Changing the discipline through political economy, bodies, and Open Educational Resources

This is a guest post from Matt Evans (mevans8@nwacc.edu), who is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwest Arkansas Community College. His words represent his own opinions as an individual, and not (necessarily) his employer. This is the fifth in the series on changing the field. #IRChange [i]

The answer for change is simple:

Political Scientists should consider how our ideas, practices, and institutions (dis)able our students financially; and then address these problems through our politics without retreat.

The Problem

At my first in-person teaching job, the department chair chose the books (before I was hired for the job). When I taught the first class, I told students to return the books and get refunds from the bookstore. Anything students needed, they would get as PDFs in the course shell. Other jobs have compelled me (through various institutional constraints) to use and keep the same for-profit textbook as the other full-time teacher of the course.

In these classes, students frequently tell me that they cannot buy the textbook immediately (because they are waiting on a paycheck or more financial aid disbursement) and ask for an extension on the first assignment. At other times, students drop the course (and sometimes tell me about it after the fact). To be fair, whether I control the textbook choice or not, students find themselves in a series of difficult economic situations – that the book is one ingredient in their retention, advancement, and intellectual growth – and I help them find resources to help them eat, not be evicted from their home, or to prevent homeless (because critical theory compels me so).

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The Decision Letter, Part I

Public Domain — From Pixabay

For caveats and background, see my introductory post.

Editors write a lot of decision letters. At high-volume journals, editors write so many decision letters that it can become a tedious grind. For authors, though, the information communicated in decision letters matters enormously. It can affect their job prospects, salaries, and chances of advancement. Of course, authors, especially in the moment, overestimate the significance of any single journal decision. But receiving a rejection, revise-and-resubmit invitation, or an acceptance can certainly feel like a defining event. This is especially the case for graduate students and junior academics, who are less experienced in, and more vulnerable to, the vagaries of the review process.

This makes decision letters the single most consequential way that editors communicate with authors. The same is true for referees. We don’t spend a lot of time teaching academics how to craft referees reports. There is, at best, limited consensus about what makes for a good review. So decision letters also become an important way to send cues to referees about the quality of their reports.

If you think about it, all of this places a heavy burden on editors. That burden only seems heavier when we consider how arbitrary and capricious the peer-review process can be

Yeah. Okay. I’m being a bit melodramatic. Editors don’t perform literal surgery. They don’t design airplanes. The stakes are what they are. But I stand by the underlying sentiment: editors have a responsibility to take decision letters very seriously.

In this post, I’ll focus on general issues. In Part II, I’ll elaborate on them in the context of the specific kinds of decision letters.

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What’s in a Wink? The Case for Thick Description

This is a guest post from James Guild who is a PhD candidate in political economy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. His research interest is economic growth and infrastructure development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and his work has appeared in The Diplomat, Jakarta Post and New Mandala. Follow him on Twitter @jamesjguild

This is the fourth in the series on changing the field. #IRChange

The dominance of rational-positivist approaches to modern social science, particularly in the United States, has tended to privilege research designs featuring deductive hypotheses that can be rigorously tested, typically with large-n datasets. This means the role of culture, society and history is often situated lower on the methodological hierarchy. I think many would agree that culture and socially constructed meaning are important variables in understanding political and economic outcomes; but there is little consensus on how to define or measure them, which makes them tricky analytical concepts.

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Scary Dragon or Cuddly Panda? Why Role Change Matters for Hegemony in Asia

The following is a guest post by Dr. Daniel Nicholls. Daniel Nicholls is an adjunct professor of IR at ESADE and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. His research looks at the interplay between relational structures, roles and hierarchy.  

In an interesting piece on the Japan-South Korea spat in Foreign Affairs, Bonnie S. Glaser and Oriana Skylar Mastro argue that by failing to mediate the dispute between the keystones of its Asian alliance system, the US risks losing regional influence to a fast-moving and wily China. In short, if Washington doesn’t jump in as a relationship counselor, then China will. Whilst the arguments are couched in terms of diplomacy and strategy rather than IR theory, it doesn’t take an elbow-patched journal editor to spot the clear theoretical subtext of political influence as a consequence of relational ties and role-structures.

