter, senior associate dean and professor at Fletcher, says the schoolís strength in diplomatic training is what gives it the edge in the executive education realm.

ďFrom the beginning, we have educated global leaders in all sectors,Ē she says.

Note to self: put "educated global leader" somewhere on cv. [Since you have made exactly zero contribution to these programs, is that justified?--ed. Hey, all's fair in love and resumes.]

UPDATE: More good financial news for Tufts.

posted by Dan at 03:47 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thank you, Mr. President

The Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri and Maria Sacchetti report that Harvard has narrowed its shortlist for the presidency position. There's some good news -- for me, at least:

Harvard University has narrowed its hunt for a president to a handful of candidates, including three Harvard administrators and a Nobel Laureate who heads a scientific research institute, according to people familiar with the search.

The Harvard insiders on the short list are the provost, Steven E. Hyman, a neuroscientist; the dean of the law school, Elena Kagan; and the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Drew Gilpin Faust.

Another top contender is Thomas R. Cech, a 1989 Nobel Prize recipient in chemistry who is president of the multi billion dollar Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the top philanthropies and research organizations in the world.

Harvard also has asked the president of Tufts University, Lawrence S. Bacow, to be interviewed, but he refused.

Bacow has said several times that he expects to remain at Tufts. (emphasis added)

[So, what, you bucking for an endowed chair or something?--ed. No, a better parking spot. That's like gold in academia. Gold!!!]

UPDATE: The Harvard Crimson's Javier Hernandez and Daniel Schuker report that, "the [search] committee may not yet have ruled out Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow." Damn you, Harvard!!!

posted by Dan at 07:27 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

I am so going to hell for this link

Pssst..... hey, you, the IR grad students who furtively read this blog.... want to waste a few hours?

Then click here.

If you are not an IR grad student, then this link will not interest you.... unless you like fantasy sports, in which case you'll have a good chuckle.

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 8, 2007

This is every academic's secret nightmare

After reading the headline, "Gas-Like Odor Permeates Parts of New York City," I was convinced that my secret fear had come true.

You see, at this very moment I have an article manuscript that's being edited by someone in New York City. Clearly, I thought (OK, not so clearly), my work has become so bad that the metaphorical has become literal. It's my fault!! MINE!!.

[Get your head out of your narcissistic ass!--ed. Thank you, I needed that.]

Surfing the web on the story, the most interesting tidbit I found was in Nathan Thornburgh's story at

New York, of course, has had its share of mystery aromas, big and small. In 2005, an odd maple syrup smell overcame parts of Manhattan and New Jersey. Last August, an unidentified odor sent people to the hospital in Staten Island and Queens.
I kind of like the idea of maple syrup wafting through my town.

posted by Dan at 07:09 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

So that's why tenure is such a big deal

In my day, I have read many a rant about how the tenure system in academia is merely a con job that ivory tower types have used to hoodwink the lumpenproletariat not privileged enough to sit in on the mind-numbing minutiae that are facult meetings. Academics usually trot out the importance of "academic freedom," but this is dimissed by most as unimportant.

I will now refer these ranters to this Inside Higher Ed piece by Elia Powers:

Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School, lowered her spectacles and, as if addressing a group of students, presented her audience with a case study.

This one involved the University of Minnesota, where students had protested the hiring of a part-time Constitutional law instructor on the grounds that he was co-author of the controversial Department of Justice torture memo.

As dean, Kagan asked the audience, would you have hired the professor, Robert Delahunty? The answers were mixed.

Then Kagan changed the scenario. What if the professor was tenured at the time when the same facts came out? Would he be protected under the banner of academic freedom?

Yes, the audience of lawyers, law school professors and administrators almost unanimously agreed.

Read the whole thing to see Kagan's explanation of this seeming paradox.

Then again, Stanley Fish does not hold that capacious a view on academic freedom more generally:

[I]s academic freedom worth protecting? Only when one applies a limited definition, Fish argued. Worthy of protection: a professorís ability to introduce material and equip students with analytical skills.

ďThatís it,Ē he said. ďThereís nothing else. The moment a professor tries to do something else [such as inject a political opinion], he is performing an action for which there should be no academic freedom.Ē

Fish added that a professor who comes clean about her political view at the start of class still shouldnít be protected. ďAsk this question,Ē he said. ďIs it an account or an advocacy of an agenda?

I have to assume that Fish was limiting his remarks about protecting academic freedom within the context of a classroom setting. Because if he's saying that research topics and research output should not be protected, then dear God, keep that man away from my campus. One also wonders what Fish's views would be about blogging....

UPDATE: Only tangentially connected, but it seems appropriate here to say goodbye to Michael Berube's blog -- he hung up his blogging spurs today. He makes a valid point in his last post:

[L]et me try to answer the most serious question Iíve gotten about this decision: why not just cut down? Post something under 2000 words for a change? Post once a week or once a month, instead of maniacally posting every weekday?....

Iíve tried that, actually, but it doesnít work. Blog maintenance on this scale is a daily, sometimes hourly thing, regardless of whether thereís a new post up. And even if I didnít try to maintain the blog on this scale (a good idea in itself), thereís still the problem of the invisible blogging. I donít write these posts out in advance, you know. I sit down for an hour or two (more for the really long posts), write them in one take in WordPerfect, look Ďem over, transfer Ďem to the blog, preview, edit, submit, and then proofread one last time once theyíre up. (Because sometimes you canít catch a typo until itís really up there on the blog, and even then, Iíve missed a bunch so far.) Which means, among other things, that I do a great deal of the planning-before-the-writing while Iím not blogging. And thatís whatís been so mentally exhausting. Itís like ABC from Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Composing. And while itís been great mental exercise, and itís compelled me to think out (and commit myself in public to) any number of things that otherwise would have simply laid around the mental toolshed for years, itís not the kind of thing I can keep up forever, and it wouldnít be seriously affected if I went to a lighter posting schedule. Iíd still spend way too much time thinking about the Next Post and the Post After That.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 29, 2006

When divas go to Liberty Fund conferences

I'm back from vacation, I'm rested, and I'm ready to wade into a two-week-old blogosphere debate about whether libertarians are cultists.

Earlier this month grand conservative blogress diva Ann Althouse posted her thoughts about attending a Liberty Fund conference devoted to Frank S. Meyer's fusionism. I think it's safe to say that the conference scared the crap out of her:

I am struck -- you may think it is absurd for me to be suddenly struck by this -- but I am struck by how deeply and seriously libertarians and conservatives believe in their ideas. I'm used to the way lefties and liberals take themselves seriously and how deeply they believe. Me, I find true believers strange and -- if they have power -- frightening. And my first reaction is to doubt that they really do truly believe.

One of the reasons 9/11 had such a big impact on me is that it was such a profound demonstration of the fact that these people are serious. They really believe.

I need to be more vigilant.

Jonah Goldberg, who attended the same conference, dissents from Althouse's point of view:
I will say here I find this ó to put it in as civil terms as I can ó odd. I would note that Ann really believes some things too. Moreover, so do those people in Madison, Wisconsin ó which is, I might add without fear of contradiction, far from an oasis of empiricism, realism and philosophical skepticism. But more importantly, the notion that stong conviction ó AKA belief ó is scary in and of itself can be the source of as much pain and illiberalism as certitude itself. Indeed, it is itself a kind of certitude I find particularly unredeeming.
They have a fascinating exchange with each other on this topic over at -- in which, bizarrely, Goldberg (the non-academic) seems to better comprehend how conferences about ideas work than Althouse (the academic). This has been followed by post-bloggingheads posts by both Goldberg and Althouse.

Over at Hit & Run, Ron Bailey provides a great amount of detail about Althouse's behavior at the conference itself (hat tip: Virginia Postrel). It sounds very.... diva-like. Bailey's conclusion: "I sure hope that Ann Althouse's behavior at the Liberty Fund colloquium is not example how 'intellectual discourse' is conducted in her law school classes in Madison, Wisconsin." Althouse has a lengthy fisking of Bailey's post here. [UPDATE: Goldberg posts his reaction here. Back at Hit & Run, Radley Balko weighs in as well. And for the liberal take on the whole shebang, check out the bloggingheads diavlog between Marc Schmitt and Jonathan Chait.]

Also weighing in are Stephen Bainbridge (who shares Althouse's leeriness of libertarian ideologues) and Elephants & Donkeys (who does not share Althouse's concerns)

Go read everything. Having attended a few Liberty Fund conferences myself, I'd offer the following thoughts:

1) Liberty Fund conferences attract idea geeks -- people who will stay up until 2:00 AM debating the merits and demerits of different ideas. That's kind of the point of these things.

2) I've never encountered any racist attitudes, ideas, or even the benign neglect of these attitudes at these conferences.

3) At these conferences I have, on occasion, encountered a personality type that I suspect gave Althouse the willies -- people so besotted with the positive appeal of an abstract idea that they will argue in its defense against any and all comers. Indeed, they consider this a pleasurable activity. The worst of these lot will pooh-pooh valid counterarguments or appeals to pragmatism as besides the Big Point they are trying to make. Let's call these people True Believers.

4) Give that these are Liberty Fund conferences, I would wager that libertarians comprise a high percentage of True Believers at these functions compared to other ideologies.

5) Despite point (4), True Believers make up a very small minority of overall Liberty Fund attendees. Indeed, with the acknowledgment that modern liberals are probably the least represented group at these functions, the intellectual and professional diversity of these conferences is pretty broad.

6) I'm enough of an idea geek that I'm usually glad that one or two True Believers are in attendance, because it forces me to keep my arguments sharp in a Millian sense of debate.

7) The overwhelmingly predominant personality type in attendance at these functions are Contrarians. Which, of course, makes consensus pretty much a logical impossibility.

UPDATE: Althouse responds here:
Idea geeks. Okay. Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.

I confess I'm not entirely sure what "geek zone mellow" means. I think Ann is warning the blogosphere that people in love with ideas qua ideas need someone to take a pragmatist hammer and whack them upside the head every once in a while.

All well and good. But my experience in political science -- particularly international relations -- is that a distressingly high percentage of legal academics write from such an atheoretical, normative perspective that they don't realize that underlying their legal and policy pragmatics are implicit theories that need to be exposed, prodded, probed, and (often) pierced. I might add that it is my fervent hope that legal academics keep on doing this, because it means that they will continue to provide empirical grist for my theoretical mill.

That said, the book on my nightstand right now is Adrian Vermeule and Eric Posner's Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts -- and they have their own issues with civil libertarians. So I'll humbly exit this debate and go do some more idea geeking reading.

FINAL UPDATE: Jacob Levy gets the last, definitive word on the subject.

ANOTHER FINAL UPDATE... I'M NOT KIDDING THIS TIME... THIS IS LIKE THE DOUBLE-SECRET, TRIPLE-DOG-DARE FINAL UPDATE: And I am telling you Ann Althouse is not going anywhere until she has the final word.

So that's it. I'm just going to back away slowly from the keyboard now... no sudden moves... no metaphors... no prose stylings that Althouse could interpret as sexual imagery in any way whatsoever.... and, yes, I did it!! [Heh. You said "did it."--ed. D'Oh!!]

posted by Dan at 01:19 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Virtual Posner

Richard Posner's avatar recently gave a lecture in Second Life. New World Notes provides a transcript. Among my favorite parts:

Suddenly, a large wooden cube materializes in the middle of the auditorium, blocking Judge Posner from the audience-- an apparent griefer attack on the event, or the Judge himself.

[Posner]: That's an example of the kind of threat that worries me-- a huge box marching through an amphitheatre.

The audience laughs while chaos ensues, during which Hamlet Au briefly crashes out of the world, and the Judge notices an audience member:

JRP: Is that a raccoon?

Kear Nevzerov: I'm a "furry". Not sure how I got this way.

[Posner]: I think it's Al Qaeda.

KN: I'm really an IP lawyer from DC. Honest.

[Posner]: I like your tail.

Hat tip: Will Baude.

posted by Dan at 01:54 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 15, 2006

The limits of political science

The November 2006 issue of the American Political Science Review is a special one: "The Evolution of Political Science." Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the APSR, it consists of about 25 short essays discussing how the APSR has treated various political phenomena.

There's something for everyone in this issue. History of political science is not as widely taught as history of economic thought, but those who are interested should check out the whole issue -- particularly Michael Heaney and Mark Hansen's take on "The Chicago school" of political science. Conservative critics of the academy will delight in laughing at Michael Parenti's rant about how political science is a conservative discipline.

World politics types will likely find Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's essay worth of perusal. The one that stands out for me is Andrew Bennett and John Ikenberry's "The Review's Evolving Relevance for U.S. Foreign Policy 1906-2006"

Bennett and Ikeberry go back over all of the IR contributions to the APSR. Their chief finding? Even in the "good old days" when the APSR actively publshed policy relevant work, political scientists did not appear to be clued in to the brewing problems of world politics:

To read early issues of the Review is to be reminded that aspiring toward policy relevance is quite different from achieving it, and that any policy influence the profession does achieve will not necessarily be in directions that future historians will find praiseworthy. Just as the Review and the political science profession in general failed to anticipate the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Review before 1914 conveyed little sense that a cataclysmicworld warwas imminent.The journal did publish an article on the Balkans (Harris 1913), but it did not focus on the larger power transitions taking place in Europe until publication of a rather realist analysis of ďThe Causes of the Great WarĒ after World War I had begun (Turner 1915). In this same time period, the Review was filled with articles putting a favorable emphasis on international law as a means toward peace.

After World War I, the Review played a role in the ďidealism-realismĒ debate of the 1920s (Carr 1940), largely favoring the idealist side with more than a dozen articles through the decade on the League of Nations or international law. Former President William Howard Taft, for example, launched a staunch defense of the League of Nations in the Review (Taft 1919). Only one article in the journal in the 1920s included the term ďbalance of powerĒ in its title, and this article strongly criticized balance of power politics and argued that the building of international institutions was the best answer to the problem of war (Hoard 1925). In the 1930s, a handful of articles began to focus on the issues that would precipitate World War II, including the Manchurian crisis, nationalism, and the geographic bases of statesí foreign policies, but no articles were fully dedicated to assessing the international implications of the rise of Hitler or Germany. Articles sympathetic to the League of Nations process, on the other hand, continued right up until the spring of 1939 (Myers 1939), although an article critical of international law appeared in 1938 (Wild 1938).

It is an interesting piece of trivia to know that not one, but two presidents have published in the APSR.

UPDATE: Commenters point out a possible selection bias question -- it might be that political scientists did generate useful predictions, but these predictions were simply not published in the APSR.

This is a valid point, but I think it applies better to the post-1945 environment than the pre-1945 one. Most of the major IR journals -- International Organization, World Politics, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution -- did not exist before 1945. All of the policy journals, except for Foreign Affairs, were not in existence. Therefore, prior to '45, the APSR would have been the predicted outlet for scholarly work on world politics.

On the other hand, Foreign Affairs might have siphoned off a few articles. I know of at least one person who received tenure at a major research institution, when their only publication was a Foreign Affairs article.

posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, December 8, 2006

Syllabi for next semester

The following is likely to only interest students at the Fletcher School:

Here are the syllabi for my spring courses:

DHP D210 -- The Art and Science of Statecraft

DHP H204 -- Classics in International Relations Theory

Both syllabi are subject to minor changes over the next month.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who are caching typos!

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by the Nassau Inn

Blogging will be light for the next 48 hours as I wend my way to Princeton for the first meeting of the International Political Economy Society.

You can take a gander at the program here. Most of the papers and presentations are downloadable. This includes my own paper, which has the sexy, sexy title of "The Viscosity of Global Governance."

posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's going on in international education?

A few odds & ends from the world of international education:

1) It would appear that the U.S. has finally reversed the decline in international students wishing to study in the U.S. Karen Arenson summarizes the latest information in the New York Times:
The number of new foreign students coming to the United States grew this school year, after several years of weakness that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, according to a survey to be released today by the Institute of International Education.

According to the survey, conducted by the institute and other education groups, the number of new international students at American colleges and universities increased 8 percent this fall over last, to 142,923.

Another sign of a turnaround was a sharp upturn in student visas, said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. Dr. Goodman said the State Department issued a record 591,050 student and exchange visas in the 12 months ending in September, a 14 percent increase over the previous year and 6 percent more than in the year leading up to the 2001 attacks.

More than half of the approximately 900 campuses that participated in the survey said they had seen increases in the number of foreign students this fall.

Dr. Goodman attributed the increase to the easing of visa restrictions imposed after the terrorist attacks and to greater efforts by colleges to attract foreign students.

ďWeíve been worried for three years that there would be a slow and steady decline in the number of international students studying here,Ē Dr. Goodman said. ďBut it looks like the decline is ending.Ē

Parenthetical thought -- how does Lou Dobbs feel about this info? On the one hand, the increase in student visas means greater flows of foreigners into the United States -- which Dobbs the nativist would surely condemn. On the other hand, the increase in foreign students actually improves our balance of trade ($13.5 billion according to this estimate), since they count as an export of services -- which Dobbs the mercantilist would surely like.

2) The Boston Globe's Jehangir S. Pocha looks at Western educational institutions aggressively courting export markets establishing new satellite institutions in rising economies:

So far, more than 100 Western schools and universities have set up in China, and the number is expected to grow.

A team from Harvard University headed by William C. Kirby, director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, was in China over the summer to evaluate how the university could establish a presence in China.

"It's an idea whose time has come," said Matthew Benjamin Farthing, headmaster of the newly opened Harrow International School in Beijing. "As the world is globalizing, it's only natural for education to globalize. Parents everywhere want the best education and while they once had to send their children to places like Harrow in the UK or US, schools like Harrow are now coming here."

While some of the educational institutions, including Harvard, are looking only to set up local centers where students from their home country can come to study China's dynamic economy and evolving society, others are seeking to enroll local students in degree or diploma programs.

"In our first year, we enrolled mostly expatriate children, both from Britain and countries familiar with the value of a Harrow education, but in two years I expect things will be different," Farthing said from his staid office as scores of students in Harrow's trademark ties milled around outside.

The prestige of such traditions and the reputation of schools such as Harrow are luring Chinese students and parents to international institutions....

The price tag for acquiring a education like this from one of the elite Western institutions in China is between $8,000 and $25,000 per year. Expatriates who send their children to these schools are mostly immune to sticker shock since it's mostly their employers that pick up the tab.

But even China's new upper middle-class isn't likely to be deterred by the bill.

Education is highly valued in China and despite the fact that the average American university or private school education costs more than a middle-class Chinese family can save in a generation, there are currently 63,000 Chinese students enrolled in universities in the United States, more than from any foreign country except India, which has 80,000 students in American schools, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education.

That number could be much higher but for the common practice of ensuring geographic balance in admissions, which ensures that Chinese students don't crowd out students from Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

With Chinese students facing steep challenges to study abroad, more and more of the foreign institutions creating campuses in China are hoping to woo locals by marketing their degrees as a Western-quality education in a Chinese setting -- at reduced prices. For example, a year at Harrow Beijing costs about $15,000, about half what it would cost in Britain.

3) Finally, while it's great to see U.S. universities retain their global comparative advantadge, I fear that the Canadians will soon be able to siphon away some of the greatest minds of our generation -- at least, if this Reuters report is correct (hat tip: reader S.S.):
The use of medical marijuana has given two Toronto professors the right to something that many students could only dream of -- access to specially ventilated rooms where they can indulge in peace.

The two, at the esteemed University of Toronto and at York University to the north of the city, suffer from chronic medical conditions that some doctors say can be eased by smoking marijuana. They are among nearly 1,500 Canadians who have won the right to use the drug for health reasons.

Using human rights legislation, the two petitioned their employers for the right to light up in the workplace. They faced a legal struggle, but the universities eventually agreed.

"Without the medication, I am disabled and I'm not able to carry out meaningful and valuable, productive work," said York University criminology professor Brian MacLean, who suffers from a severe form of degenerative arthritis.

First the "sexy sex sex" class, and now pot-smoking? The University of Toronto is going to clean America's educational clock.

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The ultimate study of higher education

With the midterms and all I forgot to highlight this article from the New York Times education supplment about why ultimate frisbee is the sport of kings:

Forget college guides, U.S. News & World Report rankings, average SAT scores. The best gauge of an institutionís ex cellence may actually be Ö its ultimate Frisbee team. At least thatís the theory of Dr. Michael J. Norden, a Univer sity of Washington professor of psychiatry.

Ultimate started in the 60ís as the hippieís anti-sport ó a coach-free, referee-less, noncontact game comb - i n ing the free-form elements of Frisbee with the strategy, athleticism and goal-making of football or soccer. Players call their own infractions, and ďThe Spirit of the Game,Ē the ruling document, says that while competition is encouraged, it must not be ďat the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.Ē More than 500 colleges and universities now have teams competing interscholastically.

Dr. Norden analyzed the Ultimate Players Association ďpower ratingsĒ of private national universities over a decade (the ratings assess strength based on past performance), and he discovered a startling pattern. ďAll the schools with above-average ultimate teams also have aboveaverage graduation rates,Ē says Dr. Norden, whose son is, not coincidentally, a serious high school player looking for a university with a good team. ďThey average a 90 percent graduation rate, while the average graduation rate for private national universities is just 73 percent. Statistically, that just doesnít happen by chance.Ē

Furthermore, the private universities in the top half of ultimate standings had 208 Rhodes and Marshall scholars; the bottom half, just 15. The top seven ó Stanford, Brown, Harvard, Tufts, Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton ó had almost as many scholars as all the rest combined. (A followup study of public and liberal arts colleges found a similar correlation.) Dr. Norden cites another distinction: ďSix of those top seven universities, all but Harvard, made Princeton Reviewís list of the happiest students.Ē

My first thought is that this is correlation and not causation, but you'll have to read the article to see why Norden thinks there is a causal relationship.

posted by Dan at 07:10 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts? -- a review

I'm one of the many participants in John Holbo's Liberalpalooza 2006 -- i.e., a blogathon about Michael Bťrubťís What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts?

