Category: Academia (page 1 of 6)

The Value Alignment Problem’s Problem

Having recently attended a workshop and conference on beneficial artificial intelligence (AI), one of the overriding concerns is how to design beneficial AI.  To do this, the AI needs to be aligned with human values, and as such is known, pace Stuart Russell, as the “Value Alignment Problem.”  It is a “problem” in the sense that however one creates an AI, the AI may try to maximize a value to the detriment of other socially useful or even noninstrumental values given the way one has to specify a value function to a machine.

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Luis Videgaray, Mexican foreign policy and the open contempt for expertise

For the past few months, I’ve been observing with horror all the cabinet appointments in the incoming Trump administration and the Theresa May government .  As someone who originally did a PhD with the intent to become a career diplomat (and yes, I realize there’s a foreign civil service pathway to achieve precisely that goal), to me expertise in top-level agencies was more than a mere technicality: it was a requirement. I wanted a PhD in international relations or political science because I wanted to be knowledgeable about the dynamics of global affairs, diplomacy and state-to-state relationships. Thus, watching Prime Minister May appoint Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and PEOTUS Trump appoint Exxon Mobil chairman Rex Tillerson to the State Department was shocking. To me, these kinds of appointments signal a complete disdain for expertise, career service and the foreign civil service structures and legacies.

Then came embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the cherry on top. Peña Nieto has rescued his long-time aide from the depths of scorn and made him Foreign Affairs minister, substituting Claudia Ruiz Massieu (the niece of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari). Videgaray was the political operator of Trump’s visit to Mexico, the former finance minister, and was ousted after Peña Nieto was heavily criticized because of his willingness to host Trump and the fact that he extended an invitation to the then Republican candidate. Trump has been openly adversarial toward Mexico and Mexicans from the beginning of his campaign, and has repeatedly said that the US under his leadership would be building a wall and that he’d make Mexico pay for it.

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ISA Conferences in Trump’s America

In conversations with friends, I quickly realized that the International Studies Association faces some significant problems ahead.  The advent of the Trump administration is likely to lead to two kinds of complications:

  • it may be hard for foreign scholars to get visas to attend the conference
  • that scholars may want to boycott conferences that take place in the US if Trump follows through on a variety of things he promised/threatened/tweeted during the campaign.

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Being a Doctoral Student in the Time of Trump: Six Challenges

This is a guest post from Ariya Hagh, Andrew Szarejko, and Laila Wahedi. All three authors are doctoral students in Georgetown University’s Department of Government. Author order is alphabetical by last name.

As we consider the broader ramifications of a Trump presidency, it is important to take a moment to consider how we in the discipline are likely to be affected so that we can adequately prepare for the coming years. If past behavior and rhetoric is any indication, which we expect it to be, the incoming Trump administration will present a unique set of challenges to doctoral students in political science.

Being aware of these challenges will help students to navigate the next four years as well as the rest of their careers and, we hope, will allow faculty to help their students along the way. Specifically (though not exhaustively), we expect reduced access to government data; less federal funding; a more difficult job market; obstacles to activism and teaching; and greater insecurity for international students. Continue reading

Kiss 2016 Goodbye: Call for Nominations for the Duckies

Thankfully, The Disaster that was 2016 will soon be behind us.  I’m sure hoping 2017 will be better!  With all the uncertainty of 2017, I am assured of one thing: ISA 2017 is right around the corner and will be AMAZING.

My favorite part of ISA for the last several years is the Online Achievement in International Studies Reception and Awarding of the Duckies!  This year, the event will be held on Thursday, February 23rd at 7:30 pm.  I’m excited about our Ignite speaker lineup – more information will be released on this soon.  The ISA Online Media Caucus (OMC) is very thankful to have the support of Sage in hosting the reception.

Now is the time to submit your nominations for the 2017 Duckies.  All nominations can be sent to onlinemediacaucus@gmail.com.  We’ll be awarding Duckies in the following categories:

Best Blog (Group) in International Studies

Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies

Best Blog Post in International Studies

Best Twitter Account

Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media

As before, these awards are intended for English-language international studies blogs and bloggers whose online output has significant scholarly content.  Award nominees or their designated representatives MUST be present at the Duckies.

January 1st, 2017 is the deadline for nominations.  The Online Media Caucus and Sage will then judge the nominations and determine finalists for public voting as necessary.  Self-nominations are encouraged.

The Death of Political Science is Greatly Exaggerated

There is a lot to think about in the aftermath of Trump’s win.  Lots of early hot talks will be wrong.  One of the first reactions has been to wonder about the value of political science (which is not the most important thing to think about but we have plenty of time and bandwidth to cover this and everything else):

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Ideas, Norms and Nonmaterial Factors in International Relations: A response to Krasner

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.

Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors

These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.

He continues

Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.

These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading

Some New and Old Guests and Permanent Ducks

We’re happy to announce some new guest Ducks, some old guests staying on, and additions to our permanent contributors.

In reverse order, Jarrod Hayes and Heather Roff-Perkins have joined us as permanent contributors. They have brought keen insights on a range of topics so we’re happy they have agreed to stay on in a permanent capacity!

Maryam Deloffre, Jeffrey Stacey, and William Kindred Winecoff continue on as guests with important insights on global health, security, and IPE respectively. Our thanks to our guests from last year — Annick, Cai, Seth, Tom, and Wendy — for their valuable contributions to the blog.

We’re pleased to announce that Lisa Gaufman, Alexis Henshaw, Charlie Martel, Akanksha Mehta, Raul Pacheco-Vega, Mira Sucharov, Lauren B. Wilcox, and Jeremy Youde are joining us as new guest bloggers.

Elizaveta Gaufman is a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen. She is the author of “Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis”.

Alexis Henshaw is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Science at Miami University (Ohio). She was previously a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bucknell University and Sweet Briar College, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. Her work on women in rebel groups and women and sexual violence has appeared in Journal of Global Security Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Sexuality and Culture, and the Journal of Human Security Studies. Her booka book, Why Women Rebel, will be coming out with Routledge in 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @Prof_Henshaw

Charles Martel has an LLM in international human rights law from the London School of Economics, where he wrote a dissertation on the political impact legal opinions on the Israeli separation barrier had on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He also has a law degree from Washington and Lee University. He served in lead roles in Senate investigations as counsel to the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. He has previously contributed to Just Security and Opinio Juris.

Akanksha Mehta is a Lecturer in International Relations and Gender at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. She has submitted her PhD in Gender Studies at the Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS. Her PhD research examines the ‘everyday’ politics and violence of women in right-wing movements, specifically looking at Hindu Nationalism in India and Israeli Zionist settlers in the West Bank, Palestine. She is broadly interested in the intersections of international relations, critical geography, political violence, war, and conflict, and gender,  feminism, and sexuality. She is also a documentary photographer and can be reached on Twitter at @SahibanInExile

Raul Pacheco-Vega is an Assistant Professor in the Public Administration Division of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching, CIDE (Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas, CIDE, AC) in Aguascalientes, Mexico. His major research focus is the study of cooperative resource governance, especially water, wastewater and sanitation, domestically and across borders. He is also the founder of the #ScholarSunday hashtag on Twitter. Follow him at @raulpacheco

Mira Sucharov is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University. She is the author of The International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (SUNY Press, 2005), and articles on Israeli-Palestinian relations and Diaspora Jewish relations, emotions and IR, pedagogy, and reflections on the craft of being a scholar-blogger. She is a frequent columnist in Haaretz and Jewish Daily Forward. Follow her on Twitter @sucharov

Lauren B. Wilcox is a University Lecturer in Gender Studies and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her work is located at the intersections of international relations, political theory, and feminist theory in investigating the consequences of thinking about bodies and embodiment in the study of international practices of violence and security. Her main research project is a book entitled, Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations, published by Oxford University Press, 2015.

Jeremy Youde is a Fellow/Senior Lecturer at Australian National University. His research focuses on questions of global health governance and global health politics. He is the author of three books and co-editor of two recently edited volumes. He has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in a wide variety of outlets and is a member of the editorial board of Global Health Governance. Follow him on Twitter at @jeremyoude

Open Thread on International Development Syllabi

In previous posts on the environment and health, I highlighted lacunae in the field, which I attributed in part to there being few courses in those substantive areas. By providing a few exemplar syllabi, I thought more of us might find it easier to offer courses on those topics. At the very least, some might find inspiration for courses and mine these syllabi for readings.

Another potentially under-studied area is international development. Here, there may be more course offerings and crossover with IPE, but I’m going to start an open thread with development syllabi because I can. Again, while I had graduate training in IPE,  my knowledge of international development comes from a second bachelor’s degree in England, my experience in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and a subsequent internship at the Multilateral Investment Fund. Most of my development specific knowledge I picked up along the way.

I still think this is an understudied area in political science, though the politics of foreign aid and international organizations do get some coverage. My syllabus on the topic is gear towards MA students and helping them become better practitioners, particularly through manipulation of data and simple Excel graphical applications. 2016 syllabus here.

I’ll post additional exemplar syllabi in the comments thread.