In line with network approaches, if China can intensify relational ties around itself, it will pull US allies towards it, leaving the US relationally isolated, at least in relative terms, and this will affect Washington’s scope for influence. It is, after all, difficult to convince people of your worth when they’re all listening to someone else, and by buddying up with its East Asian neighbors, China will be more involved in decisions on who does what in the region. US security guarantees are still highly coveted, so nobody is likely to start turning down dinner invitations from their neighborhood security guarantor just yet. But Asian states do find it increasingly difficult to square their desire for US security with their quest for Chinese market access, and Washington’s aloof approach to intra-regional dynamics may generate switching effects which nudge its dazed allies a bit further down the road towards China’s embrace.

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Reflections on Journal Editing: Caveats

Josh asked me if I would write a series of posts at the Duck of Minerva reflecting on my time editing International Studies Quarterly (ISQ). I agreed.

This post is less a reflection that some background and caveats. I figure that by collecting them in a single post, I won’t have to junk up subsequent entires in this series. I’ll just refer back to what I’ve written here.

Background. I formally edited ISQ from 2014-2018, although my team started to handle new manuscripts in October of 2013. I headed up a very large team. At peak, it included as many as fourteen academic editors and two managing editors. So my job was as much about oversight as about handling specific submissions. I won’t bore readers with a long discussion of process. You can read about our procedures in our annual reports.

ISQ is the “flagship” journal of the International Studies Association (ISA). This matters for three reasons.

First, “association journals” (such as ISQ) are answerable to external leadership. Their editors depend on the explicit or tacit support of that leadership when it comes to journal policy. Some policies are mandated by the association.

Second, association journals have a duty to the various constituencies of their parent organization. In principle, ISQ should be open to any of the kind of work produced by ISA’s intellectually and geographically diverse membership. It therefore has a responsibility to represent different methods, theoretical frameworks, and substantive areas of research.

Third, although ISQ has middling rankings in some indices—such as the infamous “Impact Factor”—it scores well on subjective rankings of prestige and enjoys significant visibility.

The combination of ISQ‘s relative pluralism and its visibility mean that, as far as I know, it receives more submissions than any other peer-reviewed journal in international studies. But it also has a lot of space, so while it received 650+ submissions in my final year as lead editor, our acceptance rates hovered around 10-12%.

Some Caveats. My observations about the peer-review process and journal publishing are based on a single journal in a single field. They also come from a discrete slice of time. Overall submissions at international-studies journals continue to increase. The field continues to globalize. Expectations for scholarly publishing continue to evolve. All of this means that while some of my views may remain relevant for years, others are likely to become quickly outdated.

In my next post, I’ll start talking substance.

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Further Reflections on Assholery: How Important is Denmark to NATO?

This is a guest post from Paul Poast, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Earlier this spring, Poast wrote a post about the Asshole Theory of US Foreign Policy and the structural conditions that may facilitate the United States playing the role of a jerk on the international stage.

In light of President Trump’s overtures to buy Greenland from Denmark, Poast wrote a thread on Twitter about Denmark’s importance to NATO, suggesting why President Trump’s suggestion might be considered an asshole move.

What follows is an embedded thread using ThreaderApp. This is part II in the occasional #AssholeUSFP series. [Note: If full thread isn’t visible to you, click on the first thread and it will open in a new window. Full thread should be visible if you have a Threaderapp account. We’ll experiment with embedding features…]

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What Is . . . and Isn’t . . . a Norm?

The Norm Concept

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck, comes from Michelle Jurkovich, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a 2019-2020 Public Engagement Fellow with Bridging the Gap and an alumna of BTG’s International Policy Summer Institute. During 2017-2018, she was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology fellow working in the Office of Food for Peace at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

We talk about norms a great deal in international relations (IR) scholarship — but what are the edges of this crucial concept? In a recent article in International Studies Review (“What isn’t a norm?” – ungated until September 21), I argue that in using the term in increasingly flexible ways, scholars have blurred important differences between norms, supererogatory standards, moral principles, and formal law.