My (lengthy by blog standards) take on the book is below the fold:

UPDATE: Comments are down here -- but this review has been cross-posted over at The Valve, so say what you think over there.

Whatís Liberal About The Liberal Arts? By Michael Bťrubť. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

As a professor who hails from the conservative side of the political spectrum, I truly loathe the debate about liberal bias in the academy. Itís one of those questions that rears its head every year or two, at which point the same stale arguments are trotted out and not much of note is said.

About the only thing I like about this debate is how it forces both sides of the political spectrum to subvert their traditional arguments and appropriate the other sideís rhetoric. Conservatives wind up arguing that the bias problem is a structural one Ė and therefore the way to fix it is through some kind of ideological affirmative action program. Liberals, when confronted with the numbers, nevertheless insist that the academy is a strict meritocracy with no old-boy networks whatsoever Ė and that aspiring conservative academics should quit whining and pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

It is to Bťrubťís credit, then, to say that I enjoyed reading Whatís Liberal About The Liberal Arts. Actually, to be more specific, I really enjoyed one of the books Bťrubť has written. Whatís Liberal About The Liberal Arts is really two texts Ė one about what it means to be a professor, and one that responds to the conservative critique of the academy. The first one is great; the second one is slapdash.

Bťrubťís explanation of the actual craft of teaching American literature is an utter delight. He accessibly relates the difficulties of coping with obstreperous students in seminars, or why gender is a salient factor in teaching My Antonia. Bťrubťís excellent, pithy summation of how to evaluate a paper will be familiar to many a professor:

All I ask is that their interpretations be plausible, and my criteria are lawyerly and austere. One, I read their essays to see how well they handle textual evidence, that is, how well they support whatever claims they make by reference to the material in front of them; and two, I want to know how well they anticipate and head off possible counterarguments. Thatís it. Meet those two criteria in my classroom, and the field of interpretation is open.

Bťrubťís discussion of Rortyís non-foundationalist approach was also useful in shining a light on what is often reflexively labeled ďpost-modernismĒ in colloquial discourse. As Whatís Liberal About The Liberal Arts presents it, Rortyís philosophy is more the intellectual successor to the pragmatist tradition in American thought than a child of Foucault or Derrida. These sections make me want to buy Bťrubť a beer to see whether he thinks Rortyís anti-foundationalism meets its match in Adam Smithís Theory of Moral Sentiments.

As Bťrubť intended, these chapters are also the best rejoinder to the conservative accusation of liberal bias subverting the aims higher education. University research and teaching is a profession, with a set of rules, norms and practices that are not connected to one political ideology or another. This is the ďprocedural liberalismĒ that Bťrubť discusses Ė though he is hardly the first. Even if the academy is overwhelmingly populated by substantive liberals, the professional norms evinced by Bťrubť should serve as the most important bulwark against political corruption. It is for this reason, incidentally, that liberals should not fear institutions that are both professionalized and predominantly conservative Ė like the United States armed forces.

The chapters that explicitly address the conservative critique are more of a mixed bag. Whatís Liberal About The Liberal Arts devotes a lot of pages to debunking David Horowitz and his ill-informed jihad against the academy. In these sections, Bťrubť gets points for marksmanship Ė he does a great job of shooting a big fish in a small barrel.

Look, Horowitz is a guy who got bored with studying English literature because there was ďnothing to research that was interesting anymore.Ē Heís now pissed off because Harvard professors donít assign his books in courses and convinced that heíd be a Harvard department chair is he was liberal. In other words, itís very hard to take his rantings about the academy seriously. As Michael pointed out in his blog, ďMr. Horowitz himself is not very appealingĒ. The best way to inoculate commentators and politicians against Horowitzís crusade is simply to expose them to greater doses of Horowitz.

Horowitzís prominence in the text underscores the fact that there are thornier questions about the sources and effects of liberal bias that Bťrubť either elides or treats in a cursory manner. He acknowledges that, ďthereís really no question, then, that campuses are teeming with liberal faculty, especially when campuses are compared with the rest of the country.Ē This is explained away as a matter of personal choice Ė liberals are more likely to pick a job thatís not terribly remunerative but has lots of security and flexibility. Here Bťrubť commits an error similar to what Thomas Franck did in Whatís The Matter With Kansas Ė he assumes that people are guided strictly by their material preferences. Surely, just as middle-class Americans might identify more strongly with the GOP's cultural values over the Democratic party's economic program, conservatives might value living the life of the mind ahead of the monetary rewards of a non-academic career?

As for the effects of liberal bias, Bťrubť admits that this is not a good thing within his own discipline. The absence of traditional conservative scholarship creates the Millian problem of ďdead dogmaĒ Ė without being challenged, some tenets become accepted as given when they shouldnít be. The other problem, which Bťrubť does not discuss in detail, is one of power. In almost every social setting, those with less power tend to exaggerate the extent to which they need to please the more powerful to advance in life. So it is in the academy. Bťrubť maintains that undergrads do not read is essays in Dissent or The Nation. Thatís probably true Ė but I bet they read his blog, and I have to wonder if some potential English Ph.D.ís fear the ideological gap between them and their instructor, and choose to take a pass? This problem is not Bťrubťís fault, but that doesnít mean it doesnít exist.

On the whole, Bťrubť thinks the liberal bias problem is overblown Ė and therefore the conservative opposition must be masking a more sinister agenda Ė the academy, like Social Security, is an existential affront to conservatives:

on some level, the American right attacks universities not because they donít work but because, by and large, they doÖ.

Americaís cultural conservatives may despise us for the obvious reasonsóour cosmopolitanism, our secularism, our corrosive attitude of skepticism about every form of receive authorityóbut the economic conservatives, I think, despise us precisely because we work so well.

As an economic conservative, there are a few flaws in this line of argumentation.

Bťrubť implies that American universities work so well because of Liberals Like Him. However, as he points out elsewhere in the book, it might be precisely those parts of the university that ďconservatives heartily endorseĒ Ė basic science and R&D in nanotechnology or agribusiness Ė thatís providing a lot of the value-added. Furthermore, itís worth pointing out that even though the state plays a significant role in tertiary education in this country, its role is considerably smaller when compared to other countries. Maybe, just maybe, itís the competitive, non-state aspects of the American university that make them such a global attractor. True, for these parts of the university to work, they do have to adhere to Bťrubťís procedural liberalism Ė but this is an insight that is hardly original to either Bťrubť or the left side of the political spectrum.

I'd recommend the book to those interested in seeing how humanities professors go about their work. As a refutation of the condservative critique, What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts leaves something to be desired.

posted by Dan at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blegging for stapler advice

In the process of moving to Fletcher, I received the standard allotment of office supplies -- printer paper, binder clips, highlighters.... and a f*&@ing stapler that can't seem to staple more that fifteen f#$%ing pages together without self-destructing!!!!

Sorry. This has been an ongoing problem for me -- I need a stapler that can reliable staple up to 40 pages with a miimum of fuss.

Sophisticated market research suggests that readers of work in an office environment, and therefore might be able to help me.

So, please, before I turn into this guy -- what's the best stapler out there?

posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Those fools.... those tenured, bureaucratic fools

I see that Harrison Ford says he's fit enough to play Indiana Jones in a fourth movie.

This leads to an interesting question... where shall we find the mature Dr. Jones? As Andy Bryan discovers in McSweeney's, Indy's antics don't play so well with the straightlaced academic crown of archaeologists:

January 22, 1939

Assistant Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Chapman Hall 227B
Marshall College

Dr. Jones:

As chairman of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, I regret to inform you that your recent application for tenure has been denied by a vote of 6 to 1. Following past policies and procedures, proceedings from the committee's deliberations that were pertinent to our decision have been summarized below according to the assessment criteria....

To summarize, the committee fails to recognize any indication that Dr. Jones is even remotely proficient when it comes to archaeological scholarship and practice. His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better. Marshall College has a reputation to uphold. I need not say more.

My apologies,

Prof. G.L. Stevens

You'll have to click on the link to see the case against Dr. Jones in full.

posted by Dan at 12:51 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 25, 2006

The latest step in scholar-blogging

John Holbo has introduced a new and interesting book imprint series that he will edit called Glassbead:

Glassbead will exemplify what academic book publishing should be in another sense: namely, healthy public intellectual culture. We will purvey a wide variety of contentóranging from academic specialist works to journalism to critical editions of public domain fiction to new fiction. But we aim to make our mark with works that solve intellectual circulation problemsówithin the ivory tower and without. We will make books that are maximally available, searchable, usableóby the public and by academics. We will make books the general reader (not so mythical as sometimes reported) and the academic reader will want to make use of.

Our most distinctive offeringsóour first releasesówill be "book events." Born on blogs as massive, multi-reviewer online seminars, the book events are hybrid creatures, unknown in a paper age. We are proud of the critical work they do, the range of participants they have attracted. And, after the fact, they look quite nice on paper. And we hereby demonstrate what an intellectual gift culture can do for the rest of academic publishing. Not all of these books will be narrowly academic, but the case for their intellectual functionality is clearest in the scholarly cases, and perhaps clearest of all in the humanities. Every book published in the humanities should be widely read, discussed, publicly reviewedóshould have it's own lively comment box, not to put too fine a point on it. Because any scholarly book incapable of rousing a measure of sustained, considerate, knowledgeable, intelligent criticism and downright bookchat from a few dozen souls specializing in that area . . . needn't have been published, after all. Turning the point around: in an age in which technology assures any book worth publishing can be accompanied by such an event, any book that lacks one has been sadly failed by the academic culture in which it was so unfortunate as to be born. We hope to do our part and, even more so, set an excellent example of how to keep ideas circulating.

There are several interesting implications of this project. Among the more obvious:
1) It's another means through which blog outputs can be translated into scholarly capital, as it were;

2) I predict John Holbo is going to find that people will be much nicer to him than in the past;

3) There will be the interesting question of whether these collections are better to get in .pdf format or in hard copy. From the first effort, I suspect it might be the former:

Paper has been a bit of a puzzle. We have opted to make it typographically clear where links appear in the electronic version. Readers of the paper version who wish to follow links can download the PDF version of the book from Parlor Press, or check the original posts.
Over at Open U., Jacob Levy is also enthusiastic.

posted by Dan at 09:35 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

I envy Jane Galt

It's true, I have committed one of the seven deadly sins in thinking about Ms. Megan McArdle -- and it's not even one of the interesting sins.

No, I am envious of her because she wrote this post, which contains this paragraph:

I've had a taste of both academia and investment banking. The dominance hierarchy of banking is so strong that if you could get the bankers out of their pinstripes for an hour, you could have filmed your average pitch meeting for the Discovery Channel. Yet when it comes to hyper-obsession with invisibly fine status distinctions, no banker could hold a candle to the average academic--or journalist, for that matter.
Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:27 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 4, 2006

From Tragedy to Farce

In response to more than a dozen requests at the American Political Science Association annual meeting to blog about this, here's a link to Dana Millbank's Washington Post piece from last week that catches up with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "Israel Lobby" road show:

It was quite a boner.

University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer was in town yesterday to elaborate on his view that American Jewish groups are responsible for the war in Iraq, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and many other bad things. As evidence, he cited the influence pro-Israel groups have on "John Boner, the House majority leader."

Actually, Professor, it's "BAY-ner." But Mearsheimer quickly dispensed with Boehner (R-Ohio) and moved on to Jewish groups' nefarious sway over Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who Mearsheimer called " Von Hollen."

Such gaffes would be trivial -- if Mearsheimer weren't claiming to be an authority on Washington and how power is wielded here. But Mearsheimer, with co-author Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School, set off a furious debate this spring when they argued that "the Israel lobby" is exerting undue influence in Washington; opponents called them anti-Semitic.

Yesterday, at the invitation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they held a forum at the National Press Club to expand on their allegations about the Israel lobby. Blurring the line between academics and activism, they accepted a button proclaiming "Fight the Israel Lobby" and won cheers from the Muslim group for their denunciation of Israel and its friends in the United States.

Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn't exactly scholarly.

A few thoughts:
1) Millbank's opening is nothing more than a cheap shot -- for the record, I thought "Beohner" was pronounced "boner" as well. It's that kind of snottiness that undermines the more trenchant factual critiques Millbank makes later in the piece.

2) Millbank is a smart political reporter, and the fact that he and his editors opened the story in this way is indicative of the way the public debate over "The Israel Lobby" has transpired. Even though I think Mearsheimer and Walt had the kernel of a good idea in their original LRB essay, the essay was so riddled with slipshod rhetoric and historical inaccuracy that the idea was drowned out by claims of anti-Semitism and counterclaims of philo-Semitism.

3) Mearsheimer and Walt's tendency to present this argument only to friendly fora -- and to use increasingly sloppy rhetoric to characterize their argument -- suggests that they have no intention of modifying their tone or their thesis. I'm not surprised, given the crap they've had to deal with on this topic -- but I am disappointed (indeed, one wonders if Mearsheimer and Walt's CAIR presentation is an example of Cass Sunstein's "echo chamber" effect).

4) I think we're at the point where it is time to recognize that it will be impossible to have anything close to a high-minded debate on this topic when the starting point is "The Israel Lobby" essay. Don't get me wrong -- besides the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt badly defined their independent variable, miscoded one alternative explanation, omitted several other causal variables, poorly operationalized their dependent variable, and failed to fact-check some of their assertions, it's a bang-up essay. With this foundation, however, any debate is guaranteed to topple into the mire of anti-Semitic accusations, Godwin's Law, and typing in ALL CAPS.

The hardworking staff here at will look forward, in a few months, to someone restarting this debate from a more reliable factual and conceptual base.

posted by Dan at 07:35 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 1, 2006

Talk about talking across generations....

I attended a panel today entitled, "Reconstituting Intellectual Power in the Academy: A Conversation Across Generations," in which one of the elder members of the panel said (roughly) the following:

You have to understand, when I was in school we all thought the U.S. government was corrupt and inefficient. We were all influenced by the Teapot Dome scandal.....

posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gone to APSA -- go read something else I've written.

I'll be at the American Political Science Association annual meeting for the next couple of days. Posting may be light. Rookie APSA attendees should read click here.

In the meantime, devoted fans of can click here to read my just-released book from the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Trade Strategy: Free Versus Fair. From the press release:

While policymakers agree that promoting trade expansion serves U.S. national interests, they disagree on how to accomplish this goal. U.S.Trade Strategy: Free Versus Fair, by Tufts Universityís Daniel W. Drezner, is a primer on trade policy. Written as a policy memo to an American president, this Council Critical Policy Choice (CPC), published by CFR press, does not argue for a particular policy but outlines two distinct options.

The ďfree tradeĒ approach seeks to ensure the full realization of the economic and political benefits of free trade. It recommends a renewed commitment to the success of the Doharound of trade negotiations through top-level U.S.involvement in the negotiations and a willingness to resist domestic political pressures regarding issues such as outsourcing, textiles, and agriculture.

The ďfair tradeĒ approach seeks to balance the economic benefits of free trade with other valuesócommunity stability and income security, for instanceóeven at the cost of foregoing some of the benefits of trade. This approach recommends a tougher stance, in trade negotiations and in Congress, to ensure receptivity to American exports and to stem the tide of outsourcing and other potential threats to U.S.interests.

ďTrade has become one of the most significant and controversial subjects in the international arena,Ē said Council President Richard N. Haass. ďIt is also one of the most complex. This book provides students, professors, and others a basic text that will help them better understand the many dimensions of trade policy and help them sort out where they stand on this critical issue.Ē

In addition to presenting these two alternatives, the book includes background papers on four recurring challenges to U.S. trade policy: balancing Americaís trade and current account deficits, managing the intersection of trade policy and issues such as intellectual property and labor standards, supporting workers adversely affected by trade, and harmonizing the multiple tracks of trade diplomacy. The resulting product is a compact, accessible volume on the substance and politics of trade policy.

If you want to save yourself some dough and download the whole thing as a .pdf file, then click here.

Curious Fletcher students who have stumbled onto the blog can also get a sneak preview of my (still subject to last-minute changes) syllabus for DHP P217 -- Global Political Economy -- by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 28, 2006

The ultimate Nth year

Anyone getting a Ph.D. knows about nth years. These are graduate students who have been around so long that no other student possess the institutional memory to know when they entered the doctoral program. Nth years serve the very useful purpose of scaring the living crap out of the other graduate students, motivating them to finish their dissertations before they unwittingly morph into an nth year themselves.

There are nth years, and at the University of Chicago, there are nth years:

After a long and fruitful career, 79-year-old masterís degree graduate Herbert Baum has returned to the University of Chicago to earn his Ph.D. The oldest person ever to be awarded a doctorate by the University, Baum will receive the degree in economics Friday, Aug. 25.

When he left the University in 1951 to become a government agricultural economist in Washington, D.C., Baum had a masterís degree and was just short of writing his dissertation to earn a doctorate.

His dissertation contributes to agricultural economics by examining how to measure the impact of fees charged producers for commodity promotion and research. The thesis, based on a case study of the strawberry industry in California in which he was a leader, developed a model for researchers to understand the long-term value of the fees assessed growers. The model shows how the policies of the state strawberry commission, which supported research into improved varieties, improved production per acre and grower profitability.

James Heckman, the Henry Scultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, was a member of a committee that also included two other Nobel Prizes. Heckman said of Baumís work, ďHerb Baumís Ph. D. thesis is a well executed study of an industry partially monopolized by government authority. His application of basic price theory to understand the consequences of this policy is in the best tradition of empirical price theory at Chicago. He combines theory with evidence in a convincing way in a serious piece of research on a major agricultural industry.Ē

Quite the dissertation committee:
[Milton] Friedman, the Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics, was one of the faculty members who approved granting Baum a Ph.D. Joining Friedman on the committee were Nobel Prize-winning economists Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics, and committee chair James Heckman. Roger Myerson, the William C. Norby Professor in Economics, also served on the committee.

Baum based his dissertation on his lifeís work and titled it: ďQuest for the Perfect Strawberry; A Case Study of the California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Industry: A Descriptive Model for Marketing Order EvaluationĒ.

To be fair soon-to-be-Dr. Baum, he's not a true nth year, since he left the university an accomplished something.

Academic readers are invited to share any horror stories they know about nth years.

posted by Dan at 05:05 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

How the academy is efficient
Occasionally the marginal idea escapes the academy and has an impact, but by and large students just want to graduate, academics just want to be insulated from the real world, and the real world wants to be isolated from loonies who go on about how great Che Guevara was. In this light, the Academy is a very efficient mechanism, creating surplus for all.
Click here to read this in context.
posted by Dan at 12:06 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Iris Marion Young, R.I.P.

Henry Farrell and Larry Solum eulogize a former colleague of mine at the University of Chicago, Iris Marion Young. She passed away yesterday.

It would be safe to say that Iris and I disagreed a fair amount on matters of politics and policy. It would also be safe to say that I really did not care. Iris was one of the more decent people I've met in the academy -- indefatigable and interested in everything. Her students -- and there were many of them -- were devoted to her.

She had been suffering from cancer for the past year or so, not that this slowed her down all that much. The way she carried herself was remarkable -- not because Iris was all bulldog determination in the face of her illness and treatment, or any such maudlin sentiment. Rather, she was cheerfully unafraid to tell you exactly how she was feeling, and doing so in a way that filtered the awkwardness out of the conversation.

She was both brave and gentle, and she will be missed.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 24, 2006

The case of Juan Cole

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a (subscriber only, alas free for all!) symposium on the case of Juan Cole's non-hiring by Yale University this spring. Contributions from Cole, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, Brad DeLong, Michael Bťrubť, Erin O'Connor, and yours truly.

DeLong's essay makes the best case for the scholarly benefits from blogging; O'Connor makes the best case for why blogs should be a factor (and not necessarily a positive one) in hiring decisions.

For background on the case, click here for this story by Liel Leibovitz in The Jewish Week.

UPDATE: While on the subject of academia, it's also worth checking out this Stanley Fish essay from yesterday's New York Times, and Ann Althouse's critique of it.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

One obvious benefit of tenure

I will no longer fear succumbing to this kind of fictitious pressure (link via Virginia Postrel).

posted by Dan at 12:50 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So you want to publish an op-ed....

In the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, Douglas Borer has an essay entitled, "Rejected by the New York Times? Why Academics Struggle to Get Published in National Newspapers." Here's how it opens:

At one time or another the bug to write an editorial strikes many in our profession. Our motivation is driven by disgust in what we see in the media, where many of the pundits are, for lack of a more nuanced description, idiots.
Fortunately, Borer then focuses most of his ire at academic folkways:
The first hurdle to overcome is schizophrenia when it comes to following rules. While academics suffer no hesitation when placing limits on students' term papers, professors generally do not like to follow similar restrictions. Because our first foray into editorial writing is usually for a local newspaper, bad habits form quickly. A decade ago, my colleagues at Virginia Tech informed me that the Roanoke Times would publish essays of almost any length that a Tech professor submitted. If I had something to say, and needed 1,500 words to say it, I simply sent my over-stuffed story, and presto! I was playing the smug role of public intellectual. Move over Tom Friedman, this was easy!

As the years went on, my ambitions grew. Yet truth be told, each sample of brilliant analysis and clever prose that eventually appeared in the local mullet wrapper had first been rejected by one of the major national newspapers (the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal). U.S.A. Today does not accept unsolicited op-ed submissions; however, in 2002 they asked me to write a piece explaining why Afghanistan was going to be another Vietnam. When I expressed my judgment that the U.S. incursion into Afghanistan had fewer potential similarities than differences with Vietnam, the editors lost interest in my "expertise." A day or two later, the story they wanted told duly appeared courtesy of another professor. The U.S.A. Today experience was instructiveóeditors "editorialize" by thematically selecting the content their publishers wish to convey....

