Friday, October 14, 2005

Seven days later....

Among the things I've learned in the week after tenure rejection:

1) It's good to have the blog. I very much appreciate the thoughts expressed in the comments section -- the depth of the response has been overwhelming, a nice salve on what remains an open wound.

[Yeah, but you expected the kind words, right? That's why you posted, right?--ed. The primary reason I posted was that I knew the decision would slowly ripple through the very small world of IR scholars. Since a decent chunk of that world peruses the blog, it was a quick and easy way to avoid repeating the following kind of awkward phone conversation:

DAN: Hi.

COLLEAGUE OF DAN: Hey there. How are you?

DAN: I've been better. I just got denied tenure.

COLLEAGUE OF DAN: Oh, dear, that's terrible!

DAN: Yes, it is....

(awkward pause)

COLLEAGUE OF DAN: Uh..... er.... wait, did you hear that? [Sound of phone hanging up.]

2) It's good to read other bloggers as well. I have been most grateful for the sentiments expressed across the political spectrum.

More importantly, a number of scholar-bloggers have made some excellent contriutions on the murky relationship between blogging, tenure, and scholarship -- see, in particular, Juan Non-Volokh, Ann Althouse, Sean Carroll, Timothy Burke, and Michael Bérubé.

3) It's good to have small children. Despite the occasional impulse to curl up into a fetal position and sleep most of the day, children do not really understand the concept of "having a bad day." So you have no choice but to go about your day, which is a useful check against lethargy. Plus, without getting too mushy about it, a hug from the one-year old is worth a hell of a lot more than the collective opinion of my tenured colleagues.

4) It's good to go on a 24-hour fast soon after getting denied tenure. Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. A significant aspect of the Days of Awe that lead up to the holiday is asking for forgiveness from those you have wronged over the past year. An equally significant aspect, however, is forgiving those who have wronged you.

Now I'll grant that forgiveness was not at the top of my list of emotions a week ago, but after some reflection, it's been creeping up. Among the many pieces of intelligence I've been picking up about my decision is the idea that there was little display of malice or pettiness in the discussion of my case. So I (obviously) think senior colleagues made the wrong decision -- but I can't say they made the decision in a fit of pique or envy.

Yeah, that's about all that I've learned.

[Wait just a friggin' minute. There's been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere -- and in the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Sun, and Inside Higher Ed, and the Chronicle of Higher Education -- about what (if any) role blogging played in the decision. Now that you've got some more intel, do you want to fan those particular flames?--ed. Well..... I don't want to violate any confidences, and there are some things that will remain "known unknowns" no matter what. That said, let's just say I found myself nodding unconsciously when I read these paragraphs by Sean Carroll with regard to his own case of tenure denial at the U of C:

There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is "No, it’s not blogging that prevents you from getting tenure; it’s because some people in your department (or the dean, or whatever) didn’t think that your research was good enough." The blog was not a hot topic of discussion in my case, and I’m pretty sure that many of my colleagues don’t even know what a blog is, much less have a negative opinion of mine.

The longer answer must deal with the issue of why someone doesn’t think your research was good enough. (You might wonder whether teaching and various other forms of service are also relevant; at a top-tier research university like Chicago, the answer is simply "no," and if anyone says differently they’re not being honest.) I think my own research was both solid and influential, and Dan’s looks pretty good from the perspective of a complete outsider; certainly neither of us had simply sat around for six years. But these are judgment calls, and a lot goes into that judgment. Like it or not, if you are very visibly spending a great deal of time doing things other than research, people might begin to wonder how devoted you are to the enterprise. To first order it doesn’t really matter whether that time is spent blogging or playing the banjo; some folks will think that you could have been spending that time doing research. (At second order it does matter; some people, smaller in number but undoubtedly there, feel resentful and jealous when one of their colleagues attains a certain public profile on the basis of outreach rather than research.) Of course nobody will ever say that they voted against giving tenure to someone because that person spent too much time on public outreach, or put too much effort into their teaching. But getting a reputation at being really good at that stuff could in principle make it harder to have your research accomplishments recognized — or not. It’s just impossible to tell, without access to powerful mind-reading rays that one can train on the brains of the senior faculty.

Blogging may very well be a contributor to this image of not being perfectly devoted — although, given the lack of familiarity with blogs on the part of most senior faculty, it’s very unlikely to be playing a major role. But even then it’s not blogging per se, it’s the decision to make an effort to communicate with the public. Blogging is just a technology, not a fundamentally new activity.

I can knock down simple strawmen on the question of what happened. I wasn't denied tenure because of my politics, for example. At a deeper level, however, it's just impossible to parse out well-justified motivations from poorly-justified motivations. And the sooner you and I accept that fact, the better for our emotional health.]

posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Most embarrassing Miers moment yet

From today's Washington Post story by Peter Baker and Charles Babington on the Miers nomination:

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Miers a questionnaire yesterday that included several items the panel did not ask of [Chief Justice John] Roberts. "Please describe in detail any cases or matters you addressed as an attorney or public official which involved constitutional questions," the questionnaire asks. (emphasis added)

Is it just me, or would this be like asking a nominee for Secretary of State, "Please describe in detail any foreign experience or travel you experienced"? UPDATE: Michael Froomkin supplies a more exact analogy in the comments.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (17) | 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 Kant’s 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 note—what is little-known in general—is 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 science—the 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 then—or it will never succeed.

The bombing campaign—called Operation Rolling Thunder—commenced 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 signals—or 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)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Don't worry so much about my little finger

It will come as no surprise to readers that I think Adam Smith was a very, very smart man when it came to human nature.

Reflecting on my own recent turn of events, in comparison to events in South Asia, reminds me of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part III, Chapter III:

[T]o the selfish and original passions of human nature, the loss or gain of a very small interest of our own, appears to be of vastly more importance, excites a much more passionate joy or sorrow, a much more ardent desire or aversion, than the greatest concern of another with whom we have no particular connexion. His interests, as long as they are surveyed from this station, can never be put into the balance with our own, can never restrain us from doing. whatever may tend to promote our own, how ruinous soever to him. Before we can make any proper comparison of those opposite interests, we must change our position. We must view them, neither from our own place nor yet from his, neither with our own eyes nor yet with his, but from the place and with the eyes of a third person, who has no particular connexion with either, and who judges with impartiality between us. Here, too, habit and experience have taught us to do this so easily and so readily, that we are scarce sensible that we do it; and it requires, in this case too, some degree of reflection, and even of philosophy, to convince us, how little interest we should take in the greatest concerns of our neighbour, how little we should be affected by whatever relates to him, if the sense of propriety and justice did not correct the otherwise natural inequality of our sentiments.

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. (emphasis added)

I have been very touched by the empathetic responses to my recent bit of bad luck. But a sense of propriety and justice would be good in responding to the devastation in South Asia -- not to mention other recent natural disasters.

Click here for the Red Cross' response to the Kashmiri earthquake.

UPDATE: California Yankee has a useful list of charities for quake victims.

posted by Dan at 05:30 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)