Understanding differences among these concepts enables us to better analyze the social and normative environment in which important international actors are working. Enhancing the conceptual toolkit we use to make sense of the social world to encompass more than just the “norm” also helps to highlight potential areas of conceptual stretching, which, as Sartori (1970) warned, may lead to false equivalence. 

The article is a conceptual piece, but it was driven by a desire to understand some important real world challenges. Why is it so difficult to effectively use shaming strategies around some global problems (like hunger or homelessness) that everyone agrees are morally repugnant? While many human rights are codified in law, are all human rights codified in law also governed by norms? And if they aren’t, how can we make sense of the social environment around them? (My forthcoming book Feeding the Hungry: Blame Diffusion in International Anti-Hunger Advocacy with Cornell University Press tackles these issues with greater depth.)

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If you mention the evangelical delegation to Saudi Arabia, I’d have to ask which one

The other day, Emily McFarlan Miller–a journalist with Religion News Service–noted a sense of deja vu. The AP had an article on a delegation of US evangelicals who travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s Crown Prince (and effective ruler). The deja vu was because there was a similar delegation–with some of the same individuals–last year, which she wrote about at the time. These repeated visits, and the visitors’ response to the conservative Islamic Kingdom, are surprising, and may represent a shift in how evangelical elites view Saudi Arabia.

The 2018 visit took place shortly after the (technically) alleged (but, come on) assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and was led by a US man who’d previously praised MbS as a sincere reformer. Noteworthy individuals on the trip included former Congresswomen Michele Bachmann and Johnnie Moore, one of Trump’s top evangelical advisers and a recent appointee to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. After returning, he praised MbS’ reforms and “support for moderate Muslim rule.”

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Announcing Our New Guest Ducks

We are pleased to announce our slate of new guest Ducks for the fall semester and beyond. We are also delighted to announce that longtime guest blogger Lisa Gaufman has joined us on a permanent basis.

We have two terrific guests from last year, Peter Henne and Luke Perez, who are staying on for the year. Luke has moved to Arizona State where he has started as an Assistant Professor so kudos to him!

We are also extending our partnership with the Bridging the Gap project which will periodically have folks from their academic network post here on a dedicated channel. Bridging the Gap is a terrific initiative for academics interesting policy and practice. They host annual workshops for graduate students and faculty to learn about how to make academic work relevant to policy audiences. Apply to participate if you haven’t already!

Our new guests include Evren Eken, Meg Guliford, Anne Harrington, Cullen Hendrix, Alexandra Stark, and Ajay Verghese. Read more about them below!

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Bringing Indigenous Experiences into International Relations

This is a guest post from Andrew A. Szarejko who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, where his research focuses on the origins of U.S. wars with Native nations. You may reach him at andrewszarejko@gmail.com or on Twitter @Szarejko.

This is the third in our series on changing the field. Parts 1 and 2 are linked here. More submissions welcome! #IRChange

Many scholars of International Relations (IR), especially in the past couple decades, have sought to study and teach about a more diverse set of political actors to counter-act the biases of a relatively homogeneous professoriate. In a word, this has been described as an effort to decolonize IR. As was noted in a 2016 symposium in Perspectives on Politics, however, political scientists still all too frequently ignore indigenous groups—including Native nations in the United States, on which I will tend to focus here (for a note on terminology, see the Native American Journalists Association’s reporting guidelines).

This neglect has been especially evident in International Relations. In this post, I will make the case that IR as a subfield currently lags behind other subfields in examining indigenous experiences and that IR scholars ought to be doing more of this, and I will describe how one might bring such actors into research and teaching alike. 

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Changing the Atmosphere in Political Science: Ten Key Political Questions about Climate Change

We’re re-upping this guest post as part of our series on changing the field. #IRChange. This is the second post (the first is here).

This is a guest post from several authors including:

Climate change is arguably the most urgent problem facing humankind. It is not a single policy problem, but rather pervades all aspects of state and society – affecting everything from geopolitics to local planning. Yet, one is hard pressed to reach this conclusion given the current landscape of political science.