If changing one's spots is difficult for a leopard, teaching an old academician new tricks may be even more tricky. Successful op-ed writing requires academics to move tepidly into the realm of rhetoric and imagery. Why? As noted above, space is limited to approximately 700 words, therefore the use of rhetorical and metaphorical words that mentally catalyze the reader to generate even more words in his/her mind's eye is indispensable. For the most part, we academics are trained to play a very different gameówe really do not want our readers to think freely for themselves. Certainly we do not want to use words that might foment an emotional response in our peers. Therefore, we avoid words that are open to interpretation, and we go to lengths ad nauseum to define terms. We require the members of our tribe to assemble narratives consisting of analytically rigorous but alliteratively sterile words. We know that use of that ever-loaded term "democracy" in a journal article entails a commitment of four or more pages of literature review in order to dodge the finely honed machetes of peer reviewers. In an op-ed you can explain democracy in a sentence, and readers will get the gist of your definition. Indeed, getting to the gist of things is all you need in editorials.

That last line applies to blogs as well.

posted by Dan at 05:55 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Is it a good idea to podcast lectures?

That's the question being debated in this Christina Silva story in the Boston Globe:

Hoping to appeal to tech-savvy students with a shrinking attention span, more Boston-area colleges are pushing professors to go digital and record their lectures as downloadable files that student can listen to wherever, whenever....

Supporters of the idea say that podcasts help students study better, allowing baffled freshmen to fast-forward to the part of an introductory lecture they didn't understand and hit repeat. The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, for example, will try with 10 high-tech classrooms this fall.

But others question whether podcasting lectures will actually contribute to learning. Students, some professors say, might be tempted to skip class and the discussion that can flow after a lecture.

"If the purpose of what you are doing is to give them some information quickly, then podcasts are great," said Donna Qualters, director of The Center for Effective University Teaching at Northeastern University, an education resource program. ``My fear is that podcasts are going to replace the lecture. And then, of course, kids are not going to go to class, and they will miss the benefits of that."

My take: some students would use podcasts as a substitute for attending lectures, others will use it as intended. The ones who use it as a substitute probably know it's not as good as attending the lecture itself, but are willing to pay the price in terms of lower grades.

I'm curious what other professors and students think.

posted by Dan at 08:17 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

For the philosophers in the audience....

Luc Bovens has a fascinating article in the Journal of Medical Ethics about whether strict pro-life activists -- i.e., those who are as concerned about embryonic death as they are about fetuses -- can ethically endorse the rhythm method as a means of family planning. Why?

Pro-lifers oppose IUDs because their main mode of operation is to make embryonic death likely. Now suppose that we were to learn that the success of the rhythm method is actually due, not to the fact that conception does not happenósperm and ova are much more long lived than we previously thoughtóbut rather because the viability of conceived ova outside the HF period is minimal due to the limited resilience of the embryo and the limited receptivity of the uterine wall. If this were the case, then one should oppose the rhythm method for the same reasons as one opposes IUDs. If it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by making the uterine wall inhospitable to implantation, then clearly it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by organising oneís sex life so that conceived ova lack resilience and will face a uterine wall that is inhospitable to implantation. Furthermore, if one is opposed to IUDs because their main mode of operation is to secure embryonic death, then, on the assumption that one of the modes of operation of the pill is to make embryonic death likely, one should be equally opposed to pill usage. This is essentially Alcornís argument and assuming that the empirical details hold, consistency does indeed drive IUD opponents in this direction. If, however, our empirical assumptions about the rhythm method hold, then one of its modes of operation is also that it makes embryonic death likely. And if embryos are unborn children, is it not callous indeed to organise oneís sex life on the basis of a technique whose success is partly dependent on the fact that unborn children will starve because they are brought to life in a hostile environment?
This rests on the belief that the rhythm method works because of embryonic death rather than a failure to fertilize an egg in the first place. Amanda Schaffer's article in the New York Times about the Bovens paper discusses the scientific lay of the land on that question.

I have no idea whether Bovens' empirical assertion is correct -- but if it is, it would seem to pose a very interesting quandry for some pro-life activists.

UPDATE: The comments tend to run towards the distinction between sins of omission and sins of commission. Just to be really subversive, try applying that framework to this question and see if your views remain internally consistent.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

What is new and essential in international relations?

Tyler Cowen worries that after a burst of innovation in the late eighties, economics has gone a bit stale:

I see mid-1980s as the end of a great era in economic theorizing. Take game theory, principal-agent theory, and the economics of information, and apply them to everything, for better or worse. This was an exciting, indeed intoxicating, time to learn economics. While applications continue, we have run out of new ideas on those fronts. Experimental economics is completely Nobel-worthy, but it is now over forty years old. What are the next breakthroughs or the breakthroughs which have just been made?
Readers have requested more IR theory posts, so let's take Tyler's question and apply it to international relations. What has been written in the past decade that is essential reading for an up and coming IR grad student?

[What do you think?--ed. I'll add my picks in a few hours. For now I'll just observe that my thoughts run to books rather than articles, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.]

posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pen and paper rule!

Maplesoft -- "the leading provider of high-performance software tools for engineering, science and mathematics" -- commissioned a survey of "scientists, engineers, and researchers" to find out how they do their calculations. I think they found the results disturbing:

[A]ccording to an international survey, mathematical calculations in engineering and academia are still most often performed with pencil and paper. On a daily basis, respondents turn to scratchpads and calculators more frequently than any other tool for mathematical tasks. The same survey also revealed this community largely considers its field of work and study to be ďfully modernĒ and ďtaking full advantage of modern tools and technology.Ē

These results are drawn from an extensive, international survey of scientists, engineers and researchers across a variety of markets, including aerospace, automotive, electronics, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, life sciences, finance and education. With more than 2000 participants, the survey offers unprecedented insight into the daily practices, experiences and perceptions of the technical user community.

When questioned about how frequently they used a range of tools and resources for design and analysis:

  • 52% indicated that they use ďhand calculations (calculators) and paperĒ daily, with an additional 21% citing it as a weekly practice;

  • 47% of respondents indicated that the next most common resources used daily are ďelectronic references and tables (e.g. CD-ROM, Web),Ē)Ē with another 26% using them weekly;

  • 35% indicated that they use ďprint reference books and tablesĒ daily, with another 31% using them weekly; and

  • 39% indicated daily use of spreadsheets, which remain the most common software tool used in analysis and design. Another 31% of users employ them weekly.
  • ďIt is startling to see such hard data revealing the continued reliance on tools and practices that require so much manual effort and leave so much room for error,Ē said Jim Cooper, CEO of Maplesoft. ďThis is a user base that is charged with driving innovation, exploring the cutting edge and bringing the best new products and services to market and yet, to a large extent, they are holding onto outdated and outmoded practices. So much of their important work will remain locked in their notebooks and lost to the layers of their spreadsheets rather than captured and carried forward with all of their logic and thinking documented.Ē

    Count me among the pen-and-paper crowd, sort of. There's no way in hell I'd start any theoretical modeling by typing it into a computer program. On the other hand, there's no way in hell I'd do any kind of statistical analysis or straight number-crunching by hand. Looking at the survey itself, it seems that engineers think of design in the same way that I think about theoretical modeling -- which makes intuitive sense to me.

    My question to readers: Is my use of pen-and-paper is simply an artifact of my age, and as people who have used computers since they were in diapers enter the scientific workforce, they will discard these ancient tools? Or is there something about the act of scribbling down initial thoughts about models or designs on paper that makes it work better than electronic entry?

    [You meant pencil and paper, right?--ed. I'm left-handed, and therefore stopped using pencils at the earliest moment possible.]

    posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    My questions about the latest plagiarism scandal

    I'm late to the party on the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal now unfolding at Harvard. Long story short -- a Harvard student who published a teen chick lit book -- How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life -- has been discovered to have cribbed from another chick lit writer, Megan McCafferty. Click here for examples of the plagiarism.

    Viswanathan has now copped to the "unconscious" plagiarism. However, if this Newark Star-Ledger story by Vicki Hyman is accurate, Viswanathan must have been really unconscious when writing her book:

    In a statement issued by her publicist yesterday, Viswanathan said she read and loved McCafferty's novels "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," but said she was "very surprised and upset" to learn about the similarities between the two works and her debut.

    "I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious," said Viswanathan, who signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Co., reportedly worth $500,000, following her high school graduation from Bergen County Academies in Hackensack.

    She plans to revise the novel with publisher Little, Brown and Co. to eliminate the similarities, and apologized to McCafferty and to readers who felt misled.

    Viswanathan could not be reached directly yesterday. But when asked in an interview with The Star-Ledger last week about what books may have helped inspire "Opal Mehta," Viswanathan said, "Nothing I read gave me the inspiration."

    And, naturally, there's been some bizarre quasi-blogging behavior on this point as well.

    While all of this makes for dishy reading, the fact that both my lovely wife and I focused on was the fact that Viswanathan got a two-book, $500,000 contract while she was in high school."

    Here's my question about this scandal: why, exactly, would Little, Brown throw that much money at a young, unpublished author? Why would any publisher do that? I know the teen and chick lit markets are booming, but dear me, that seems like a lot of money to throw around.

    posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    The ins and outs of media whoring

    Jennifer Jacobson has an excellent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the travails faced by academics who make regular media appearances. It's the perfect mix of serious and amusing.

    The amusing stuff:

    During the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, appeared on television regularly to argue that impeaching President Bill Clinton was wrong.

    Then he got sick of it. He was bored with the cameras, sitting in the studio had lost its novelty, and, to top it off, his earpiece kept falling out. So after CNN asked him to appear yet again, he said he would agree only on one condition: that his dog join him on the air.

    The network agreed. During the commercial break, the phones were ringing off the hook, Mr. Sunstein recalls. Viewers wanted to know where they could buy a dog like Perry, Mr. Sunstein's Rhodesian Ridgeback. "He was a big TV star," says Mr. Sunstein. The experience, he says, was "the highlight of my television career." [I must stipulate here that Perry is indeed a gorgeous dog... though not as gorgeous as Chester--DD.]....

    On television-free days, Diane Ravitch doesn't wear much makeup ó no eyeliner, eye shadow, or mascara. Some days, she says, she does not even apply lipstick.

    She is not a fan of getting made up for television; in fact, she says "that's the worst part." There is, however, an upside to it, Ms. Ravitch says: The skillfully applied products make her look 20 years younger ó for three minutes.

    She realizes that is not a lot of time to share her views with the public. But it is a chance to reach a national audience, she says. Besides, most Americans get their news from television. "So if you can say something that's educational and valuable for them to hear," she says, "that's more than they'll hear for the rest of the day."

    Ravitch's last quote raises an interesting question -- as Americans get more and more of their news off the Internet, will more public intellectuals start up blogs? [Duh--ed.]

    On the serious side, it turns out that junior faculty should be wary of doing too much television. Who knew?

    posted by Dan at 08:24 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Horror stories about anonmous peer review

    Henry Farrell links to a Chronicle of Higher Education story by Jeffrey Young about how Microsoft Word's tags have eroded anonymity in peer review. Henry adds:

    Word documents preserve a lot of metadata, including, very often, the authorís name Ė so that if you submit your review via a Word email attachment (as many journals ask you to these days), and the journal forwards the review unchanged to the articleís author, he or she can figure out who you are without having to play the usual guessing game. Iíve been aware of this for a couple of years (I carefully strip all data before sending reviews out, just in case) Ė but I suspect that many academics arenít (some of them may not even realize that Word collates this data automatically).
    I've been outed once as a reviewer after I rejected a piece, but it was not due to anything as high-tech as MS Word metadata.

    I faxed the journal -- which shall remain nameless -- my review. The journal then faxed it to the paper-writer -- who shall also remain nameless. The problem was that the journal's fax to the writer contained my department's fax number and identification -- and from there it was pretty damn easy to identify the referee.

    Here's a link for potential referees about how to stay anonymous if you electronically submit your referee reports.

    posted by Dan at 11:33 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, April 6, 2006

    Thank God for the Guardian's watch on the American Academy!!

    The headline of the Guardian's special report on free speech in the American academy by Gary Younge is "Silence in class." The subhead:

    University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?
    Wow, this sounds pretty bad. Oh, wait, let's get to the text of the piece:
    Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.

    "In some respects it's more dangerous," she says. "McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It's very dangerous because it's reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies."

    Either way, a growing number of apparently isolated incidents suggests a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe.

    Read the whole article -- it's a compendium of the current attacks on various academics. It seems like small beer to me, and not exactly worthy of a Guardian special report. In the words of one academic who has been verbally attacked -- history professor Ellen DuBois: "It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals."

    Or am I underreacting? I'll leave that to the commenters.

    posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Academics really need this device

    David Pescowitz at Boing Boing alerts the hardworking staff here at about a new device that wiould be of great use in the academy:

    MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people determine if they're boring or annoying the person they're talking to. The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn't seem to be engaged, the device vibrates to alert the wearer.
    Autistic people should not be the only ones who benefit from this breakthrough. I know more than one colleague who really needs this device.

    Click here for more info.

    posted by Dan at 10:49 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Now this is provocative scholarship

    So let's talk about the provocative article written by two academics that has a whole country's foreign policy community in a lather.

    No, not that article -- the authors are still ducking the open debate they claim to want. I'm talking about the one that has exercised the entire Russian military-industrial complex.

    In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Keir Lieber and Daryl Press make a startling claim about the balance of nuclear terror:

    For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide....

    This debate may now seem like ancient history, but it is actually more relevant than ever -- because the age of MAD is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come....

    Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has significantly improved. The United States has replaced the ballistic missiles on its submarines with the substantially more accurate Trident II D-5 missiles, many of which carry new, larger-yield warheads. The U.S. Navy has shifted a greater proportion of its SSBNs to the Pacific so that they can patrol near the Chinese coast or in the blind spot of Russia's early warning radar network. The U.S. Air Force has finished equipping its B-52 bombers with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which are probably invisible to Russian and Chinese air-defense radar. And the air force has also enhanced the avionics on its B-2 stealth bombers to permit them to fly at extremely low altitudes in order to avoid even the most sophisticated radar. Finally, although the air force finished dismantling its highly lethal MX missiles in 2005 to comply with arms control agreements, it is significantly improving its remaining ICBMs by installing the MX's high-yield warheads and advanced reentry vehicles on Minuteman ICBMs, and it has upgraded the Minuteman's guidance systems to match the MX's accuracy.

    Even as the United States' nuclear forces have grown stronger since the end of the Cold War, Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal has sharply deteriorated. Russia has 39 percent fewer long-range bombers, 58 percent fewer ICBMs, and 80 percent fewer SSBNs than the Soviet Union fielded during its last days. The true extent of the Russian arsenal's decay, however, is much greater than these cuts suggest. What nuclear forces Russia retains are hardly ready for use. Russia's strategic bombers, now located at only two bases and thus vulnerable to a surprise attack, rarely conduct training exercises, and their warheads are stored off-base. Over 80 percent of Russia's silo-based ICBMs have exceeded their original service lives, and plans to replace them with new missiles have been stymied by failed tests and low rates of production. Russia's mobile ICBMs rarely patrol, and although they could fire their missiles from inside their bases if given sufficient warning of an attack, it appears unlikely that they would have the time to do so.

    The third leg of Russia's nuclear triad has weakened the most. Since 2000, Russia's SSBNs have conducted approximately two patrols per year, down from 60 in 1990. (By contrast, the U.S. SSBN patrol rate today is about 40 per year.) Most of the time, all nine of Russia's ballistic missile submarines are sitting in port, where they make easy targets. Moreover, submarines require well-trained crews to be effective. Operating a ballistic missile submarine -- and silently coordinating its operations with surface ships and attack submarines to evade an enemy's forces -- is not simple. Without frequent patrols, the skills of Russian submariners, like the submarines themselves, are decaying. Revealingly, a 2004 test (attended by President Vladimir Putin) of several submarine-launched ballistic missiles was a total fiasco: all either failed to launch or veered off course. The fact that there were similar failures in the summer and fall of 2005 completes this unflattering picture of Russia's nuclear forces.

    Compounding these problems, Russia's early warning system is a mess. Neither Soviet nor Russian satellites have ever been capable of reliably detecting missiles launched from U.S. submarines. (In a recent public statement, a top Russian general described his country's early warning satellite constellation as "hopelessly outdated.") Russian commanders instead rely on ground-based radar systems to detect incoming warheads from submarine-launched missiles. But the radar network has a gaping hole in its coverage that lies to the east of the country, toward the Pacific Ocean. If U.S. submarines were to fire missiles from areas in the Pacific, Russian leaders probably would not know of the attack until the warheads detonated. Russia's radar coverage of some areas in the North Atlantic is also spotty, providing only a few minutes of warning before the impact of submarine-launched warheads....

    To determine how much the nuclear balance has changed since the Cold War, we ran a computer model of a hypothetical U.S. attack on Russia's nuclear arsenal using the standard unclassified formulas that defense analysts have used for decades. We assigned U.S. nuclear warheads to Russian targets on the basis of two criteria: the most accurate weapons were aimed at the hardest targets, and the fastest-arriving weapons at the Russian forces that can react most quickly. Because Russia is essentially blind to a submarine attack from the Pacific and would have great difficulty detecting the approach of low-flying stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, we targeted each Russian weapon system with at least one submarine-based warhead or cruise missile. An attack organized in this manner would give Russian leaders virtually no warning.

    This simple plan is presumably less effective than Washington's actual strategy, which the U.S. government has spent decades perfecting. The real U.S. war plan may call for first targeting Russia's command and control, sabotaging Russia's radar stations, or taking other preemptive measures -- all of which would make the actual U.S. force far more lethal than our model assumes.

    According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM. [See Footnote #1] This finding is not based on best-case assumptions or an unrealistic scenario in which U.S. missiles perform perfectly and the warheads hit their targets without fail. Rather, we used standard assumptions to estimate the likely inaccuracy and unreliability of U.S. weapons systems. Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent "harder" (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)

    To be clear, this does not mean that a first strike by the United States would be guaranteed to work in reality; such an attack would entail many uncertainties. Nor, of course, does it mean that such a first strike is likely. But what our analysis suggests is profound: Russia's leaders can no longer count on a survivable nuclear deterrent.

    Needless to say, this article has roiled the Russians just a bit.

    How much? Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has an op-ed in today's Financial Times scolding Lieber and Press:

    America is a free country and what these two authors wrote in their article, entitled "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", is their business. The trouble is, when addressing such a delicate issue, it would be good to understand the responsibilities that go with it....

    There are plenty of Russians who have a similar global vision and believe that the US is preparing its capability for a nuclear strike against Russia. However, the publication of such ideas in a reputable US journal has had an explosive effect. Even Russian journalists and analysts not inclined to hysteria or anti-Americanism have viewed the article as an expression of the US official stance. As China is more closed, it is harder to gauge the authorities' reaction, although I fear it may be similar.

    Since Soviet times, I have disliked the word "provocation". But if someone had wanted to provoke Russia and China into close co-operation over missile and nuclear technologies, it would have been difficult to find a more skilful and elegant way of doing so. Soviet military planning rested on the concept of the "return-counterstrike". That meant if a threat from an enemy arose, a Soviet nuclear strike would follow. The chances of a comeback for this doctrine are stronger now - which will hardly help strengthen global security.

    Over the past few years, I and many colleagues have fought for Russia to maintain a sound economic policy amid high oil prices. Russia's Stabilisation Fund, into which windfall oil taxation revenues have been paid, constituted one element of that struggle. Now I fear the battle is lost. It is not hard to guess where the resources from this fund will now be directed. (emphasis added)

    I'm pretty sure that if Lieber and Press were actually the official voice of the U.S. government, this essay would never have seen the light of day. That last thing the DoD would want would be to publicly advertise nuclear primacy, for precisely the reasons Gaidar elaborates.

    No, Lieber and Press are doing what academics are supposed to do: generating hypotheses, testing them, and publishing the results,* no matter how uncomfortable the implications. And this implication is particularly disturbing:

    Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.
    Read the whole thing.

    * Even though Foreign Affairs is not peer-reviewed, it should be noted that Lieber and Press the FA essay is an abridged version of a forthcoming scholarly article: "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).

    UPDATE: Leiber and Press respond to Gaidar in this letter to the editor:

    Mr Gaidar believes that these issues should not be discussed openly. We disagree. The wisdom of American, Russian and Chinese nuclear policies should be debated. But doing so requires a clear appreciation of the dramatic new realities of the strategic nuclear balance.

    posted by Dan at 11:14 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Where's the open debate? I want to see an open debate!!

    One of the arguments that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer made in "The Israel Lobby" was that the first rule of the Israel Lobby is that you can't talk about the Israel Lobby:

    The Lobby doesnít want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion.
    Alas, this story in the Forward by Ori Nir suggests that the reaction to their LRB essay might vindicate this portion of their hypothesis (link via Scott Johnson):
    In the face of one of the harshest reports on the pro-Israel lobby to emerge from academia, Jewish organizations are holding fire in order to avoid generating publicity for their critics.

    Officials at Jewish organizations are furious over "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a new paper by John Mearsheimer, a top international relations theorists based at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, the academic dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In their report ó versions of which appear on the Kennedy School Web site and in the March 26 issue of the London Review of Books ó the scholars depict "the Israel lobby" as a "loose coalition" of politicians, media outlets, research institutions, Jewish groups and Evangelical Christians that steers America's Middle East policy in directions beneficial to Israel, even if it requires harming American interests.

    Despite their anger, Jewish organizations are avoiding a frontal debate with the two scholars, while at the same time seeking indirect ways to rebut and discredit the scholars' arguments. Officials with pro-Israel organizations say that given the limited public attention generated by the new study ó as of Tuesday most major print outlets had ignored it ó they prefer not to draw attention to the paper by taking issue with it head on. As of Wednesday morning, none of the largest Jewish organizations had issued a press release on the report.

    "The key here is to not do what they probably want, which is to have this become a battle between us and them, or for them to say that they are being silenced," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "It's much better to let others respond."