Empathy, Envy and Justice: The Real Trouble for Algorithm Bias

Rousseau once remarked that “It is, therefore, very certain that compassion is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating the activity of self-esteem in each individual, contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species” (Discourses on Inequality).  Indeed, it is compassion, and not “reason” that keeps this frail species progressing.   Yet, this ability to be compassionate, which is by its very nature an other-regarding ability, is (ironically) the different side to the same coin: comparison.  Comparison, or perhaps “reflection on certain relations” (e.g. small/big; hard/soft; fast/slow; scared/bold), also has the different and degenerative features of pride and envy.  These twin vices, for Rousseau, are the root of much of the evils in this world.  They are tempered by compassion, but they engender the greatest forms of inequality and injustice in this world.

Rousseau’s insights ought to ring true in our ears today, particularly as we attempt to create artificial intelligences to overtake or mediate many of our social relations.  Recent attention given to “algorithm bias,” where the algorithm for a given task draws from either biased assumptions or biased training data yielding discriminatory results, I would argue is working the problem of reducing bias from the wrong direction.  Many, the White House included, are presently paying much attention about how to eliminate algorithmic bias, or in some instance to solve the “value alignment problem,” thereby indirectly eliminating it.   Why does this matter?  Allow me a brief technological interlude on machine learning and AI to illustrate why eliminating this bias (a la Rousseau) is impossible.

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Big Theory? The Past Is Not What You Think It Is

Today, Dan Drezner pulled on my chain more effectively than damn near any other scholar I respect.  I should keep quiet (not my strength) as I have an article* I am revising for resubmission that addresses this very argument–that big IR theory has gone away somehow.  But I cannot help but respond, partly because this article may not make it past the next stage and partly because by the time it does, people will have moved on (or not, as this argument keeps coming up).

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Unsolicited Job Talk Advice

Seems to be the time of year when folks post their advice for aspiring professors on how to succestressed-ducked at the job talk.   While there are other parts of the process–being interviewed one on one by various members of the department or getting grilled by a committee (something that happens far more in Canada than in the US), the most important (and probably not deservedly so)* part of the “fly-out” is giving a talk based on one’s research and responding in the Q&A.

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Global Environmental Governance Syllabi – Open Thread

As I blogged earlier today, climate change has not gotten sufficient attention from political scientists. Part of the problem is that few people teach graduate classes on the environment. I didn’t take one in graduate school and basically had to teach myself the topic. This past spring, I taught a full 15 week graduate class for MA students on global environmental governance, expanding a previous global health and environment class in to two separate classes.

There are potentially large start-up costs for someone who wants to teach a class in this space. So, I’m going to start an open thread and collect some syllabi, starting with mine.  If you know of good graduate or undergraduate syllabi on the global environment, post a link in the comments thread. I’ll edit this post periodically and feature them here.

My syllabus

Let’s hope that five years from now that there are more people teaching classes in this space, which I hope should generate some new interest in dissertation projects on the environment. Watch this space.

Climate Change and #APSA2016

With the G20 set to commence in Hangzhou, the United States and China today ratified the Paris Agreement, making it increasingly likely that it will enter into force by year’s end. This is a momentous occasion in climate diplomacy and speaks to the increasing political salience of this topic.

Yesterday, here at APSA, there was a fantastic roundtable on what political science has to say about this issue. The roundtable included some of the leading up and coming scholars writing about climate change including Jennifer Hadden, Johannes Urpelainen, Jessica Green, David Konisky, and Steven Vanderheiden.

Several of us Live-tweeted the event, which I’ve Storify-ied below. The panelists identified some of the important contributions in this space from David Victor, Matthew Hoffmann, Sikina Jinnah, Michelle Betsill, Robyn Eckersley,  among others.

They also identified big questions that merit more attention such as the need for more research on the politics of adaptation and maladaptation, studies of comparative domestic climate politics particularly in emerging economies, more research to leverage the extensive body of work on natural disasters, and understanding how public opinion can change and lead to behavior change.

The panelists also lamented how few scholars write on energy and the environment as their core issue. Jessica Green and Tom Hale have a forthcoming piece in PS that examines TRIP data to support these claims. Panelists talked about the challenges for PhD students to choose this line of work without senior faculty teaching and writing to pave the way and reliable funding to support academic work in this space. Interestingly, universities, other funders, and other disciplines are perhaps more interested than political scientists are in studying climate change.

The topic’s interdisciplinary nature and heavy start-up costs pose additional barriers to entry, but the discipline risks being left behind in what panelists regard as the overarching political challenge for the planet going forward. I hope junior scholars will see this is an opportunity for important research because this issue is not going away. See my Storify-ied tweets after the jump. Continue reading

Twitter auto-post attempt #2

Are we in business? Believe so. See you at APSA. Join us for the Tweetup!

