Friday, October 14, 2005
Seven days later....
Among the things I've learned in the week after tenure rejection:
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:
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.]
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.