    Pro-Israel activists were planning a briefing for congressional staffers to be held Thursday. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering releasing a letter in response to the new paper, congressional staffers said.

    So, score one point for Walt and Mearsheimer.... but wait!!! Later in the story, there's this:
    Mearsheimer and Walt also seem to be resisting further publicity.

    "I don't have an agenda in the sense of viewing myself as proselytizing or trying to sell this," Mearsheimer told the Forward. "I am a scholar, not an activist, and I am reticent to take questions from the media because I do believe that this is a subject that has to be approached very carefully. You don't want to say the wrong thing. The potential for saying the wrong thing is very great here."

    Mearsheimer was hosted on National Public Radio Tuesday for a full hour, to talk about Iraq, but did not make any mention of the controversial paper he co-authored. "To have a throwaway line or two on public radio to promote yourself is a bad idea," he told the Forward, following his NPR appearance. "I prefer to take the high road, although that is not always easy." Since publication, Mearsheimer added, he and Walt also turned down offers from major newspapers, radio and television networks to lay out their thesis.

    Indeed, this appears to be true. Earlier in the week, Walt told the Sun's Meghan Clyne: "'I have discussed your inquiry with my co-author, Professor Mearsheimer,' he told the Sun. 'We appreciate the invitation to respond to the comments, but prefer not to.'"

    So let me get this straight: the authors have written and published a paper because they want to provoke an open debate -- and then decide not to respond to any of the critiques made of the paper? [But some of those critiques are just ad hominem attacks labeling them as anti-Semites!--ed. Yes, but other responses, from Dennis Ross, Ruth Wisse, Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits, and Alan Dershowitz, are devoid of that charge and are coming from people with comparable reputations to Walt and Mearsheimer. This editorial by the Forward provides the most comprehensive shredding of their hypothesis, but all Mearsheimer can say is that they have to be careful about what they say.]

    New policy here at if the authors of a study refuse to engage in the open debate they claim to want, then I see no reason to take the study seriously.

    posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    ISA blogging

    Blogging will be light for the next few days, as I attend and present at the International Studies Association meeting in San Diego.

    I mocked ISA last year for their dress tips, but this year I see that the conference has its very own blog. So clearly, the International Studies Association has officially jumped the shark.

    Here's a fun time-waster for loyal and truly geeky readers -- flip through the conference program and tell me which panel I simply must attend on Friday and why. The winner will be chosen arbitrarily by me and will receive a serio-comic summary of what transpired at the panel.

    posted by Dan at 07:01 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    What is the state of the intellectual in politics?

    Over at The American Interest's web site, Francis Fukuyama and Bernard-Henri Lťvy have a fascinating exchange on the relative merits of Lťvy's American Vertigo. The part I found particularly fascinating comes near the end:

    FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The idea that an intellectual must always speak truth to power and never compromise means for ends seems to me a rather naive view of how intellectuals actually behave, and reflects in many ways the powerlessness of European intellectuals and their distance from the real world of policy and politics. Of course, the academy must try to remain an institutional bastion of intellectual freedom that is not subject to vagaries of political opinion. But in the United States, to a much greater degree than in Europe, scholars, academics and intellectuals have moved much more easily between government and private life than in Europe, and are much more involved in formulating, promoting and implementing policies than their European counterparts. This necessarily limits certain kinds of intellectual freedom, but I'm not sure that, in the end, this is such a bad thing.

    I myself worked for more than ten years at the RAND Corporation, the original "think tank" satirized in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove that did contract research for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. Obviously, one cannot be a free thinker in a place like that (Daniel Ellsberg tried to be and he was fired), and that is one of the reasons that I eventually left to go to a university. But overall, I believe that a democracy is better off having intellectuals pay systematic attention to policy issues, even if it is occasionally corrupting. Having to deal not with ideal solutions but with the real world of power and politics is a good discipline for an intellectual. There is a fine line between being realistic and selling one's soul, and in the case of the Iraq war many neoconservatives got so preoccupied with policy advocacy that they blinded themselves to reality. But it's not clear that virtue necessarily lies on the side of intellectuals who think they are simply being honest....

    BERNARD-HENRI L…VY: That's it. I think we have come to heart of what divides us....

    The problem lies with the definition of what you and I call an intellectual, and beyond its definition, its function. Unlike you, I don't think an intellectual's purpose is to run the RAND Corporation or any institution like it. Not because I despise RAND, or because I believe in Kubrick's burlesque portrayal of it. No, I just think that while some people are running RAND, others no more or no less worthy or deserving should be dealing with, shall we say, the unfiltered truth. A democracy needs both, imperatively and absolutely bothó"realistic" intellectuals and "idealistic" intellectuals. Both types and the functions they embody have recognizable places inside society, even if some societies value one type more than the other. America needs intellectuals with a selfless concern for sense, complexity and truth. This is just as essential to its equilibrium (possibly even to its moral fiber and therefore to its good health) as the existence of universal suffrage or the separation of powers ŗ la Montesquieu.

    I suspect that Fukuyama would not disagree with Lťvy's express desire for both kinds of intellectuals. I do wonder, however, about the health of the institutions that support both sets of intellectuals in the United States. [What about Europe?--ed. Oh, Lord know, the situation is probably worse there -- but that's not my concern here.] The trouble with think tanks and the like is a seasonal topic of conversation in the blogosphere. As for the academy, well, let's just say that many of my colleagues make Hollywood seem politically grounded by comparison.

    Is the system broken? If so, can it be fixed? If so, how?

    posted by Dan at 10:00 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, March 7, 2006

    How IR theory becomes OBE

    There is a constant refrain for IR scholars to study "the real world," to analyze real world problems, generate policy-relevant theory, create work that speaks to the here and now. And, in truth, although the field can be faddish, there are ways in which, like many other disciplines, it moves slowly.

    I bring this up because of Chris Gelpi, Peter Feaver, and Jason Reifler have an article in the Winter 2005/2006 issue of International Security entitled "Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq." The nut of their argument:

    In this article, we argue that the public will tolerate signi™cant numbers of U.S. combat casualties under certain circumstances. To be sure, the public is not indifferent to the human costs of American foreign policy, but casualties have not by themselves driven public attitudes toward the Iraq war, and mounting casualties have not always produced a reduction in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.

    Our core argument is that the U.S. publicís tolerance for the human costs of war is primarily shaped by the intersection of two crucial attitudes: beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of the war, and beliefs about a warís likely success. The impact of each attitude depends upon the other. Ultimately, however, we find that beliefs about the likelihood of success matter most in determining the publicís willingness to tolerate U.S. military deaths in combat.

    Our findings imply that the U.S. public makes reasoned and reasonable judgments about an issue as emotionally charged and politically polarizing as fighting a war. Indeed, the public forms its attitudes regarding support for the war in Iraq in exactly the way one should hope they would: weighing the costs and benefits. U.S. military casualties stand as a cost of war, but they are a cost that the public is willing to pay if it thinks the initial decision to launch the war was correct, and if it thinks that the United States will prevail.

    This thesis caused quite a sir a few months back, when Bush was outlining the "National Strategy for Victory In Iraq." I wrote then:
    The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket....

    The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.

    Three months ago, the Feaver/Gelpi thesis was politically controversial. Now it's OBE -- overtaken by events. Given the current state of affairs in Iraq, public opinion has already rendered its judgment on what's happening there. I don't think the administration will succeed in translating those peceptions into any definition of victory that I'm familiar with.

    So, In between the new story on this article, and the widespread availability of the article itself, the real world has moved on.

    This does not mean, by the way, that thesis contained in the paper is wrong. It's just that it's no longer politically salient.

    posted by Dan at 12:48 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, March 3, 2006

    Academic flotsam and jetsam

    The following items of interest will only be of interest to academics and academic wanna-bes:

    A) Hey, grad students -- go check out Mary McKinney's excellent essay "Academic AWOL" for Inside Higher Ed. It's about how professors and graduate students fall into the black hole of procrastination, and the ways to get out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it might help some to know they're not the only ones suffering from missed deadlines.

    McKinney's first three bits of advice are particularly trenchant:

    1. Realize that your absence weighs heavier on your mind than the other personís. Advisors are not losing sleep over late dissertation proposals and journal editors arenít agonizing over missing manuscripts. The project is more important to you than anyone else.

    2. Remember, when you do get in touch, the person is unlikely to be angry and punitive. We tend to be much harsher about our own tardiness than we are about other peopleís delays. Advisors know it is difficult to write dissertation drafts. Journal editors are accustomed to academics who take a long time to turn around R&R manuscripts.

    3. Lower rather than raise your standards when youíre running late. Donít try to make your work more polished to make up for taking so long. Just try to get something sent out for feedback. End the cycle by chanting to yourself ďA done dissertation is a good dissertationĒ or ďA published paper is the only paper that counts.Ē

    Read well, grad students, or you will learn very quickly the power of Newton's First Law of Graduation.

    B) Frau Doktor Professor Eszter Hargittai has a post up on the oddity of being addressed as "Mrs. Hargittai" in correspondence and at conferences:

    On occasion, I get emails in which people address me as Mrs. Hargittai. Iím not suggesting that people need know my personal history or preferences. However, if you are going to contact someone in a professional context and they have a Ph.D. and they teach at a university (both of which are very clear on their homepage where you probably got their email address in the first place), wouldnít you opt for Dr. or Professor?
    For the record, as the son of an M.D., I can't stand using "Dr." "Professor" can also sound odd when first addressing a colleague. If I need a gender-specific honorific, however, I use "Ms."

    C) Henry Farrell and David Bernstein have posts about whether Universities and academic departments can use the lessons of "Moneyball" as a means of moving up the academic ranks. Within the social sciences, there are certainly examples of this. Rochester's political science department catapaulted into the top ten because there was a time when they were the only ones willing to hire rational choice scholars, for example.

    Henry thinks a Moneyball philosophy could move hiring markets away from "winner-take-all" outcomes where two or three people soak up all the extant offers, but doesn't think it will work because academia doesn't have the same quantitative measures as sabremetricians do to measure quantity and quality of output. I think Henry's right on the second point, but for the wrong reason. The problem is not measuring academic productivity. It's that unlike in baseball, academic contracts come in only one of two forms -- six year contracts with an option for a lifetime extension, or just a lifetime contract. Not even Billy Beane would be all that risk-loving in a world where very few professors can be cut, and no professors can be traded.

    D) Social scientists should have a field day picking apart the holes in William Stuntz's essay at TNR Online about how the fall of Larry Summers presages the fall of American universities in the global education marketplace. In the essay, what does Stuntz erroneously assume?

    1) His experience at Harvard can be generalized to the rest of academia;

    2) All academic departments function like the humanities;

    3) "Those who go through the motions" in terms of teaching will, for some reason be "more likely to attend the meetings and write the memos and vote on the motions of no confidence?" In my experience, those two facts tend to be negatively rather than positively correlated.

    4) Market competition won't work within the United States, but mysteriously, will fuction at the global level -- because other countries have much less government intrusion into the education marketl;

    5) All of the above?

    Have some fun and dig up some other fallacies of your own!!

    E) International Studies Perspectives is like most other academic IR journals, with one quirky exception. On their back cover they publish "PIeces on Our Craft," a humor essay on the absurdities of academia. The targets might be obvious -- a jargon-filled poli sci interpretation of Green Eggs and Ham, for example -- but they're still funny.

    If you're at a university, click over to James H. Lebovic's "The Academic Conference: An Irreverent Glossary of Terms." Here's Lebovic's definition of "chair":

    The chair is the ringmaster for the festivities. The chair's job is to mispronounce the names of the panelists, keep time, and struggle to stay awake. There are no apparent qualifications for the position of chair, other than owning a watch. Chairs enjoy all the prerogatives of the discussant, and more: chairs can comment on the papers without the pretense of having read them. Still, chairs must justify their existence by warning panelists that time has expired using notes of increasing urgency, knowing that it would be easier to stop a speeding train.
    F) If you're at the U of C, pick up the Winter 2006 issue of 1000 Typewriters, published by the Society for Undergraduate Poetry. There's a very amusing poem by one Tobie Harris called "The Economist's Lorax." Here's a snippet from the poem:
    Now chopping one tree at a time was too slow
    So I quickly invented my Super-Ax Hacker
    Which whacked off four Truffula trees at a smacker.
    We were making Thneeds four times as fast as before.
    And the Lorax?... Pretty soon he was back at my door.
    "You fool!" he berated. "Can't you just understand?
    Your supply is too high, it exceeds your demand.
    It makes no fiscal sense to deforest this land!
    My boy, what you need is a good fiscal plan.
    If the market you glut, then you lower your price.
    Four times as fast may sound awfully nice,
    But you'd do a lot better if you heeded some facts,
    And started using your brain, instead of an ax.
    You've got a monopoly, making these Thneeds.
    A larger supply is the last thing you'll need.
    You don't need more Thneeds, they're fine as they are
    What you need, my boy, is some brand new PR!
    UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter who ppinted out that Ms. Harris has posted the entirety of the poem on her blog.

    G) Finally, hearty online congratulations to my soon-to-be-former colleague, Jacob Levy (sniff!), for accepting a tenured, endowed chair at McGill University.

    That is all.

    posted by Dan at 12:18 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, February 24, 2006

    My one post about Larry Summers

    I've received a few e-mail queries about whether I would post anything on Larry Summers' resignation as president from Harvard and whether it's an example of:

    A) Political correctness triumphing over rational discourse;

    B) What happens when an out-of-touch faculty becomes too pwerful;

    C) Larry Summers' inability to adapt to his environment;

    D) All of the above.

    Actually, I have only two thoughts.

    The first is that Larry Summers is an exceptionally bright economist who might be a better public intellectual now that he can just speak his mind.

    The second is that, much as one may want to buy into the argument that this is Harvard's liberal, elitist, out-of-touch faculty punishing a truth-teller, I strongly suspect there are other parts to this story. So before anyone jumps to conclusions, I'd suggest reading this Institutional Investor story by David McClintick.

    posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Before you e-mail your prof, you may want to read this

    Jonathan D. Glater has a front-page story in the New York Times that will amuse many professors and send a chill down many students' spines. Here's how it opens:

    One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.

    Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I'm a freshman, I'm not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!"

    At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

    Glater has a one very odd quote on the implications of all of this. For example:
    Christopher J. Dede, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has studied technology in education, said these e-mail messages showed how students no longer deferred to their professors, perhaps because they realized that professors' expertise could rapidly become outdated.

    "The deference was probably driven more by the notion that professors were infallible sources of deep knowledge," Professor Dede said, and that notion has weakened.

    Well, any belief I had that Dede was an infallible source of deep knowledge has gone right out the window. I'd suggest, rather, that e-mail is simply a less formal means of communication, and students raised in an Oprah-fed confessional culture don't see a downside in sending them.

    Because, most of the time, there isn't a downside -- stories like these inevitably pick on the 5% of emails that are annoying, tedious, or just plain stupid. And, I might add, the story contains the best response to these kind of electronic queries:

    Many professors said they were often uncertain how to react. Professor Schultens, who was asked about buying the notebook, said she debated whether to tell the student that this was not a query that should be directed to her, but worried that "such a message could be pretty scary."

    "I decided not to respond at all," she said.

    Oh, and for the record -- all of my students are required to purchase Trapper Keepers to attend my classes.

    UPDATE: Ah, it appears that the Times is behind the times -- Kathryn Wymer had a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month suggesting that e-mail is on the outs with the student body:

    I pride myself on keeping up to date with the latest technology. I regularly use computers in my classroom, and have long been a fan of the educational potential of online discussion groups. So I was completely taken aback a few months ago when a colleague informed me of something she had recently learned from her students: Teenagers no longer check their e-mail.

    I confirmed that in a subsequent conversation with a 16-year-old. "Yep," he said. "It's way too slow. I never check it."

    The immediate gratification of instant messaging, commonly called IM, has superceded the possibilities of e-mail for teenagers and college students. My colleague commented that her students found e-mail to be "dinosaur-ish," good only for communicating with parents and teachers.

    Intriguingly, Wymer's experiment with I-mailing students didn't work out so well: "I wonder if other students resisted the impulse to use instant messaging in order to keep their personal and professional modes of communication separate."

    Wymer also touches on a problem Kieran Healy raises: "sometimes the students pick the kind of addresses for themselves that arenít exactly professional-quality. Frankly it feels a bit odd to correspond with, e.g., missbitchy23 or WildcatBongs about letters of reference or what have you." Be sure to check the comments thread for some other amusing examples of poor e-mail choices.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: See this comment on Tim Burke's blog on whether one of the profs in the story was accurately quoted.

    posted by Dan at 11:16 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Michael Ignatieff.... politician

    David Sax has an essay on Foreign Policy's web site about Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff's quixotic move towards politics. Ignatieff is the flip-side of all the anti-war/anti-Bush protestors who threatened to move to Canada and then didn't; he supported the war but has decided to move to Canada... and run for Parliament:

    Canadians normally donít get fired up about foreign policy in their parliamentary elections. Then again, Michael Ignatieff is not a normal candidate. Last fall, the professor left his post as director of Harvard Universityís Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to run for parliament in his native Canada. His new office is in a bare-bones campaign headquarters on an industrial corner in suburban Toronto, where he prepares for the January 23 election. Ignatieff, a Liberal Party candidate who is considered by many to be one of the best minds Canada has ever produced, wants Canada to assume a greater role in world affairs....

    ďIn the foreign policy of the 21st century, the key thing to be is a producer of good ideas,Ē says Ignatieff. ďAs a middle power, our policy is not leveraged by power but by ideas.Ē Unfortunately for Ignatieff, many Canadians donít like his ideas. Ignatieff supported the Iraq war, which an overwhelming majority of his compatriots opposed. He backed the proposed continental missile defense shield, which the Liberal government refused to endorse. And heís been taking heat for his controversial endorsement of interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation that are, he says, ďlesser evilsĒ than torture. His critics paint him as a neocon in humanitarian clothing. At his nomination rally in late November, hecklers shouted, ďAmerican,Ē ďTorture lite,Ē and ďIllegal war.Ē

    The heckling set the tone for a tumultuous campaign. Already tagged as a carpetbagger (he has never lived in the district in which heís running) handpicked by the Liberal Party, Ignatieff hurt himself when he told the Harvard Crimson that he might return to Harvard if he were to loseóa statement he later retracted, saying it was a joke. Still, the comment helped his opponents who portray him as disloyal to Canada. Rather unexpectedly, he has also faced protesters who claim his 1993 book on ethnic nationalism, Blood and Belonging, is insulting to Ukrainians, a group that accounts for 7 percent of his district.

    If he wins, even bigger challenges await; there is already talk of Ignatieff eventually becoming leader of the Liberal Party. But Ottawa is not Harvard, and if elected, Ignatieff would find it difficult to bring his ideals into policy. ď[It] will be a test of whether principled intelligence can survive the Lilliputian reality of Canadian politics,Ē wrote the columnist Robert Sibley in the Ottawa Citizen at the start of the campaign.

    Ignatieff is aware of the difficulties. ďIíve gone into politics to test what you can achieve if you believe certain things,Ē says Ignatieff. ďIf Iím asked to do stuff that just seems to be in the dishonorable compromise realm, then I should get out. If I forget these noble words, my wife will kick me in the backside.Ē That is, only if the voters donít do so first.

    Ignatieff is in a can't lose situation. Wither he wins and climbs the ladder of Liberal Party politics -- or he loses and writes a book that's excerpted in the New York Times Magazine about what it's like to be a candidate who speaks truth to power.

    posted by Dan at 09:55 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, January 6, 2006

    "Unassisted human intuition is a bomb"

    I blogged last month about Philip Tetlock's book Expert Political Judgment. Reviews of the book suggested that Tetlock's two main conclusions were:

    1) Experts are really bad at making predictions; and

    2) Experts who typified Isaiah Berlin's "hedgehogs" did far worse than those who were "foxes." (and no, that doesn't mean Salma Hayek or Scarlet Johansson -- we're talking about indifferent kinds of foxes here).

    Today, Carl Bialik -- the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy -- has a follow-up story that corrects one potential misperception about the utility of experts: they might not be great predictors, but they are still better informed than you are -- which means they are still better predictors.
    The New Yorker's review of [Tetlock's] book surveyed the grim state of expert political predictions and concluded by advising readers, "Think for yourself." Prof. Tetlock isn't sure he agrees with that advice. He pointed out an exercise he conducted in the course of his research, in which he gave Berkeley undergraduates brief reports from Facts on File about political hot spots, then asked them to make forecasts. Their predictions -- based on far less background knowledge than his pundits called upon -- were the worst he encountered, even less accurate than the worst hedgehogs. "Unassisted human intuition is a bomb here," Prof. Tetlock told me.
    And that's your quote of the day.

    posted by Dan at 01:12 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, January 3, 2006

    Psst.... anybody interested in a dissertation topic?

    Every once in a while a natural disaster has a significant impact on international relations. We've seen in the past year how U.S. humanitarian assistance can improve America's public image in the affected countries. The 1999 earthquake that affected Greece and Turkey -- and the outpouring of cross-border assistance -- led to a thaw between those two enduring rivals.

    Of course, not every natural disaster has such an effect. The Bam earthquake in Iran, for example, led to no diplomatic thaw -- neither did the French heat wave of 2003 nor hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    This leads to an interesting question for a dissertation -- under what circumstances will a truly exogenous shock lead to a lessening of international or internal conflicts?

    The December 2004 tsunami presents an interesting comparative case study. In Indonesia, Nick Meo reports for the Australian on the budding peace in Aceh:

    The head of the feared Indonesian military in Aceh was doing what was almost unthinkable only a year ago: telling its people that the war - one of Asia's longest and, until last year's tsunami, most intractable - was over.

    There was a bigger surprise for the departing 3500 soldiers on Thursday. Irwandi Yusuf, leader of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), who 12 months ago was one of their deadliest enemies, was there to shake hands with the hard men in fatigues before their ships slipped away from the jungle-covered hills of Aceh, probably forever.

