As I gathered content today for my upcoming ISA presentation on social media, I was delighted to discover that my “Blog Wars” video from few years back (a response to a theory-policy debate stirred up by Joseph Nye and Dan Drezner) is cited in an academic paper as an actual contribution to the debate!

The paper itself is quite good: Bradley Parks and Alena Stern conduct one of the few empirical studies I’m aware of how scholars actually interface with the world of policy. They use as a hook the debate over policy relevance sparked off by Joseph Nye’s “Scholars on the Sidelines?” op-ed back in 2009, Dan’s response and the following ripostes by Jim Vreeland and Raj Desai, and others. Unlike most of these scholars and prior literature on the subject, they test causal propositions rather than engage in prescriptive argument, with rather interesting findings. In particular, they show that leaving academia for policy work results in a likelihood of later publishing in policy journals, whereas mere consulting doesn’t apparently impact scholars’ likelihood of publishing outside the academy.

I have only one quibble with their argument, which is that they can’t really tell us whether “in-and-outers” publish in policy journals because they want to more than “moonlighters” or whether both groups attempt to do so but only “in-and-outers” have mastered the requisite skills. Or maybe both. The answer is relevant to thinking about how to restructure doctoral studies in the profession to both incentivize and train young political scientists for this type of technical writing, something I’m experimenting at present. In general, however, this is precisely the kind of work I’ve been telling my students we need to see in IR journals: empirical studies of the discipline itself and how it interfaces with the real world. Kudos to the authors.

Two additional things about this paper, and in particular the debate the authors use as a jumping off point:

1) the citations in this paper itself signal that user-generated media (blog conversations, blog comments, tweets and YouTube videos) are being genuinely interpreted as academic contributions these days, and that’s a fascinating shift that frankly I think has some bearing on the closing of the theory-policy divide since the use of social media by academics has broadened our audiences, changed our discourse and altered our communication styles. (I guess it’s good that MLA just came out with its guidelines on how to properly cite tweets: here. Not sure when they’ll have rules on YouTube videos, although to be fair the authors didn’t cite the video itself but rather the blog post where I disseminated it.)

2) the satirical and geeky nature of that debate as it played out in the blogosphere when it occurred strikes me as itself an interesting counter-point to David Newsom’s claim way back that

“IR scholars appear caught up in an elite culture in which labels, categories and even the humor have meaning ‘for members only’… they speak to each other rather than a wider public.”

I hypothesize that the increasing use of pop culture allegories and satirical arguments to make political points is an example of the exact opposite – the widening of academic and policy discourse to express debates through humor that appeals to a much broader audience.

However these are only hypotheses, since unlike Parks and Stern I’ve not constructed a research design to investigate whether they’re actually true. Whether they are (and whether or not that’s a good thing on balance) will have to be explored by future studies. But if you want to hear my rambling thoughts on the subject thus far, come to Henry Farrell’s roundtable on “Transnational Politics and the Information Age” Sunday April 1 at 1:45 at the International Studies Association Annual Conference. (Or, simply wait for the post-conference YouTube version, which you can obviously cite to your heart’s content.)