APSA Tweetup

As has become a tradition, political scientists who are active on twitter are meeting up at the APSA: Thursday, beer rubber duck7pm at Pennsylvania 6, a nearby bar.  The idea is to get a chance to chat with people you may “know” online but have not met in person.   I hope to see you there.

 

 

Improvised Explosive Robots

A common argument made in favor of the use of robotics to deliver (lethal) force is that the violence used is mediated in such a way that it naturally de-escalates a situation.  In some versions, this is due to the fact that the “robot doesn’t feel emotions,” and so is not subject to fear or anger.  In other strands, the argument is that due to distance in time and space, human operators are able to take in more information and make better judgments, including to use less than lethal or nonlethal force.  These debates have, up until now, mostly occurred with regards to armed conflict.  However, with the Dallas police chief’s decision to use a bomb disposal robot to deliver lethal force to the Dallas gunman, we are now at a new dimension of this discussion: domestic policing.

Now, I am not privy to all of the details of the Dallas police force, nor am I going to argue that the decision to use lethal force against Micah Johnson was not justified.  The ethics of self- and other-defense would argue that the Mr. Johnson’s actions and continued posturing of a lethal and imminent threat meant that officers were justified in using lethal force to protect themselves and the wider community.   Moreover, state and federal law allows officers to use “reasonable” amounts of force, and not merely the minimal amount of force to carry out their duties.   Thus I am not going to argue the ethics or the legality of the use of a robot to deliver a lethal blast to an imminent threat.

What is of concern, however, is how the arguments used in favor of increased use of robotics in situations of policing (or war) fail to take into consideration psychological and empirical facts.  If we take these into account, what we might glean is that the trend actually goes in the other direction: that the availability and use of robotics may actually escalate the level of force used by officers.

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Jolie-Pitt, Trump and Bono Walk Into a LSE Classroom: why dedication and commitment isn’t expertise


Oh man, I really didn’t want to write about Angelina Jolie Pitt  (AJP) and her damn LSE appointment. When I heard the news it just made me feel tired. But there has been an interesting/frustrating  debate emerging and I just can’t keep my yap shut- even on maternity leave. In his post on the topic, Dan Drezner asks us to all calm the F down; he assures us that policy schools have always been opportunistic and brought in pretty unqualified but interesting folks to teach (well, he sort of says that). The Aidnography post, Why you should be critical of Professor Angelina Jolie Pitt’s LSE gig does a great job of putting the appointment into the broader context of hollywood obsession with poverty/global race relations/the corporate university. Just today, Laura Shepherd brings much more nuance to the debate in her Disorder of Things post. She acknowledges a loooong list of reasons we might hate the idea of Jolie Pitt as Professor, but argues that ultimately its not fair to focus on her beauty/celebrity and bypass her experience and cred.

I haven’t actually read many critiques that focus on AJP’s beauty or celebrity- or at least not exclusively. For me, the frustrating thing has been the undue focus on whether AJP is sincere/dedicated enough. Those that support AJP argue that her long-standing dedication and commitment is currency for expertise, while those who oppose AJP try to undercut her ‘true’ dedication, arguing that her likely narcissistic motivations make her unqualified to teach gender and war. The arguments boil down to: ‘she’s sooo amazing and how could anyone do such difficult and important work and not have some expertise to offer’ VERSUS ‘these roles satisfy her own ego/image and she probably doesn’t even recycle.’  To be honest, I could give a flying F about AJP’s dedication. Donald Trump believes he is dedicated to securing America; clearly, dedication does not equal expertise. So let’s move on to experience.

Shepherd reminds readers that AJP has been special envoy and ambassador and been on 50+ field trips. I’m sure there is a whole host of other honors, roles, trips, and experiences AJP has had; however, offering these details as evidence that she deserves more credit and that she is, indeed, some form of expert is an epic stretch.  Here are 3 reasons why we cannot read AJP’s cv as relevant Professorial experience and 1 argument about why, ultimately, the ‘real’ argument is about whether enlightenment, neocolonial, patronising awareness raising looks better when done by AJP, Bono, or Trump.  Continue reading

Selling Out to the Enemy of Open Access

Yesterday, news quickly spread that the Social Science Research Network was bought by Elsevier.  This quickly caused an uproar on twitter.  Why?  The SSRN was established to provide a place for social scientists to share their work in progress.  Elsevier is one of the most rapacious rent-seeking profitable publishers of academic journals.

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