    The event was stage-managed but nobody could doubt the sincerity, part of an extraordinarily successful peace process that has confounded the pessimists and inspired a people who suffered more than any other in the tsunami.

    Thinks have not worked out quite as well in Sri Lanka, as the Economist observes:
    One year on from the tsunami that devastated large parts of Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 there, the South Asian islandís people are facing another looming disaster: the revival of a brutal civil war that has killed around 65,000 since it began 22 years ago. A fragile ceasefire, brokered by the government of Norway three years ago, is close to breaking-point after a string of recent attacks by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island.

    On Thursday December 29th the head of the ceasefire-monitoring team, Hagrup Haukland, gave a warning that, if the spate of violence were not halted, ďwar may not be far away.Ē In the most serious of the recent attacks, 12 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed in a landmine attack in the Jaffna peninsula on Tuesday and, four days before that, 13 sailors were killed with mines and rocket-propelled grenades in a rebel attack in the north-west of the island. On Sunday, a parliamentarian linked to the Tigers was assassinated at a Christmas mass in Batticaloa.

    I have absolutely zero knowledge about either conflict, but I do find it interesting that the tsunami clearly pushed one case towards a more peaceful equilibrium while having no appreciable effect on the other case.

    Looking at both cases, John Quiggin proposes a different dissertation topic:

    It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is ďFew, if anyĒ.

    posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, December 17, 2005

    Wherein the University of Chicago defies all reason

    A few months ago when the whole tenure and blogging question became a hot topic (I'm still fielding press inquiries) I tried to reiterate the same point over and over again -- it's possible that blogging played a role in my own denial, but I seriously doubt it was the overriding factor.

    I bring this up again because Jacob Levy has gone public with his own denial of tenure. Read the whole thing, but Jacob closes his post with the following:

    Mainly I'm putting this up because the publicity around Dan Drezner's case led to a lot of e-mailed questions and some blog speculation about mine. If you're looking for things in common between Dan's case and mine, don't look to blogging; and don't look to our libertarian politics.... Look to the fact that both political economy and liberal political theory are outside the emerging, Perestroikan, sense of what this department's about.
    I've blogged about perestroika and political science in the past -- check out those posts for my take on the debate.

    I can neither confirm nor deny Jacob's hypothesis about perestroika's deletrious effects on my department. After witnessing my department's treatment of Jacob's case, I'm afraid that the primary hypothesis I cannot falsify is that a majority of my senior colleagues are complete and total wankers have unorthodox views of what constitutes appropriate social science.

    Chris Lawrence has further thoughts.

    posted by Dan at 03:04 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, December 5, 2005

    Political science enters the White House

    Scott Shane had a New York Times front-pager on Sunday about the chief architect of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that was released earlier this week. Turns out it's a political scientist that I know:

    There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

    Although White House officials said many federal departments had contributed to the document, its relentless focus on the theme of victory strongly reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June and has closely studied public opinion on the war.

    Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

    That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly behind the victory theme in the speech and the plan, in which the word appears six times in the table of contents alone, including sections titled "Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest" and "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear."

    "This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency," said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver's colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion."....

    Based on their study of poll results from the first two years of the war, Dr. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver and Jason Reifler, then a Duke graduate student, took issue with what they described as the conventional wisdom since the Vietnam War - that Americans will support military operations only if American casualties are few.

    They found that public tolerance for the human cost of combat depended on two factors: a belief that the war was a worthy cause, and even more important, a belief that the war was likely to be successful.

    In their paper, "Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq," which is to be published soon in the journal International Security, Dr. Feaver and his colleagues wrote: "Mounting casualties did not produce a reflexive collapse in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost."....

    Asked about who wrote the document, a White House official said Dr. Feaver had helped conceive and draft the plan, though the official said a larger role belonged to another N.S.C. staff member, Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and her staff. The official would describe the individual roles only on condition of anonymity because his superiors wanted the strategy portrayed as a unified administration position....

    The Feaver-Gelpi hypothesis on public opinion about the war is the subject of serious debate among political scientists. John Mueller, of Ohio State University, said he did not believe that the president's speech or the victory plan - which he described as "very Feaverish, or Feaveresque" - could produce more than a fleeting improvement in public support for the war, because it was likely to erode further as casualties accumulated.

    "As the costs go up, support goes down," he said, citing patterns from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

    This is roiling elements of the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere. It's telling that the Indianapolis Star, running the same NYT story, has as its headline, "Iraq plan appears intended to win the war at home" (the NYT has the more neutral "Bush's Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst"). Laura Rozen, for example, scoffs that, "The strategy is mostly designed as PR for the American public." The indictment would seem to be that the Bush administration is more concerned with the domestic politics of the Iraq war than with actually winning on the ground in Baghdad.

    As someone who's been more than a little displeased with the administration's handling of Iraq, let me state that this charge is absolutely true. The implication that this is somehow misguided is a bunch of horses**t.

    Yes, this week's events were aimed primarily at a domestic audience. But that's because, as Shane points out in the Times piece, the military already knows what its mission is in Iraq -- doing everything possible to supply security in the short run and training the Iraqis to provide security in the long run (with logistical and air support from the U.S.). For all the analogies to Vietnam that are floating around, the administration's actual plan is almost a Vietnam in reverse -- to move from 1968 (having U.S. forces doing the bulk of the fighting) to 1961 (having U.S. forces providing a training, advisory, and logistical role). As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, this goal has actually started to seep into the military's strategic culture. One could even argue that this plan has achieved quite a bit.

    Now it's true that there are other plans out there for consideration. It's also true, as James Fallows points out in the December Atlantic, that the administration didn't really have an actual plan until the summer of 2004, and the administration deserves all the hell it can catch for that Mongolian cluster-f**k. But the plan it has now has been in place for some time. John Dickerson points out in Slate that this fact is bedeviling certain Democratic critics:

    There are reasonable grounds for criticizing the Bush/Casey strategy for dealing with the insurgency as flawed. It may be too little too late, or it may be based on rosy assumptions. But Kerry doesn't challenge it on any substantive basis. He can't, because to do so would acknowledge that Bush is offering a solution to the problem of U.S. troops inspiring insurgents.
    Which brings us to the purpose of this week's events.

    The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more.... creative explanation).

    The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.

    So, yes, in part what happened last week was an exercise in public relations. But it was also a completely proper use of PR.

    posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, December 1, 2005

    Your must-read blog post of the day

    Scott Eric Kaufman, "My Morning: A Play in One Uncomfortable Act."

    My only suggestion would have been to have inserted the word "unconsummated" somewhere in the title.

    posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    Foxes, hedgehogs, and the study of international relations

    When we last left off, we were discussing Louis Menand's New Yorker review of Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?.

    In his review, Menand highlights an interesting observation by Tetlock on who did better at predicting world political events.

    It was no news to Tetlock... that experts got beaten by formulas. But he does believe that he discovered something about why some people make better forecasters than other people. It has to do not with what the experts believe but with the way they think. Tetlock uses Isaiah Berlinís metaphor from Archilochus, from his essay on Tolstoy, ďThe Hedgehog and the Fox,Ē to illustrate the difference. He says:
    Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who ďknow one big thing,Ē aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who ďdo not get it,Ē and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible ďad hoceryĒ that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.
    A hedgehog is a person who sees international affairs to be ultimately determined by a single bottom-line force: balance-of-power considerations, or the clash of civilizations, or globalization and the spread of free markets. A hedgehog is the kind of person who holds a great-man theory of history, according to which the Cold War does not end if there is no Ronald Reagan. Or he or she might adhere to the ďactor-dispensability thesis,Ē according to which Soviet Communism was doomed no matter what. Whatever it is, the big idea, and that idea alone, dictates the probable outcome of events. For the hedgehog, therefore, predictions that fail are only ďoff on timing,Ē or are ďalmost right,Ē derailed by an unforeseeable accident. There are always little swerves in the short run, but the long run irons them out.

    Foxes, on the other hand, donít see a single determining explanation in history. They tend, Tetlock says, ďto see the world as a shifting mixture of self-fulfilling and self-negating prophecies: self-fulfilling ones in which success breeds success, and failure, failure but only up to a point, and then self-negating prophecies kick in as people recognize that things have gone too far.Ē

    Tetlock did not find, in his sample, any significant correlation between how experts think and what their politics are. His hedgehogs were liberal as well as conservative, and the same with his foxes. (Hedgehogs were, of course, more likely to be extreme politically, whether rightist or leftist.) He also did not find that his foxes scored higher because they were more cautiousóthat their appreciation of complexity made them less likely to offer firm predictions. Unlike hedgehogs, who actually performed worse in areas in which they specialized, foxes enjoyed a modest benefit from expertise. Hedgehogs routinely over-predicted: twenty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs claimed were impossible or nearly impossible came to pass, versus ten per cent for the foxes. More than thirty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs thought were sure or near-sure did not, against twenty per cent for foxes.

    The upside of being a hedgehog, though, is that when youíre right you can be really and spectacularly right. Great scientists, for example, are often hedgehogs. They value parsimony, the simpler solution over the more complex. In world affairs, parsimony may be a liabilityóbut, even there, there can be traps in the kind of highly integrative thinking that is characteristic of foxes. Elsewhere, Tetlock has published an analysis of the political reasoning of Winston Churchill. Churchill was not a man who let contradictory information interfere with his idťes fixes. This led him to make the wrong prediction about Indian independence, which he opposed. But it led him to be right about Hitler. He was never distracted by the contingencies that might combine to make the elimination of Hitler unnecessary. (emphases added)

    I'll need to read the book to see the methodology by which Tetlock distinguished hedgehogs from foxes, but let's assume that his finding is correct. What does this imply for the study of international relations?

    Potentially a lot -- from my vantage point, the incentives in the IR discipline are heavily skewed towards the hedgehogs. Methodologically, the growing sophistication of formal, statistical, and even qualitative techniques make it increasingly difficult for any one scholar to keep up their abilities in more than one area. Professionally, our field rewards the hedgehogs, the ones who come up with "the big idea" that can explain it all. As a result, my field has a lot of hedgehogs, which means that we may not be of much use when it comes to policy relevance.

    Is this a bad thing? I'm sure that many commenters will instinctively say, "yeah!" but it's not so clear cut. First, if the point of the academy is to nourish unpopular but important ideas, then it's a good thing we have a lot of hedgehogs, because every once in a while they will produce the kind of insight that helps to understand Really Big Truths.

    Second, asking IR scholars for accurate predictions about the future might be like asking meterologists for an accurate weather forecast three months ahead. That's impossible -- there are just too many variables. It might be that what political scientists do best is not predicting future events but rather explaining the past and present in a way that provides limited but useful insights into the very near future.

    Third, there are think tanks for the kind of expert predictions discussed in Tetlock's book. It's true that think tanks have their own perversities, but perhaps the best thing to do is fix them rather than the academy.

    Despite those counterarguments, I think a few more IR foxes might be a good idea. [Good idea! Did you know Salma Hayek will be co-hosting the Nobel Peace Prize Concert on December 10th?--ed. That's not who I meant by foxes. Oh.... did you mean Angelina Jolie's work as a United Nations ambassador?--ed. No, and you're not helping right now.]

    I'll leave this question to the commenters.

    posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    So I see there's an article in Slate....

    You know you've reached a new and bizarre degree of "fame" when you read an article that features you prominently.... even though you were never contacted by the author prior to publication.

    I'm talking about Robert Boynton's article in Slate on the perils and promise of scholar-bloggers. A few corrections and clarifications for those wandering over here from that story.

    First, let me stress yet again that I have never said that the blog cost me tenure. My information on this front is imperfect, but rest assured that whenever more than twenty senior academics are meeting about anything, there are myriad, obscure, and frequently bizarre factors involved in any decision. Click here for more about that.

    Second, although it's a great ending for Boynton's essay, the Fletcher School did not find out about my tenure denial from the blog. That said, a lot of other places did find out that way, and I did get a very healthy number of queries through the blog.

    Third, I agree with Eric Alterman that having three Stanford degrees and a forthcoming Princeton University Press book is "good, but hardly sufficient" for tenure at the University of Chicago. In my own defense, though, I have a wee bit more than that under my scholarly belt.

    I am grateful to Boynton for the kind words in this paragraph:

    in another sense, academic blogging represents the fruition, not a betrayal, of the university's ideals. One might argue that blogging is in fact the very embodiment of what the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott once called "The Conversation of Mankind"--an endless, thoroughly democratic dialogue about the best ideas and artifacts of our culture. Drezner's blog, for example, is hardly of the "This is what I did today..." variety. Rather, he usually writes about globalization and political economy--the very subjects on which he publishes in prestigious, peer-reviewed presses and journals. If his prose style in the blog is more engaging than that of the typical academic's, the thinking behind it is no less rigorous or intelligent.

    Boynton goes on to point out the basic conundrum of how to count blogging -- even if the output is high quality, what is the external and replicable measurement through which this is assessed?

    Ann Althouse, Orin Kerr, and John Hawks (whose blog was mentioned but not linked to in the story -- what's up with that?) have further thoughts. Hawks makes an interesting point here:

    Should blogging count in some way? I don't know. I think my blogging makes me a better researcher. If I'm right, it has its own rewards. And I don't think that any blog post approximates a review article in any way -- if they did, they would be a lot less interesting!

    But the cumulative whole is greater than any single review article. And I would say that a sizable number of my posts are "worth" more than a book review, which would get counted in a minor way. It would be nice if the choice between different forms of productivity did not involve such a stark difference.

    Let me suggest that there are two issues that are conflated in the story. First, there is the idea of a blog as an output for public discourse, a la op-eds and the like. On that score, blogging counts as a form of service and not much else.

    Second, there is the idea that academic blogs facilitate better scholarship by encouraging online interactions about research ideas. Take, for example, this exchange between Marc Lynch, myself, and others about whether international relations theory is slighting the study of Al Qaeda, or this exchange between Erik Gartzke and R.J. Rummel about the root causes of the liberal democratic capitalist peace. Even better, the private responses I received to a post on trade-related intellectual property rights facilitated my own research efforts in that area. This sort of thing happens off-line as well, but the blog format is exceedingly well-suited for enhancing and expanding this kind of interaction. In this sense, blogs may very well supplant the old practice of having exchanges of letters in journals.

    Should it count for anything? As Hawks points out, it should lead to better research anyway, which should get recognized by the traditional standards.

    So I'm pretty sure that the contribution of blogs to academic output can be measured using pre-existing standards -- with one exception and one caveat. The exception is that maybe the whole of an academic blog is greater than the sum of its parts. Precisely because a blog can contribute to public discourse, scholarly research, and teaching pedagogy at the same time, it encourages a greater mkix of ideas and information than would otherwise be possible. Whether this is true I will leave for the commenters.

    The caveat is that even if blogging can be counted via conventional means, there is no indication that academic units will do so. As I've said before, academics are a very conservative bunch in many ways, so the idea that blogs should count for a plus will take a long time to seep in. For the present moment, my hope is that blogs do not count against you.

    posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    Why aren't IR scholars paying more attention to Al Qaeda?

    Marc Lynch, blogging at Abu Aardvark, says that international relations journals aren't paying enough attention to Al Qaeda:

    Has IR theory been irrelevant to the debates? To find out, I just spent a few hours looking at the contents of the last four years of the six leading journals for International Relations theory (International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, World Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, European Journal of International Relations, Review of International Studies - see the end of the post for discussion of these choices), along with the American Political Science Review. I used an exceedingly loose definition of "about al-Qaeda" - i.e. I included everything about terrorism and counter-terrorism, even if it barely touched at all on al-Qaeda or Islamism itself; and I included review essays, even if they did not include any original research.

    The results were even more striking than I expected. All told, these seven journals published 796 articles between 2002-2005. I found a total of 25 articles dealing even loosely with al-Qaeda, Islamism, or terrorism. That's just over 3% of the articles. Now, there's lots of important stuff out there in the world, and there's no reason for the whole field to be following the headlines, but still... 3%?

    Lynch posits that this is because the leading paradigms used to explain international relations are unsiuted to explain Al Qaeda:

    The dominant theoretical trends in the international relations field have been strikingly absent from the mountains of paper expended on analysis of al-Qaeda, Islamism, and the war on terror. Most of the dominant theoretical approaches were not so much wrong as irrelevant. Realism, with its emphasis on the balance of power among self-interested nation-states, had little to say about a non-state actor motivated by religion. Liberalism, with its various arguments about international institutions, trade, and democracy, similarly offered little traction. Rationalist approaches seemed initially stymied by an organization defined by intense religious convictions, and by individual suicide terrorism (though there were some game efforts to reconstruct a strategic rationale behind al-Qaedaís terrorism). Of all the dominant trends within IR, constructivism seemed to be the best placed to account for such a religious, transnational movement. But constructivist analyses of al-Qaeda were few and far between. Whether because the Islamist movement espouses norms repugnant to the liberalism espoused by many constructivist theorists or because of a lack of interest in policy relevant research, constructivists have largely failed to rise to the opportunity of authoritatively interpreting al-Qaeda.

    Kevin Drum is appalled: "I know it takes a while for people to change gears, but you'd sure think terrorism might have captured just a little more attention among IR types by now, wouldn't you?"

    James Joyner and the Glittering Eye believe the fault lies with the skewed incentives of the academy.

    My thoughts:

    1) I'm a bit dubious of Lynch's counting methodology. First, the turnaround time between writing the rough draft of anything decent and getting it accepted and published in a major journal is eighteen months -- and that's if you're very, very lucky. To write about Al Qaeda, senior scholars would need to halt their other projects -- which means a loss of asset-specific investments -- and start building up knowledge in a new empirical domain. The failure to see anything decent crop up in the first few years is not terribly surprising. (It would be interesting to see whether the journals that were around in 1945 saw a similar lag). We're just starting to see dissertations affected by the 9/11 events come into the pipeline. Wait a bit before complaining of a deficit.

    Second, Lynch doesn't include any security journals -- International Security, Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, Security Dialogue, etc. Lynch justifies the exclusion of International Security by labeling it a "policy-oriented journal" -- but it and the other journals listed above are both peer-reviewed and pretty theory-oriented.

    Third, there is a difference between what's been published and what's been submitted. I suspect that there has been a lot more work submitted -- but just because someone is writing something about Al Qaeda doesn't mean it's something good about Al Qaeda. My guess would be the first wave of efforts probably won't pass muster.

    2) The opportunity costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom can't be denied here. That operation didn't just divert hard power resources away from Al Qaeda -- it distracted IR theorists as well. For the theorists, this was an easy call -- discussing the theoretical implications of an interstate conflict was much easier than discussing a completely new phenomenon.

    3) Follow the money. The amount of intellectual enegy invested in understanding the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a function of the wads of reseearch money that was available for studying that topic. I honestly don't know what the financial incentives are right now to study AQ -- but I'd wager that it's less lucrative and less institutionalized than studying Soviet nuclear capabilities or the Fulda Gap in the early eighties.

    4) I do think Lynch has a point in believing that IR theory doesn't think much about Al Qaeda because to IR theory, Al Qaeda is not in the same league as the old Soviet Union in terms of magnitude of threat. Take the Princeton Project on National Security's latest working paper on grand strategy for example (co-authored by Frank Fukuyama and John Ikenberry). Al Qaeda is mentioned three times; terrorism is mentioned sixteen times. China, in contrast, gets 127 mentions.

    The reason for this is pretty simple. Al Qaeda can only weaken its enemies -- it can't govern anywhere, can't hold significant portions of territory, can't manage a modern economy, and has no base of popular support anywhere. It's not a threat to supplant U.S. hegemony. China is a different story.

    5) Fukuyama and Ikenberry, however, do acknowledge the theoretical problems posed not by Al Qaeda alone as much as AQ + nuclear weapons:

    The possibility that a relatively small and weak non-state organization could inflict catastrophic damage is something genuinely new in international relations, and poses an unprecedented security challenge. In all prior historical periods the ability to inflict serious damage to a society lay only within the purview of states but a recent confluence of globalization, technologies of mass destruction, and extremism amounts to what Joseph Nye has called the ďprivatization of warĒ. Violence capability that once only a few great powers could muster could someday fall into the hands of transnational groups with apocalyptic agendas.

    The entire edifice of international relations theory is built around the presumption that nation-states are the only significant players in world politics. If catastrophic destruction can be inflicted by nonstate actors, then many of the concepts that informed security policy over the past two centuriesóbalance of power, deterrence, containment, and the likeólose their relevance. Deterrence theory in particular depends on the deployer of any form of WMD having a return address, and with it equities that could be threatened in retaliation.

    All major IR theories do a lousy job of explaining the influence of non-state actors -- constructivism included.

    [So what's your takeaway point?--ed. I think Lynch is overstating the problem, but it does exist. Whether this is important depends on whether you believe that Al Qaeda really does represent the greatest threat to U.S. power and interests over the next decade.]

    UPDATE: Lynch responds here. And Ethan Bueno de Mesquita makes some excellent observations in the comments.

    posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, November 3, 2005

    No one let Alan Wolfe study international relations

    I see that Alan Wolfe has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education decrying the state of the political science discipline.

    Wolfe makes a few well-worn but not completely worthless points -- and then we get to this paragraph:

    Putting reality first would not only make political science more interesting, it would also make it more scientific.... Suppose, for example, we want to predict whether negotiations between historically hostile parties will produce an accord, or fail and result in war. Rather than search for universal laws, we are better off examining a concrete case ó for example, the negotiations that brought Nelson Mandela to power in South Africa ó and then seeing whether the conditions there are similar or different from those in, say, Northern Ireland or the Middle East. The real world contains a great deal of uncertainty, which makes perfect prediction impossible. But it also offers enough regularity to permit modest generalization, especially if we are willing to acknowledge the possibility of error and to revise our expectations accordingly.

    I have two reactions to this suggestion. The first is to stop and gaze with awe at Wolfe's ability to unconsciously mimic those Guinness-in-the-bottle ads that were all over television last year:

    Alan Wolfe: I've invented a new way of studying crisis negotiations... it's called the "case study".

    Random Political Scientist: The Case study? BRILLIANT!!!

    My second reaction is to ponder the logical implications of Wolfe's suggestion. Surely Wolfe must be aware of the dangers that come from generalizing from the study of a single case -- there are too many possible explanations. Wolfe would likely respond that the way to compensate is to assemble as many relevant examples of the category of interest as possible, and then determine what combination of factors is important.

    Now there's a name for this kind of approach in political science -- behavioralism. Such an approach can be useful (see, for example, the CIA's State Failure Task Force from the 1990's) but presents two rather important problems.

    First, these approaches -- just like any other social science technique -- generate methodological controversies (see, for example, Gary King and Langche Zeng's methodological rejoinder to the State Failure Task Force, or this summary of the debate in Nature). Methodology doesn't just matter for its own sake -- there are real world implications.

    Second, pure behavioralism of the kind suggested by Wolfe is tricky without any theoretical guidance. Throwing a kitchen sink of variables at a question is not of much use unless the researcher has a good grasp of the relationships among these seemingly independent causes. Rational choice approaches are one useful tool, but there are others as well.

    If Wolfe had provided an American politics example, I probably wouldn't have written this post (and, to be fair, Wolfe is riffing off of Ian Shapiro's latest book, The Flight From Reality in the Human Sciences, which I haven't read but is likely worth reading). But the IR example he offers is a powerful suggestion that Wolfe hasn't peered into the pages of either International Organization or International Security in quite some time. There are case studies -- as well as statistical analyses, formal models, social theory, and other types of analysis -- in those journals.

    If the rest of the discipline wants to copy international relations more closely, fine with me. But I don't think Wolfe has lookec closely at how IR is actually studied.

    I think that I've demonstrated my subfield's close attention to the real world, so if you'll excuse me, I have to run to hear a paper presentation.

    [What's it about?--ed. Sovereignty and the UFO. You're f#@%ing kidding me!--ed. No, I'm really not.]

    posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    It's your very last chance to get in the acknowledgments!!

    This appears to be the week when career setbacks translate into publishing successes.

    A few days ago, Bruce Bartlett was fired by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

    Now, Rachel Deahl reports in Publishers Weekly that Doubleday is thrilled:

    Sometimes getting your pink slip can be a good thing. That's the case with Bruce Bartlett, a now-former senior fellow at the conservative Dallas-based think tank National Center for Policy Analysis. Bartlett, an ardent Bush supporter in 2000 who was also a member of the George H.W. Bush Treasury department, was given his walking papers on Monday after his boss, president of the organization John C. Goodman, read the manuscript of his upcoming book, The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.

    After The New York Times reported the news of Bartlett's firing, Doubleday (which is pubbing Impostor) quickly bumped the book's release date from April 4 to February 28. The imprint has also upped the book's print run from 30,000 copies to 50,000.

    Coincidentally, after my own career setback, I have recently learned that Princeton University Press accepted my book manuscript for publication.

    [Hooray!! This means it's coming out in a few months, right?--ed. How little you know about academic publishing, my notional friend. It means I will be spending the next couple of months to complete one final revision. After I hand it in, it will come out about a year after that. So my goal will be for the book to be released in 2006.]

    And you -- yes, you, the not-so-average blog reader -- can help!! If you have a few spare days, feel free to peruse the manuscript. Let me know if you have any constructive criticisms, stylistic suggestions, or detect any typos (there are a bunch strategically sprinkled into the current version). If you're lucky, you too could find yourself mentioned in the acknowledgments in a major university press book!!

    [Whoop-dee-frickin'-doo. This is a big deal?--ed. Well, it is for my field. Anyone in the discipline who sees a new book in their field will first check the acknowledgments, index, and bibliography to see if they are mentioned. And anyone who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted.]

    posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    All we are is dust in the wind

    Foreign Policy and the UK's Prospect magazine have announced the results of their contest to determine the world's top public intellectuals.

    I had my own problems with this exercise when it was first announced, but I'm a booster compared with the message contained in Chris Bertram's posting:

    Not much there that is worthy of comment. Nearly everyone on the list has made a contribution which is either totally ephemeral, or which will simply be absorbed into the body of human knowledge without leaving much trace of its originator. Ideas from Sen, Habermas or Chomsky will survive in some form, but nobody will read them in 100 years. And the rest will be utterly forgottenóor so I predict.

    Bertram is likely correct that many of the contributions are ephemeral, but is it really so bad to come up with an idea that is "absorbed into the body of human knowledge"? Isn't that kind of the point?

    [But according to Bertram, there won't be much trace of the idea's progenitor--ed. On the one hand, duh. Current writers always interpret older writers in the context of their current epoch. On the other hand, it is precisely this habit in our thinking that then leaves the door open to graduate students eager to engage in their own kind of revisionism -- which can't happen without reading the originator.]

    posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Thomas Schelling gets his due from Sweden -- but not from Slate

    My favorite class to teach in recent years has been Classics in International Relations Theory. This is a great books course, starting with Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and ending with Thomas Schelling's Strategy of Conflict.

    The reason this is my favorite course is the effect it has on the grad students, who consume a very steady diet of literature that is supposed to be "cutting edge." They are therefore shocked to discover that the modern version of democratic peace theory bears little relationship to Kantís original formulation, for example. However, they are always stunned to learn that whole careers in international relations have been built out of codifying a few sentences in Schelling. [Oh yeah, and you're not guilty of this?--ed. I'll plead not guilty on Schelling, but nolo contendre with regard to another Nobel-worthy economist.]

    So it's wonderful news to read that Schelling has co-won (with Robert Aumann) The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel "for having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis." Kieran Healy has a good post up detailing the relative contributions of Schelling and Aumann. Tyler Cowen has a lovely post up (one of many) about his old Ph.D. advisor.

    In Slate, Fred Kaplan tries to throw some cold water on Schelling's Nobel, pointing out:

    Today's papers note his ingenious applications of "game theory" to labor negotiations, business transactions, and arms-control agreements. But what they don't noteówhat is little-known in generalóis the crucial role he played in formulating the strategies of "controlled escalation" and "punitive bombing" that plunged our country into the war in Vietnam.

    This dark side of Tom Schelling is also the dark side of social scienceóthe brash assumption that neat theories not only reflect the real world but can change it as well, and in ways that can be precisely measured. And it's a legacy that can be detected all too clearly in our current imbroglio in Iraq.

    Alas, Kaplan commits the very sin he accuses Schelling of making -- providing an overly neat theory of how Schelling contributed to U.S. policy in Vietnam. Kaplan's own description of Schelling's role in Vietnam contradicts his claim:

    [Assistant Secretary of Defense John] McNaughton came to see [Schelling]. He outlined the administration's interest in escalating the conflict in order to intimidate the North Vietnamese. Air power seemed the logical instrument, but what sort of bombing campaign did Schelling think would best ensure that the North would pick up on the signals and respond accordingly? More broadly, what should the United States want the North to do or stop doing; how would bombing convince them to obey; how would we know that they had obeyed; and how could we ensure that they wouldn't simply resume after the bombing had ceased?

    Schelling and McNaughton pondered the problem for more than an hour. In the end, they failed to come up with a single plausible answer to these most basic questions. So assured when writing about sending signals with force and inflicting pain to make an opponent behave, Tom Schelling, when faced with a real-life war, was stumped.

    He did leave McNaughton with one piece of advice: Whatever kind of bombing campaign you end up launching, it shouldn't last more than three weeks. It will either succeed by thenóor it will never succeed.

    The bombing campaignócalled Operation Rolling Thunderócommenced on March 2, 1965. It didn't alter the behavior of the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong in the slightest. Either they didn't read the signalsóor the signals had no effect.

    In this description, there's not a whole hell of a lot of brashness -- indeed, Schelling's recommendation was not to escalate Rolling Thunder if the initial bombing didn't work. In Kaplan's passage, Schelling appears to be acutely aware of the difficulties of measurement in applying his theory of compellence to Vietnam. He made a recommendation, but with none of the hubris Kaplan associates with social science (Kaplan also elides Schelling's leadership in a subsequent attempt to convince then-NSC adviser Henry Kissinger to withdraw from Vietnam in the early days of the Nixon administration).

    Kaplan's essay contains a grain of truth about the dangers of social science. Too often, theorists come up with great models of the world by assuming away petty inconveniences like bureaucratic politics, implementation with incomplete information, or the effects of rhetorical blowback. But before he throws out the baby with the bathwater, Kaplan might want to ask himself the following question: if policymakers choose not to rely on social science theories to wend their way through a complex world, what navigational aid would Kaplan suggest in its stead? Policymakers across the political spectrum always like to poke fun at explicit theorizing about international relations. The problem is that they usually rely on historical analogies instead -- which are, in every way, worse than the use of explicit theories.

    UPDATE: Tyler Cowen quotes Business Week's Michael Mandel on the drawbacks of game theory:

    Game theory is no doubt wonderful for telling stories. However, it flunks the main test of any scientific theory: The ability to make empirically testable predictions. In most real-life situations, many different outcomes -- from full cooperation to near-disastrous conflict -- are consistent with the game-theory version of rationality.

    To put it a different way: If the world had been blown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, game theorists could have explained that as an unfortunate outcome -- but one that was just as rational as what actually happened. Similarly, an industry that collapses into run-amok competition, like the airlines, can be explained rationally by game theorists as easily as one where cooperation is the norm.

    Tyler has a number of responses (to which Mandel responds) but mine is simple: game theory has the wrong name. It is a theoretical tool rather than a theory in and of itself. Because of this, Mandel is correct that it is possible to devise game-theoretic models that lead to contrasting predictions. However, the virtue of game theory is that the differences made in starting assumptions, institutional rules, and causal processes are laid bare. One can then argue about how realistic the assumptions, rules, and processes are.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman points out and explains why the blogosphere is united in its high regard for Schelling.

    posted by Dan at 11:34 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, October 6, 2005

    Scholar-blogger thoughts, cont'd

    Following up on my last post:

    Oxblog's David Adesnik is happy about the new U of C Law School blog -- and the extent to which the law school is proud of its existence -- but nevertheless believes blogging remains decidedly out of the academic mainstream:

    What the issue comes down to, I think, is the perception that blogging is inherently unbecoming of a scholar. Posts are brief and rapid-fire. But what I hope that more faculties are beginning to discover is that blogging can serve as an important complement to the traditional forums for scholarship.

    No one thinks that blogging should replace books or journal articles. But I think it can serve as an invaluable means of allowing scholars to apply their knowledge to current situations without having first to write a 30 or 300 page manuscript. Thus, I wish the UC faculty bloggers all the best and hope that their example will demonstrate that blogging is anything but the academic equivalent of lese majeste.

    In the spirit of the last paragraph, I would encourage the IR scholars in the audience to check out Dan Nexon's post about the debate over the role that norms play in world politics. He's looking for feedback.

    posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, October 4, 2005

    Your scholar-blogger links for today

    My co-author Henry Farrell has an excellent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways in which blogging and scholarship can complement each other. Without saying his name, it is certainly an excellent rejoinder to one Mr. "Ivan Tribble." The key paragraphs:

    Many young academics who are thinking about blogging share [Duncan] Black's dilemma. Is it a good idea to blog if you're on the job market or have a nontenured position? Tenured academics who blog face relatively little risk when they express controversial opinions -- they have job protection. It's a different story for academics without tenure who want to blog. They may worry that their colleagues would find their blogs objectionable, damaging their career chances, and either blog under a pseudonym, like Black and the law professor "Juan Non-Volokh," or not blog at all. Younger scholars may also worry that blogging would eat up time that could be devoted to publishing articles or working on a book. Few if any academics would want to describe their blogging as part of their academic publishing record (although they might reasonably count it toward public-service requirements). While blogging has real intellectual payoffs, it is not conventional academic writing and shouldn't be an academic's main focus if he or she wants to get tenure.

    But to dismiss blogging as a bad idea altogether is to make an enormous mistake. Academic bloggers differ in their goals. Some are blogging to get personal or professional grievances off their chests or... to pursue nonacademic interests. Others, perhaps the majority, see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn't a hobby; it's an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.

    Meanwhile, for those who believe that the academic life is a cushy one, go click over to Dan Nexon's post about the poli sci job market at Duck of Minerva. The highlights:

    [O]ver the years I have:

    1) Written at least sixteen applications for post-doctoral fellowships, only two of which were successful;

    2) Sent something on the order of a hundred job-application packets to institutions of higher learning, out of which I received a handful of interviews and a miniscule number of offers;

    3) Gone mostly bald.

    What, then, is my advice?

    Let's start with the obvious. There will always be people who are smarter, better credentialed, and much more attractive than you are. Many of them will be applying for the same jobs as you. But take heart in two facts about the world. One, almost no one can physically occupy the position of assistant professor at two institutions. Two, life is unfair. Between these two laws of nature, you just might get a job offer... or even many, many job offers.

    Now, the bad news....

    The academic job "market," in other words, is nothing of the sort. It is penetrated by informal and formal ties of friendship and influence. Short-lists, interviews, and offers are made on the basis of many collective and individual decisions, including search committees, departments, and various high priests of the academy (e.g., deans and provosts). In aggregate, these decisions can take many surprising and unpredictable directions. Bottom line: it is foolhardy to invest your ego in the process.

    I'm simultaneously more pessimistic and optimistic than Nexon.

    On the pessimistic side, the fact that no single person can occupy all the jobs proffered to them does not mean the market will clear. Among top-tier institutions, it is far more likely that departments will simply adopt a "wait 'til next year" approach than hire their second choice. At which point the process repeats itself -- a lucky few snap up all the job offers, everyone else waits until next year. For aspiring academics that want the really plum jobs, this can be like repeatedly banging your head against a wall in the hopes of obtaining a result different than your head hurting -- a textbook definition of insanity.

    On the optimistic side, I don't think old-boy networks warp the hiring process as much as is often posited. This is what I said in "So You Want to Get a Tenure-Track Job..."

    This process has two parts; getting an interview, and then getting an offer. No doubt, letters of recommendation and phone lobbying can help to get you an interview; that, however, is as far as this kind of influence can carry someone. At the interview stage, the quality of your work and your presentation determines whether you get the job.

    The academic job market, as I've witnessed it, is a globally rational but locally capricious system. Some people will undoubtedly slip through the cracks -- but on the whole, talent is recognized and rewarded.

    posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    So how did the grand stategizin' go?

    I was in Princeton last week to attend a conference on "National Security in the 21st Century."

    Over at Democracy Arsenal, former guest-blogger Suzanne Nossel provides a lengthy post outlining the general sense of the meeting.

    Go check it out. There were a few conference papers worth reading, and I'll post links to them once they're made available.

    posted by Dan at 10:00 AM | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    Define first -- then vote

    Via Tyler Cowen, I see that the UK's Prospect magazine and Foreign Policy would like you to vote for the world's top public intellectuals.

    Glancing at the list, I kept thinking that some of these names did not belong with others. Foreign Policy's explication of the criteria doesn't make me feel any more sanguine:

    What is a public intellectual? Someone who has shown distinction in their own field along with the ability to communicate ideas and influence debate outside of it.

    Candidates must have been alive, and still active in public life (though many on this list are past their prime). Such criteria ruled out the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Milton Friedman, who would have been automatic inclusions 20 or so years ago. This list is about public influence, not intrinsic achievement.

    Is it my imagination, or do the underlined portions fail to completely agree with each other? Doesn't the first underlined section imply public influence and intrinsic achievement?

    To be fair, this can be like arguing about the Most Valuable Player award in baseball. But, using both influence and achievement as my criteria -- and picking those closer to my intellectual predilections in case of a tie -- here are my five:

    Francis Fukuyama
    JŁrgen Habermas
    Richard Posner
    Amartya Sen
    Zheng Bijian

    If you're wondering who the heck Zheng is, click here. There's no question that the U.S. government is familiar with him.

    Commenters are encouraged to report back on their choices.

    posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (5)

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    The Wrath of Tribble

    Three months ago I and many others blogged about Ivan Tribble's Chronicle of Higher Education essay on blogging and academic hiring. Shorter Tribble: "Don't blog, because it's kind of strange, my colleagues and I don't quite get it, and your online self might come off as an unstable git."

    Tribble responded to his critics yesterday in the Chronicle. He appears a touch miffed:

    A lot can happen when you try to help some people land tenure-track jobs....

    While not a scientific sampling by any means, what I saw suggested a trend worth warning others about. The ensuing outcry against my words of warning -- both on The Chronicle's discussion forums and on some blogs -- gave me pause. Clearly I had offended a number of bloggers and hurt some feelings. For that I offer my apology to any who will accept it.

    But I still stand by my basic point....

    As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't "get it." That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

    If that's bad news, I'm sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs.

    Read the whole thing. My biggest disappointment in the piece is this section:

    I stated that several committee members had reservations about hiring a blogger, which many respondents dismissed as irrational. I can't speak for every committee member's reasons, or every blogger's good judgment.

    This revives the point that the issue is not the medium itself, but how it is used.

    That's funny, because what what truly annoyed me in Tribble's initial essay were the motivations he assigned his committee members -- and the concern then was pretty much the medium itself:

    The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum (emphasis added)

    I'll just repeat what I said back in June, because it echoes Tribble's last few paragraphs:

    To graduate students: I'd like to say that Ivan the Tribble is your classic piece of outlying data, but I can't. The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

    For a more positive outlook, check out Henry Farrell and Brian Weatherson.

    posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    "Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Northwestern!!"

    The title of this post was my lovely wife's reaction upon reading that the University of Chicago is one of the Seven Wonders of Chicago -- at least, according to readers of the Chicago Tribune

    The other six are the Lakefront, Wrigley Field, the "L", the Sears Tower, the Water Tower, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

    I explained to my wife that Northwestern is, technically, in Evanston. She continues to insist that they smoke it.

    posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Virginia Postrel shows me the way of the world

    Virginia Postrel responds to my post about the value-added of think tanks:

    Well, Dan, let me tell you the way of the world. For the most part, think tank donors (especially individuals, as opposed to foundations or corporations) are completely uninterested in original research and unable to evaluate its quality. On the whole, individuals give to think tanks for the same reason they give to religious organizations--to demonstrate commitment to a belief system and to support the people they believe will spread the word. They want to hear the same messages over and over and over again, and they financially reward those who give them what they want. While generally nice, generous people, donors are on the whole indifferent to originality, bored by wonky policy proposals, and annoyed by any think tank employee who challenges their political cathechisms. Boards of trustees tend to reward executives not for doing or supporting important work but for raising money.

    Since you can't do the work without money anyway, think tankers who want to do good, significant work eventually either flee or give in to the system's preference for superficiality. Making the system even worse are media bookers who want predictable, preferably partisan views. Dan worries about op-eds. Op-eds are philosophy tomes compared to TV, and as Nicole Kidman aptly observed in To Die For, you're nobody in America if you're not on TV. That goes double for public policy circles.

    Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2005

    The perils of teaching in Italy

    Reuters reports on a potential case of discriminatory hiring and firing practices in Italy:

    Was it her looks or lifestyle that led the Roman Catholic Church to cause a minor media frenzy by firing an Italian religion teacher this year?

    Caterina Bonci said Church authorities decided she was just too attractive and dressed too sexy to teach religion after 14 years on the job.

    The Church says it sacked the 38-year-old blonde from the central Adriatic city of Fano because she is divorced.

    Even Italyís leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, gave readers a break from pages of stories about scandal at the Bank of Italy and government bickering with the teasing headline:

    ďTeacher in mini-skirt fired by diocese.Ē

    Bonci said she separated from her husband in 1995 and divorced in 2000 and that both events had not affected her job or raised eyebrows from her employers at the time.

    She said reports that fathers accompanied their children to religion classes so they could look at her meant little to her as long as the children came to class.

    As a public service for readers of, below is a photo of Ms. Bonci.


    Readers can judge for themselves.

    posted by Dan at 06:03 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, August 31, 2005

    I'm in the mood for.... APSA

    Blogging will be erratic for the next couple of days as I wend my way to the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Washington, DC. Lucky me, I have two panels tomorrow and then can truly enjoy the conference.

    If you feel the need to get into the APSA mood -- and don't we all feel that way sometimes -- go click on the following:

    1. Henry Farrell's dining recommendations for APSA.

    2. Marc Lynch's (a.k.a., Abu Aardvark) disquisition from last month on the IR debate between rationalism and constructivism -- and why "constructivism has won, at least in the security policy realm." I would agree with Marc that seemingly non-material factors -- such as nationalism and ideology -- have become more important in international politics as of late. However, Lynch overstates the case in two ways: 1) These factors could merely be intervening variables for material power conditions (much like soft power is a function of hard power); and 2) Saying that non-material factors count doesn't make them as plastic as most (but not all) constructivists believe.

    3) My advice to APSA rookies from two years ago. I think it still holds up pretty well.

    4) The APSA paper archive -- it's just like going to the conference, without the overpriced morning coffee!! Already, there are 28 papers on blogs archived, but my favorite title is "Blogs and the Bloggers Who Blog Them."


    posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    Copter parents at two o'clock!!

    When I was teaching at the University of Colorado, I had to deal with a student who wanted me to change his/her class grade from a C+ to a B-. The student's primary argument was not that s/he deserved a better grade for the class, but that his/her GPA had dropped below the minimum required to qualify for CU-Boulder's study abroad programs. Needless to say, this was not a terribly persuasive argument -- not to mention grossly unfair to all the students who had actually earned their B- grades -- so I said no.

    I said no several times.

    A week after the student's final plea, I received another phone call asking me to reconsider -- from the student's mother. The mother evinced little concern about her child's academic performance -- she just wanted to see her progeny spend a semester in Florence. I was more than a little surprised by the attempt, and got off the phone as quickly as possible.

    I haven't had a problem like that with a parent since the start of the millennium, but I tell this story because of Justin Pope's AP story on 'copter parents.' What are these creatures?:

    They're called "helicopter parents," for their habit of hovering, hyperinvolved, over their children's lives.

    Here at Colgate University, as elsewhere, they have become increasingly bold in recent years, telephoning administrators to complain about their children's housing assignments, roommates and grades.

    Recently, one parent demanded to know what Colgate planned to do about subpar plumbing her daughter encountered on a study-abroad trip to China.

    "That's just part of how this generation has been raised," said Mark Thompson, head of Colgate's counseling services. "You add a $40,000 price tag for a school like Colgate, and you have high expectations for what you get."

    For years, officials here responded to such calls by biting their lips and making an effort to keep parents happy.

    But at freshman orientation here last week, parents heard a different message: Helicopter parenting has gotten out of hand, and it undermines non-classroom lessons on problem-solving, seeking help and compromising that should be part of a college education.

    Those lessons can't be learned if the response to every difficulty is a call to mom and dad for help.

    "We noticed what everybody else noticed. We have a generation of parents that are heavily involved in their students' lives, and it causes all sorts of problems," said Dean Adam Weinberg.

    College should be "a time when you go from living in someone else's house to becoming a functioning, autonomous person," Weinberg added.

    Read the whole thing. I'm not completely unsympathetic to the parental position -- on the list of parental sins, being "heavily involved" in their childrens' lives is far down the queue. Plus, when parents are spending the kind of money for higher education they are spending now, a little monitoring of one's investment is to be expected.

    That said, wheedling for better grades on behalf of their children would seem to cross the line. In Clueless, at least the father had the good sense to make his daughter Cher argue her own case.

    posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

    Saturday, August 20, 2005

    So what do international relations specialists think?

    After being in a news black hole for a week, I'll be getting back into blogging a bit slowly.

    However, here's something for the academics in the audience: last year a group of IR profs put together a survey of what other IR profs thought about the field, current affairs, etc.

    The preliminary results can be found in this paper by Susan Peterson and Michael J. Tierney, with Daniel Maliniak entitled, "Teaching and Research Practices, Views on the Discipline, and Policy Attitudes of International Relations Faculty at U.S. Colleges and Universities"

    Some of the interesting topline results:

    1) Teaching moves more slowly than research. Even though scholars recognize that contructivism is a much more active research program than Mrxism, the latter is taught more frequently in introductory IR classes.

    [This is because the academy is all lefty, right?--ed. Well, the survey has the median IR prof between "liberal" and "slightly liberal", so there's a small grain of truth to that. However, I suspect this has more to do with academics being small "c" conservative, and therefore reluctant to change syllabi that have been entrenched for years.

    2) "Eighty-seven percent of respondentsóexactly the same percentage in the previous question who reported that the war in Iraq will decrease U.S. securityóreport that the Iraq war has hurt the war on terrorism."

    3) "Despite the fact that most respondents believe that the war in Iraq has hurt US security and the war on terrorism, few (17 percent) believe that terrorists are better able to attack the United States today than before 9/11."

    4) "The foreign policy consensus among international relations scholars observed in the previous questions about Iraq extends to the issue of free trade. More than three-fourths of all respondents report that free trade agreements have been a good thing for the United States, while only 7 percent report that they have been a bad thing."

    Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 06:07 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, August 2, 2005

    Now the President gets intellectually curious

    Three weeks ago, the New Republic's Ben Adler asked a group of prominent conservatives what they thought about the "intelligent design" theory of the Earth's creation.

    Apparently, Adler could have asked President Bush as well, because it turns out he has some thoughts on the matter:

    President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.

    During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

    "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

    Glenn Reynolds lists some other "schools of thought" that might be worth teaching our nation's children. Readers are encouraged to come up with other "schools of thought" that might challenge evolution.

    I'll just close with Charles Krauthammer's response in Adler's essay:

    The idea that [intelligent design] should be taught as a competing theory to evolution is ridiculous. ... The entire structure of modern biology, and every branch of it [is] built around evolution and to teach anything but evolution would be a tremendous disservice to scientific education. If you wanna have one lecture at the end of your year on evolutionary biology, on intelligent design as a way to understand evolution, that's fine. But the idea that there are these two competing scientific schools is ridiculous.


    UPDATE: Well, Bush also doesn't believe that Rafael Palmeiro used steroids.

    posted by Dan at 05:31 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Is grade inflation real or imagined?

    Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse asks whether grades are improving because of inflation -- or because of other reasons:

    The most frequently referred to site is Stuart Rojstaczerís, which surveys a small number of institutions and finds increases in the mean grade in all of them over both a ten year and a 30 year period (much bigger in the private than in the public institutions). This is what people take to be firm evidence of grade inflation. But it isnít, and Iím surprised that anyone thinks it is. Hereís why; within the institutions surveyed the students might have been gaining in achievement. Grade inflation consists in higher grades being given for similar quality work, not just higher grades being given. And no-one seems to have any data on the quality of the work being produced now or in the past.

    Am I saying that students might have gotten smarter over the period? Well, they might, but thatís not what Iím saying. They might be better prepared for college than before, or, rather, enough of them might be better prepared to outweigh the fact that some of them are less well prepared.... Students might be working harder, or working smarter, because they care more about getting good grades believing (falsely, according to lots of commentators) that better grades yield higher incomes and better job prospects. Instructors might have improved: many of the institutions have seen a decline in the teaching load for instructors over that period, allowing instructors more time to devote to preparation etc. Instructors might be more talented: certainly, the early period of grade inflation coincides with increased use of competitive and open hiring practices, and with the increased admission of women into the faculty.

    A lot of Harry's alternative explanatuons would suggest -- perish the thought -- there have been productivity gains in education.

    Much as I'd like this to be true, I'm probably more skeptical than Brighouse of this possibility -- click here for one reason why the distribution of grades suggests other factors at work besides improving student and instructor quality.

    posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, July 8, 2005

    Grad students: no blogs allowed

    I've expressed trepidation in the past about whether graduate students or untenured faculty should start a blog.

    An essay by "Ivan Tribble" (a pseudonym) in the Chonicle of Higher Education doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. The highlights:

    What is it with job seekers who also write blogs? Our recent faculty search at Quaint Old College resulted in a number of bloggers among our semifinalists. Those candidates looked good enough on paper to merit a phone interview, after which they were still being seriously considered for an on-campus interview.

    That's when the committee took a look at their online activity.

    In some cases, a Google search of the candidate's name turned up his or her blog. Other candidates told us about their Web site, even making sure we had the URL so we wouldn't fail to find it. In one case, a candidate had mentioned it in the cover letter. We felt compelled to follow up in each of those instances, and it turned out to be every bit as eye-opening as a train wreck....

    A candidate's blog is more accessible to the search committee than most forms of scholarly output. It can be hard to lay your hands on an obscure journal or book chapter, but the applicant's blog comes up on any computer. Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few. Others persisted into what turned out, in some cases, to be the dank, dark depths of the blogger's tormented soul; in other cases, the far limits of techno-geekdom; and in one case, a cat better off left in the bag.

    The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.

    A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.

    Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation....

    It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order....

    Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

    You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

    The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum....

    [I]n truth, we did not disqualify any applicants based purely on their blogs. If the blog was a negative factor, it was one of many that killed a candidate's chances.

    More often that not, however, the blog was a negative, and job seekers need to eliminate as many negatives as possible.

    We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?

    We've seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they've got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can't wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more.

    How to respond? One fellow scholar-blogger puts it this way:

    Shorter Chronicle of Higher Ed: blogging is dangerous because hiring committees are paranoid, conservative, and illogical. Even if you are not indiscreet on your blog, you could become so--but if you don't have a blog, you couldn't possibly start one and therefore never be indiscreet. Publishing pseudonymous articles about your search committee deliberations in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, though, is not indiscreet.

    This point is made elsewhere in the blogosphere as well.

    I was all set to defend the utility of academic blogging, but I see that Robert Farley was kind enough to do it for me -- literally:

    I know that there is a difference between a Dan Drezner blog post and a Dan Drezner article in a major political science journal. So does Dan. He sometimes uses the one to complement the other, and sometimes talks about things that would never make it through a peer review process, often because they are too topical or too speculative. If a blogger regularly displayed contempt for co-workers, rage against employers, or demonstrable insanity, that would be one thing. But the [blogs discussed in Tribble's article] above doesn't have anything to do with any of those. It conveys a fear of a forum which bypasses traditional academia, whose practitioners need to be punished through intimidation and exclusion.

    Traditional academic journals are wonderful institutions, because however much we may complain about them they DO keep out much of the dreck, they do enforce standards of scholarship and evidence, and they do play on important role in imposing a form of meritocracy on the academic world. Blogs play a much different role, one that is oriented around topical policy debates and a more intimate relationship with the non-academic world. The one does not threaten the other.

    I'll close with two pieces of advice:

    1) To "Ivan Tribble": Click here before you condemn blogging to the academic dustbin. But if you or your colleagues still truly believe your assertion that, "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum," then here's my advice -- do not hire anyone ever again. As you say, "We've all... expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we're giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend." Therefore, it doesn't matter whether potential future colleagues have a blog or not -- all it takes is five minutes to set one up. The only foolproof way to "guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum" online is to have no colleagues. Come to think of it, you should also ban any current colleagues from using any computer hooked up to the Internet -- it's the only way to preserve decorum.

    2) To graduate students: I'd like to say that Ivan the Tribble is your classic piece of outlying data, but I can't. The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

    UPDATE: Kevin Drum says something that had occurred to me as well:

    what struck me was that Tribble's piece is actually more a cautionary tale for the rest of us than it is for prospective university professors. After all, universities at least claim to value creativity, free speech, and academic freedom ó even if Tribble's essay confirms that they do this more in the breach than in the observance. But what about the rest of us?

    A garden variety commercial enterprise doesn't even pretend to value these things, and if you think HR departments don't google prospective applicants, I suspect you're sorely mistaken. As a result, if you write a blog under your own name it might well spell trouble on a whole variety of levels. A liberal boss might not want to hire a conservative. A straitlaced boss might decide not to hire a lesbian. A prudish boss might not hire someone who brags regularly about their sexual conquests. And fair or not, any boss is likely to be at least slightly hesitant about hiring someone who has a habit of telling the world about every little detail of their personal life. Some of this discrimination might be legal and some might not, but it hardly matters. You'll never know it happened.

    To be fair, however, there are short-run and long-run countertrends:

    1) Business and organizations that value good writing might well be more likely to hire bloggers;

    2) Firms that choose to bypass creative people who happen to blog will eventually suffer the economic consequences.

    posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    Whither grade inflation?

    Both Alex Tabarrok and Kevin Drum flag Mark Thoma's recent research on grade inflation. The key paragraphs from Thoma's preliminary findings:

    There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second episode begins around 1990 and is harder to explain. High school GPAs rise during the same time period (entering students at the UO had a high school GPA of 3.30 in 1992, 3.31 in 1996, 3.37 in 2000, and 3.47 in 2004 while SAT scores remained relatively flat, though they did increase modestly in math).

    My study finds an interesting correlation in the data. During the time grades were increasing, budgets were also tightening inducing a substitution towards younger and less permanent faculty. I broke down grade inflation by instructor rank and found it is much higher among assistant professors, adjuncts, TAs, instructors, etc. than for associate or full professors. These are instructors who are usually hired year-to-year or need to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for the job market, so they have an incentive to inflate evaluations as much as possible, and high grades are one means of manipulating student course evaluations.

    If Thoma's finding hold up, it would appear to be a classic case of economic incentives outweighing social norms.

    [Why?--ed. If asked to predict the pattern of grade inflation, I would have predicted the opposite trend. In my own experience, graduate students tend to be the harshest critics of undergraduate work, folloed by junior faculty (tenure track or not), followed by senior faculty. Mostly this is because, in my field, graduate students are first trained to be critics before they have to create their own work. One way this critical edge usually plays itself out is in grading others. However, Thoma's findings would suggest that this social effect is completely swamped by straight-forward material incentives. One question I would have, however, is whether this result holds at top tier research universities.]

    posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, June 10, 2005

    My colleges are in the news

    Tom Friedman received an honorary degree from my alma mater and -- of course -- manages to turn it into a column. This one highlights a lovely graduation tradition:

    Every year, in addition to granting honorary degrees, Williams also honors four high school teachers. But not just any high school teachers. Williams asks the 500 or so members of its senior class to nominate the high school teachers who had a profound impact on their lives. Then each year a committee goes through the roughly 50 student nominations, does its own research with the high schools involved and chooses the four most inspiring teachers.

    Each of the four teachers is given $2,000, plus a $1,000 donation to his or her high school. The winners and their families are then flown to Williams, located in the lush Berkshires, and honored as part of the graduation weekend....

    "Every time we do this, one of the [high school] teachers says to me, 'This is one of the great weekends of my life,' " said Williams's president, Morton Owen Schapiro. "But it is great for us, too. ...

    "When you are at a place like Williams and you are able to benefit from these wonderful kids, sometimes you take it for granted. You think we produce these kids. But as faculty members, we should always be reminded that we stand on the shoulders of great high school teachers, we get great material to work with: well educated, well trained, with a thirst for learning.

    "So we have been doing our little part to recognize that. ... We take these teachers, who are not well compensated and often underappreciated, and give them a great weekend."

    If you think these awards are not important for the teachers receiving them, then you don't know anything about teachers.

    I must also applaud President Schapiro (for whom I was a teaching assistant when he taight Economics 101) to for being savvy enough to lure Friedman out to Williamstown and getting some fine press for the institution in the New York Times.

    Meanwhile, my current institution of higher learning has also generated some press which reinforces all the good things you hear about the U of C. Scott Jaschik explains in Inside Higher Ed:

    To understand why professors need great libraries, says Andrew Abbott, ďyou need to think about an ape swinging through the trees.Ē

    Abbott is not an evolutionary biologist, but a sociologist at the University of Chicago. And to Abbott, a scholar in a library is just like a swinging primate. ďYouíve got your current source, which is the branch you are on, and then you see the next source, on the next branch, so you swing over. And on that new hanging vine, you see the next source, which you didnít see before, and you swing again.Ē

    When books arenít browsable or instantly available, Abbott says, a scholar becomes the ape ďwith no branch to grab, and you are stopped, hanging on a branch with no place to go.Ē

    At far too many libraries, he says, that is becoming the norm. Many universities are boasting about how they are digitizing collections or building vast, off-site facilities to store millions of books. Even when those books are available within hours, Abbott says, that destroys the way scholars need to think ó moving from source to source, not knowing which source they will stumble on.

    Abbott heads a faculty committee at Chicago in charge of guiding a mammoth expansion of the Joseph Regenstein Library there. Chicago recently embarked on a plan that will end up with Regenstein housing more volumes ó 8 million ó under a single roof than any other university library in the United States (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign currently has the honor, with 7.5 million volumes in its main library). Whatís more, none of the libraryís collections will be moved off site, most monographs will be browsable, and miles of new stacks will be added in the expansion of 38,000 square feet....

    To understand how unusual the Chicago expansion is (Regenstein currently has only 4.5 million volumes), Harvard University offers an illustrative comparison. Harvard has more volumes in total ó 15 million ó than any American university. But Harvard has more volumes stored off-site (5.5 million) than in its single largest library, Widener Library, which has 3.5 million volumes.

    The non-bibliophile might ask, isnít 3.5 million plenty?

    Judith Nadler, director of the library at Chicago, answers with an emphatic No, which isnít surprising given that she supervises the purchase of 150,000 new volumes a year. ďCollections within quick reach matter,Ē Nadler says. ďOur research today is interdisciplinary. You donít just go in one subject area. So the more you have under one roof, under one classification system, the easier it is, the better it is for scholars.Ē

    Nadler is quick to point out that Chicago is not Luddite with regard to the role of technology in helping libraries. Regensteinís users, for example, have access online to full text of more than 40,000 journals. But she says that the hype about digitization ignores the limits technology offers, especially for research facilities with global subject matter.

    ďI think the significance of what we are doing is enormous,Ē she says. ďWe have a very, very large and rich collection, and it is rich in area studies, in languages, rich in materials from all parts of the world ó including many parts of the world where digitization will not come for a very long time in the future.Ē Chicago intends to step up its purchasing in such areas in the years ahead, Nadler says, creating a repository of materials that the best search engine couldnít find.

    Thanks to alert reader B.K. for the pointer.

    UPDATE: The utility of searching the stacks contrasts nicely with James Falows' lament about computer searches in the New York Times:

    Search engines are so powerful. And they are so pathetically weak.

    When it comes to digging up a specific name, date, phrase or price, search engines are unstoppable. The same is true for details from the previously concealed past....

    Yet for anything but simple keyword queries, even the best search engines are surprisingly ineffective.

    Recently, for example, I was trying to track the changes in California's spending on its schools. In the 1960's, when I was in public school there, the legend was that only Connecticut spent more per student than California did. Now, the legend is that only the likes of Louisiana and Mississippi spend less. Was either belief true? When I finally called an education expert on a Monday morning, she gave me the answer off the top of her head. (Answer: right in spirit, exaggerated in detail.) But that was only after I'd wasted what seemed like hours over the weekend with normal search tools. If it sounds easy, try using keyword searches to find consistent state-by-state data covering the last 40 years.

    posted by Dan at 10:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

    Tuesday, June 7, 2005

    492326* words later....

    Readers may have detected a somewhat harried nature to my blog posts of the last few weeks. The reason is that I was preparing to hand in my tenure file -- the packet of information that is sent to external referees asked to write about my case. A tenure file consists of:

    A) Updating my cv;

    B) Compiling hard copy versions of everything that's mentioned in the cv that I want my betters in the field to actually read with a careful eye (i.e., no "occasional publications," op-eds, or blog posts);

    C) A statement that encapsulates the underlying themes of my research and teaching to date.

    If this sounds like all it would require is a cloistered weekend and some toner, well, that's what I thought six weeks ago. I then discovered, however, that writing a statement of research and teaching is the equivalent of writing a ten page cover letter saying, "Look at me!! LOOK AT ME!!!" You'd think with my blog and everything this would be easy to write, but you'd be wrong.

    Then I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to revise my book manuscript and polish all of the draft articles I have in the wings. Not surprisingly, this took a bit longer than expected, and distracted me a hell of a lot more than my lovely wife expected.

    I handed in the file this morning. As I sank back into my chair, I began to wonder just how many words I had printed out. In a fit of sheer bloody-mindedness, I opened up every document, did a word count, and added it all up. Which is where I got the title to this post.

    [What's with the asterisk?--ed. Because that word count, while accurate, is nevertheless inflated. Like every other political scientist, I publish my scholarly work in both article and book form. Many of my articles are simply book chapters that have been hived off into stand-alone essays. Similarly, I have sometimes published more accessible forms of my research in policy journals. So while the word count is pretty high, there's a lot of duplication. How much duplication?--ed. I'd say that buried beneath that word count are about three big ideas, four pretty big ideas, three smaller ideas, and some nice moments of criticism.]

    Anyway, it's off my desk and out of my hands -- so I'm now off to do some serious drinking.

    After the whole process is over -- i.e., in early 2006 -- I might be motivated to post something about the political economy of getting tenure. For now, however, political scientists should click over to Henry Farrell's informative post about how to get your conference paper accepted for the American Political Science Association annual meeting.

    posted by Dan at 03:25 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, June 6, 2005

    When graduate students discover the Internet

    "Alan Mendelsohn" has a pretty funny first-person account in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens when a literature department at "a major research university on the West Coast" sets up a blog for grad students. The results are not pretty at all. One example:

    Our discussion group was no longer a safe place. That nascent fear was borne out in full a year later, when our department was interviewing candidates in two areas, Renaissance literature and 20th-century literature by minority authors. Marsha urged everyone to attend the job talks and voice an opinion about the hiring process. "You can have an influence on the hiring process, even if it's not your field," she wrote. She feared that a reactionary candidate would be hired for the Renaissance job, and warned us that the department's conservative professors might hijack the other search by hiring the "Clarence Thomas of Minority Lit."

    Within 10 minutes of her message, Dave had pounced. It was hard enough being a specialist in minority literature, he wrote. "We don't need to be condescended to as well." He angrily questioned why a minority hire must always be associated with tokenism and incompetence. He was galled by Marsha's "unconscious (dare I say) racism."

    Here we go again, I thought: We won't see the last of this for several hours. I was wrong. It would be days.

    In a bizarre performance, Brian vaulted into the discussion to announce that Dave was "the boy who cried racism." Neither Dave nor Marsha wanted a reactionary hire, so what were they arguing about? "We are all on the same fuckin' side," Brian announced: "Diversity is good, hegemony is bad," and if Dave or his supporters felt like protesting, Brian admonished, "bite your tongue."

    Now that's public consensus with a vengeance. (And a tire iron.) Students' network connections had been sparking, but the toss of that oil drum led to an all-out conflagration, bringing out people's worst sides.

    Postings from what seemed like half the students in the department alternately demanded that Dave or Brian apologize, and those postings were themselves attacked as "bad faith." A South Asian woman told a Jewish man that he could have no conception of what racism was. The debate began to develop "threads" that had little to do with the original Clarence Thomas figure of speech: One student emphasized that no charge of racism had ever, in fact, been made -- Dave had attacked the way in which Marsha's rhetoric had been "interpellated" by racist discursive formations, not Marsha herself.

    It was during the follow-up responses that the term "postmodern wanker" was first used, to be deployed by both factions in various ways over the next week.

    Ah, the academy -- almost everyone on the same side of the ideological fence, and nary an agreement in sight.

    "Mendelsohn" concludes that maybe the Internet is not the nirvana of Habermasian discourse, but the academic version of crack:

    Where online environments are concerned, we may not kill each other, but we'll probably end up suing. You can spend so much time drafting a criticism of a theoretical trend that you're bored with the essay by the time it appears in a peer-reviewed journal, but at least you've produced something more lasting than a blog-delivered, "You think you're so sympathetic to the oppressed, Dr. New Historicist, but when it comes to labor activism in the community, you're a no-show."

    Wherever these new technologies take us, I've certainly started living by my own set of rules -- e.g., no postings unless it's for a summer sublet. Spending time on the Internet may well be an academic's version of watching too much of the boob tube, and I'm going to limit myself to one hour a day.

    "Alan Mendelsohn", by the way, is a pseudonym -- and I can't say I blame him. But I will always be grateful to him for the introduction of "postmodern wanker" into my lexicon.

    posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (3)

    Tuesday, May 3, 2005

    Regarding David Horowitz and the academy

    Jennifer Jacobson has an informative story in the Chronicle of Higher Education on David Horowitz's promotion of his academic bill of rights -- "a set of principles that he says will make universities more intellectually diverse and tolerant of conservativesJ," according to Jacobson. Horowitz's crusade -- which consists of speeches and a lot of testifying and lobbying of state legislatures -- has prompted vigorous opposition.

    I had two take-aways from the essay:

    1) The bill of rights is not causing the opposition; Horowitz and his tactics are the cause. From Jacobson's piece:

    The document itself strikes a decidedly nonpartisan tone. The problem many people have with it is the partisanship of the man who wrote it.

    Republicans, not Democrats, have sponsored Mr. Horowitz's bill. Conservative students, not liberal ones, have testified in support of it. And right-wing foundations, not left-leaning ones, contribute to his center, and in turn, his campaign....

    Todd Gitlin, now a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, also has a problem with the bill as legislation. The actual text of it is fine, he says. "If it came across my desk as a petition, I'd probably sign it." But "the attempt to rope legislatures into enforcing rules of fairness and decorum on university campuses is misguided and perverse."

    Gitlin's remark is triggered by Horowitz's campaign to have state legislatures take action on his proposal. What's odd about Horowitz's approach is this section of Horowitz's proposed bill of rights:

    Academic freedom consists in protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself. This means that no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through any other administrative means by the academic institution. Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through their control of the university budget.

    2) I'm not sure Horowitz understands how the academy works. From the article:

    Mr. Horowitz has always wanted to be a scholar himself.

    After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Columbia, he attended the University of California at Berkeley. He says he got bored with his graduate program and left with a master's degree in English. "Everything had been mined," he explains. There was "nothing to research that was interesting anymore."

    Instead he wrote a book on American foreign policy in the cold war, a book on Marxist theory, and one on Shakespeare....

    [Horowitz] simply believes he has been blacklisted by academe. Although he says he was a "leading figure in the New Left," professors do not assign his books, nor do they refer to his work in the hundreds of courses taught on the 1960s, he says. They don't invite him to speak in those courses, either....

    If he were liberal, he contends, he could be an editor at the [New York] Times or a department chairman at Harvard University.

    Could someone who's a friend of Horowitz please take him aside and point out that not even Harvard awards department chairmanships to people who drop out of Ph.D. programs when they conclude that there was, "nothing to research that was interesting anymore."

    Horowitz tells Jacobson later in the article that someone should have made a movie of his life. In other words, he comes across as a vainglorious know-it-all, absolutely convinced that he's right about everything.

    Oh, wait.... Horowitz does understand how the academy works.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link -- and damn Glenn Reynolds for making me read this Inside Higher Ed post by Scott Jaschik a month before I hand in my tenure file!! The funniest bit from Jaschik's essay:

    [University of Illinois professor Cary] Nelson said that he knew of one professor (not at Illinois) who suffered a breakdown after he was denied tenure, and responded in part by stripping naked and climbing into a college building by hauling himself up a wall, holding onto ivy, and climbing in. The professor was eventually able to reverse the decision and to win tenure.

    And the paragraph that was the most chilling:

    Nelson of Illinois said that the system is sufficiently ďcrazyĒ that one canít help but lose faith in it. ďLetís say youíve published your first book and articles and they are great and then some goon on the committee says you havenít done enough conference papers. The whole thing can come undone. Or youíve got six letters and they are all positive except for one small criticism in one letter. Someone on the committee will say, ĎAh. Someone had the guts to tell the truth.í And suddenly you are in jeopardy because of one personís whim.Ē

    posted by Dan at 02:59 PM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (1)

    Thursday, April 21, 2005

    Alex Tabarrok on political bias in the academy

    Last night the Georgetown IR group took me out to a fabulous dinner, and naturally the conversation turned to whether there was a bias in academia against political conservatives.

    I was all prepared to expound on this in a post, but fortunately for me, Tyler Alex has a Marginal Revolution post in response to this article by Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte suggesting statistical evidence of discrimination. Tyler's Alex's basic point: conservatives who cry bias here also need to acknowledge bias because of race or gender in the academy, since the types of cited evidence are awfully similar.

    Bravo to Tyler Alex for intellectual consistency. Go check his post out. [So you agree completely?--ed. Not completely, no -- I think there probably is some bias (against women, some ethnic minorities, and conservatives), but the effect is less significant than is commonly thought. But the proposed solutions to these bias are far, far worse than the original problem.]

    posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (4)

    Friday, April 15, 2005

    Does anyone in the academy read Saul Bellow?

    The common perception of academia is that being a professor is a cushy life. This isn't the post to debate that point, but it's always stuck me that this observation elides a really important fact: getting a tenure-track job at a good university has become increasingly difficult over the years. A ratio of three hundred applicants to one faculty position is not unusual. So even if these are good jobs, there ain't a ton of them to go around.

    This fact carries an even greater bite in the humanities. As tough as it may be to get hired in political science, it's a cakewalk compared to getting a position in, say, English departments. I know far too many acquaintances who are whip-smart but drop out of academia because they picked the wrong department to get a Ph.D., and so their hiring market sucks eggs.

    The point is, those people who do manage to get the good jobs have to be pretty talented in their area of specialty. Which is a fact I keep reminding myself of this fact whenever I read about an academic saying something stupid about their subject in the mainstream media.

    Take for example, this Patrick T. Reardon story in the Chicago Tribune about why "relatively few college and high school courses study Bellow." Here's how Erin G. Carlston, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, answered the question:

    "The truth is I dislike Bellow so don't teach him myself. I'd guess from informal conversations with friends that my dislike for Bellow is fairly widely shared among women scholars, at least. But it's also highly idiosyncratic and all about gender and ethnicity, for me.

    "I'd say in a general way that most post-World War II literature by American white men strikes me as incredibly whiny. It's trivial and narrowly focused, and they go on and on about how it's the end of Western Civilization because they can't get women to pick up their socks anymore.

    "Bellow, being Jewish, is less offensive to me on these grounds than [John] Updike and his ilk, for whom I have no patience at all -- I mean, American Jewish men have actual cause to be insecure . . . and their relationship to power is much more complicated than it is for WASPs.

    "But he still fits, in my mind, with a kind of writing I think of as self-absorbed and trivial. There's no real tragedy, no joy, no relish in humanity. It's all kind of flat."

    The really appalling thing about this quote is that, according to Calston's UNC web page, "Prof. Carlston's research interests are in comparative modernisms and especially the intersections between sexuality studies and Jewish studies." She's also working on a book chapter that "looks at the way race, religious confession, and sexuality have been defined in relation to the modern, Western nation-state and notions of citizenship." So it's not like Bellow is completely irrelevant to her area of expertise.

    This would be the equivalent of me telling a reporter after George Kennan's death:

    The truth is I dislike Kennan so don't teach him myself. I'd guess from informal conversations with friends that my dislike for Kennan is fairly widely shared among Jewish and minority scholars, at least. But it's also highly idiosyncratic and all about ethnicity, for me.

    I'd say in a general way that most post-World War II grand strategy by American white men strikes me as incredibly whiny. It's trivial and narrowly focused, and they go on and on about how it's the end of Western Civilization because democratic publics in these countries are exercising more influence over foreign policy.

    Carlston's current research project is a "book-in-progress, Double Agents, considers literary responses to several major espionage scandals of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries." This sounds pretty interesting, actually, and I hope it proves to be a path-breaking work on the subject. Because it's banal statements like the one above that cause me to doubt the way my profession works in practice.

    posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, April 7, 2005

    The New York Times and academic politics

    The New York Times editorial page is lousy with academic politics today. First, the've published six letters in response to Paul Krugman's Tuesday column (see my take here).

    Tom Elia take issue with one of the letters -- for me, however, this one was the most amusing of the lot:

    To the Editor:

    As a (left-leaning) college history professor, I am bemused by accusations that I am trying to indoctrinate my students with my progressive ideals. If I had that kind of influence, all my students would do the reading every week, proofread their papers meticulously and attend every class. (They don't.)

    Samuel S. Thomas
    Springfield, Ohio, April 5, 2005


    Meanwhile, the lead Times editorial discusses the fracas at Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program -- in which students have claimed to be intellectual intimidated by pro-Palestinian faculty members and faculty have received hate mail and death threats. The editorial trashes the selection of the faculty committee tasked to write a report and the overall clumsiness with which the university handled the affair (i.e., refusing to do anything until a documentary film brought the issue into the public eye).

    What I really found peculiar, however, was the closing paragraph of the editorial:

    [I]n the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore.

    Replace "pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias" with "pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias" -- is there any difference between the NYT's complaints about substantive bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program and conservatives' complaints about substantive bias in the humanities and social sciences?

    [But just because academics are liberal doesn't mean they proselytize in their classes--ed. This is true, and it should be stressed that I think professors using their lectern as a bully pulpit is the exception as opposed to the rule. However, as a category of concern, the Times objection in this paragraph and the conservative complaint are awfully similar. However, as the letter quoted above suggests, how much difference any of this makes in the end is subject to debate.]

    UPDATE: Juan Cole is too smart to make the following bullshit allegation:

    Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously... then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.

    This sort of argument makes me wonder if Cole has ever actually sat in on an international relations course. It is possible that someone at some college teaches the Middle East as "Zionist historiography" but most IR scholars are way too professionalized to ascribe such a normative judgment to any nationality. It sure as hell ain't "dominant in the American academy." In fact, I'll dare Cole to find a single syllabus at the American Political Science Association archive or elsewhere with a "Zionist" bent.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Cole responds here, saying:

    Drezner has misunderstood my point. I don't give a rat's ass whether those courses have a Zionist bent or not. I am saying that "bent" is not a relevant category of analysis when evaluating university teaching. Everybody has some bent. The question is, whether students come out of the class having learned to reason about a set of problems or not. The content is not as important, since they'll forget a lot of the content anyway, and will receive it selectively, both during and after the class. But if you teach them to take things apart and see how they work, to think about social and political causation, to see how things work together, in a particular field, then they can produce their own knowledge and understanding about it thereafter. They can also question their own and the professor's premises because they will have learned about hidden premises and how to bring them out in the open and interrogate them.

    I certainly do not disagree with Cole's point about teaching students critical and analytical skills -- but his first posting (excerpted above) on this topic was entirely a discussion about content and not method. Furthermore, Cole has misunderstood my rebuttal. When I say that, "most IR scholars are way too professionalized," what I mean is that my fellow IR profs rarely, if ever, offer only one master narrative of any event. Instead, they tend to discuss how an event or case can be explained by different theories of international relations, and how for almost every theory, there are inconvenient facts that problematize that model. This doesn't leave much room for the "Israelis good, Palestinians evil" mode of teaching (and, again, let me stress that this is in international relations classes, which were the target of Cole's lament; I can't speak to how these questions are taught in comparative politics or history classes).

    See Henry Farrell for a similar take. His punchline:

    This doesn’t at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced, which is that IR courses which cover Middle East politics usually provide readings that cover both sides of the argument....

    I suspect that Cole‚Äôs claims reflect his lack of experience with IR as it is actually practiced in the academy. Certainly he needs to provide some evidence if he wants to make the rather strong claims that he is making stick. Otherwise, he‚Äôs doing what the people who he‚Äôs (in my opinion correctly) criticizing are doing ‚Äď condemning an entire discipline wholesale on the basis of a rather shaky set of claims as to what the people in that discipline are ‚Äúreally‚ÄĚ doing in the classroom.

    posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, April 5, 2005

    Brooks and Krugman roil the waters

    Occasionally I wonder whether David Brooks and Paul Krugman call each other up and say, "Hey, let's get the blogosphere really worked up about topic X!!" I know that doesn't actually happen, but their columns from today -- Krugman's explanation for why no conservatives are in academia and vice versa, and Brooks' explanation of why conservatives are the party of big ideas -- play off each other nicely.

    Krugman's thesis:

    Claims that liberal bias keeps conservatives off college faculties almost always focus on the humanities and social sciences, where judgments about what constitutes good scholarship can seem subjective to an outsider. But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?

    One answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

    But there's also, crucially, a values issue....

    Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

    Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

    In contrast to Krugman's claim of Republican intolerance, Brooks argues that it's precisely the intra-party squabbling that keeps the GOP on its toes:

    Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with....

    Moreover, it's not only feuding that has been the key to conservative success - it's also what the feuding's about. When modern conservatism became aware of itself, conservatives were so far out of power it wasn't even worth thinking about policy prescriptions. They argued about the order of the universe, and how the social order should reflect the moral order. Different factions looked back to different philosophers - Burke, Aquinas, Hayek, Hamilton, Jefferson - to define what a just society should look like.

    Conservatives fell into the habit of being acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears and had big debates about public philosophy. That turned out to be important: nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.

    Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.

    Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it. In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.

    Combined, these two columns have certainly inspired a great deal of blog chatter. On Brooks, see Glenn Reynolds, Kieran Healy, Mark Schmitt, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum. On Krugman, see Juan Non-Volokh, Orin Kerr, Mark Kleiman, and Brad DeLong [What the hell does DeLong's post have to do with Krugman's article?--ed. Nothing, except it does offer a glimpse into the kind of mentality that is necessary to survive and thrive in the modern academy].

    As a Republican academic, I offer the following insights:

    1) At the conference I atttended this weekend, a law professor (whose name and affiliation will remain anonymous) told me flat out that a colleague had Googled a job applicant who was being seriously looked at, found the applicant's blog, found the political views on the blog to be "reactionary," and that this was a contributing factor to the decision not to hire the applicant. This, alas, confirms one of the negative externalities of scholar-blogging.

    My point? Krugman clearly believes that some beliefs about the scientific method are a necessary condition for academia, and these these views are anathema to Republicans. To which I would say: a) this is the intellectual equivalent of quoting union Democrats bashing the logic of free trade and therefore concluding that no Democrats could possibly become economists -- in other words, Krugman mistakenly attributes the attitudes of some Republicans about evolution to all Republicans; and b) the above anecdote suggests that when the broad swath of academia is liberal, receptivity to evolution ain't the only necessary belief to hold in order to get hired.

    2) If you go back and read Ron Susskind's "reality-based" New York Times Magazine cover story on the Bush administration, or think about Bush's definition of "political capital," you quickly become aware that conservatives are quite well-versed in arguments about the social construction of reality, thank you very much.

    3) I fear I may botch the point I want to make here, but it's worth roiling the waters by making it anyway. Considering how both sides of the ideological spectrum have been thinking about foreign policy since 9/11, I can't help thinking that both Krugman and Brooks have a decent point. On questions of grand strategy, almost all of the intellectual ferment has come from conservatives (though bravo to the folks at Democracy Arsenal for trying to correct that imbalance). At the same time, the conservatives in power did a God-awful job of actually implementing various parts of this strategy, in part because they they were so unwilling to question the empirical support for their foundational assumptions. In contrast, "reality-based" liberals have been correct on an awful lot of particulars, but not on the big questions.

    In other words, my ideal foreign policy is one that's forged in the grand strategy debates on the right, but implemented by the policy wonk mandarins on the left.

    There's plenty more to wrestle with here -- including the question of how Mill's On Liberty would inform one's reaction to these columns -- but I'll leave that to the readers.

    posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (5)

    Wednesday, March 30, 2005

    The decline of Harvard and the return of COFHE

    Between my junior and senior years at Williams College, I was an intern for the Office of the Provost. It was there I found out about the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a little-known organization of elite schools that pooled data on admissions, tuition, and the like. When I was working there, COFHE was twitchy about being subject to antitrust investigations, but that died down in the late eighties. As the COFHE website suggests, this is an organization that doesn't really like to advertise its existence.

    I hadn't thought about COFHE for at least a decade -- until I saw this Boston Globe story by Marcella Bombardieri:

    Student satisfaction at Harvard College ranks near the bottom of a group of 31 elite private colleges, according to an analysis of survey results that finds that Harvard students are disenchanted with the faculty and social life on campus.

    An internal Harvard memo, obtained by the Globe, provides numerical data that appear to substantiate some long-held stereotypes of Harvard: that undergraduate students often feel neglected by professors, and that they don't have as much fun as peers on many other campuses.

    The group of 31 colleges, known as the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, or COFHE, includes all eight Ivy League schools, other top research universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, and small colleges like Amherst and Wellesley.

    ''Harvard students are less satisfied with their undergraduate educations than the students at almost all of the other COFHE schools," according to the memo, dated Oct. 2004 and marked ''confidential." ''Harvard student satisfaction compares even less favorably to satisfaction at our closest peer institutions."

    The 21-page memo, from staff researchers at Harvard to academic deans, documents student dissatisfaction with faculty availability, quality of instruction, quality of advising, and student life factors such as sense of community and social life on campus.

    The raw data used in the memo come from surveys of graduating seniors in 2002, but are the most recent comparison available and are still consulted by Harvard administrators. On a five-point scale, Harvard students' overall satisfaction comes out to 3.95, compared to an average of 4.16 for the other 30 COFHE schools. Although the difference appears small, Harvard officials say they take the ''satisfaction gap" very seriously.

    Only four schools scored lower than Harvard, but the schools were not named. (COFHE data are supposed to be confidential.) The memo also notes that Harvard's ''satisfaction gap" has existed since at least 1994.

    On the five-point scale, Harvard students gave an average score of 2.92 on faculty availability, compared to an average 3.39 for the other COFHE schools. Harvard students gave a 3.16 for quality of instruction, compared to a 3.31 for the other schools, and a 2.54 for quality of advising in their major, compared to 2.86 for the other schools.

    Students gave Harvard a 2.62 for social life on campus, compared to a 2.89 for the other schools, and a 2.53 for sense of community, compared to 2.8.

    I'm dying to know where the University of Chicago came out in those rakings. If the U of C -- a place at which the logo "Where Fun Comes to Die" appears on many a t-shirt -- ranks higher than Harvard in terms of satisfaction, then Harvard really has some catching up to do.

    posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, March 24, 2005

    Noam Chomsky, egomaniacal liar

    Via Alina Stefanescu (who has a blog that's worth checking out), I stumbled across this Sunday Herald column by Alan Taylor on Noam Chomsky. The most absurd bits:

    We begin by talking about the piece in The American Prospect. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the journal of what they modestly call ‚Äėthe decent left‚Äô,‚ÄĚ he says, oozing contempt. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs kind of moderate social democrat and they see themselves as embattled. You know, caught between two powerful forces which are crushing them. One is Dick Cheney, representing the White House, the Pentagon, one of the most powerful forces in history, and the other one ‚Äď an equal and opposite force ‚Äď is me. Do you think any intellectual or academic in history has ever received such praise? I mean, it‚Äôs way beyond the Nobel Prize. I already got someone to put it on the website. It tells you something about their attitudes. They‚Äôre pathetic, frightened, cowardly little people.‚ÄĚ

    Interesting, I note, that though his face is on the magazine‚Äôs cover, his name is nowhere to be seen in the piece. ‚ÄúOh, no, no, no,‚ÄĚ Chomsky says, grinning at my naivety, ‚Äúyou can‚Äôt mention it. You can‚Äôt mention anything. You can‚Äôt read anything. All you can do is report gossip . So you heard some gossip saying that I was in favour of Pol Pot or I support Osama bin Laden. That I‚Äôm in favour of [Slobodan] Milosevic. And then you heard it at a dinner party so it must be true."....

    Chomsky, one suspects, could continue in this vein ad nauseam. Even now, at an age when most people would rather be in a gated Florida compound than constantly locking horns with the establishment, he persists in banging his head against closed doors. In the US, he is either a pariah or a prophet, ‚Äúa kind of modern-day soothsayer‚ÄĚ, according to his biographer Robert Barsky.

    ‚ÄúUnlike many leftists of his generation,‚ÄĚ says Barsky, ‚ÄúChomsky never flirted with movements or organisations that were later revealed to be totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary, anti-revolutionary, and elitist ‚Ķ He has very little to regret. His work, in fact, contains some of the most accurate analyses of this century.‚ÄĚ (emphases added).

    I'm not sure what Barsky and Chomsky are smoking, but my information about the latter's flirtation with totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary movements comes from several sources. Click here and here to read about Chomsky's errors of omission and comission with regard to the Khmer Rouge. Click here to read about Chomsky's bizarre theory of why the U.S. supported the Bosnian Muslims. And then there's Stefan Kanfer's takedown of Chomsky from the Summer 2002 City Journal:

    [Chomsky] wrote the introduction to a book by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson. Memoire en Defense maintains that Hitler‚Äôs death camps and gas chambers, even Anne Frank‚Äôs diary, are fictions, created to serve the cause of American Zionists. That was too much for Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who challenged fellow leftist Chomsky to a debate. In the debate, Dershowitz keyed in on the fact that Chomsky had described Faurisson‚Äôs conclusions as ‚Äúfindings,‚ÄĚ and claimed that they grew out of ‚Äúextensive historical research.‚ÄĚ But as numerous scholars had shown, Faurisson was not a serious scholar at all, but rather a sophist who simply ignored the mountain of documents, speeches, testimony, and other historical evidence that conflicted with his ‚Äúargument.‚ÄĚ Dershowitz noted that Chomsky also wrote the following: ‚ÄúI see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence of gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust.‚ÄĚ

    posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)