Excellent work appears occasionally in premier journals on the variety of political questions that climate change raises.  But given the centrality of politics in contributing and responding to the climate change problem, there is not enough of this work and — critically — much of it occurs outside the central discourses and journals of our discipline. Some political scientists are instead engaging climate change debates in policymaking, assessment and public venues. For example, Science and Nature seem to value contributions by political scientists. But what of our discipline? How is it responding to climate change?

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Early lessons from a survey on bias in family formation in academia

The following is a guest post by Leah C. Windsor and Kerry F. Crawford. Windsor is a Research Assistant Professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at The University of Memphis. Crawford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at James Madison University. To take their survey, visit: https://tinyurl.com/drparentsurvey

This is the first in the series on changing the field of international relations. #IRChange

Academic families – especially dual-career spouses – with young children are struggling in more specific and remediable ways than we thought when we first launched our “Bias in Family Formation in Academia” survey last year. As parents of young children ourselves, we have a front row seat to competing demands of the early career and early childhood years.

We vastly underestimated the pervasiveness and ubiquity of obstacles, and the repetitive nature of the stories other academic parents wrote. We kept encountering the same problems: departmental and institutional refusal to accommodate legally-mandated family leave requests; hostile and toxic work environments for parents, especially mothers; and the unobservable emotional and physical toll of becoming parents, like fertility challenges, tough pregnancies and post-partum phases, and complicated adoptions.

The survey is part of a larger book project that recounts personal narratives of parents – mostly mothers – in their full-time roles as doctor and mom. Much has been written on the “leaky pipeline” whereby women exit the profession at higher rates than men, and on the “work-life balance” with competing suggestions of leaning in, tenure time-outs, and the (in)ability of women to “have it all.” We think of the pipeline as more of a “chutes and ladders” board game, where benefits of mentorship and supportive institutions can improve gender parity in the profession, elevating parents up the tenure-track ladder.

While there is good reason to believe that overall the situation is improving, what we find is that too many of the solutions focus on individual-level fixes, rather than addressing the systemic origins of the problems. Policies about family formation should be ubiquitously, transparently, and equitably communicated to faculty, and FMLA provisions should be considered the bare minimum in order to achieve a culture change of supporting academic families.

The following are themes and lessons – generally about U.S.-based institutions – we have identified through the 100-question survey of academic parents:

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Ranking Tenure Candidates? No Thanks

Sunday mornings are for tenure reviews.  Huh?  I am reading stuff to evaluate a scholar for whether he/she is worthy of tenure.  This is a standard part of the tenure process–to have outside scholars read a bunch of a candidate’s work and then indicate whether they have made a significant contribution and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  As I have written elsewhere, this is a fair amount of work, almost always unpaid.  So, I have gotten a bit cranky when I do it these days.

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Why Audiences (Mostly) Don’t Care about Reputation in Foreign Policy

This is a guest post from William G. Nomikos, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter @wnomikos.

Recent relations between North Korea and the United States suggest a puzzle for International Relations. The Trump administration has relied on what it has called a “maximum pressure” campaign—a set of sections and threats of military escalation—to prevent North Korean nuclear missile tests and to roll back North Korean nuclear proliferation.

According to the prominent theory of International Relations known as “audience costs,” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should take maximum pressure threats seriously. President Donald Trump is facing a challenging re-election campaign and voters should punish him if he makes a threat but subsequently backs down. Yet North Korea has shown very little signs of taking these threats seriously. If anything, North Korea has advanced its nuclear weapons program.

What explains this divergence between a well-established theory, a robust set of empirical evidence and North Korea-U.S. relations? Do audiences care about reputation in foreign policy? Probably not. In my recently published research with Nicholas Sambanis, we find that domestic audiences care more about a leader’s perceived competence than their ability to manage the nation’s reputation. In this study, we identify a new mechanism by which audiences evaluate leaders in foreign policy crises and find that existing research overestimates “audience costs.”

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Call for Guest Posts: How Should the Discipline Change?

We are going to begin calls for contributions to thematic series. The Monkey Cage for example had a terrific series on the gender gap in political science.

The first in our call for contributions is for guest posts on how the discipline–broadly understood as international relations–should change. We will be using the hashtag #IRchange. This can be in terms of publishing, teaching, research, methods, whatever changes you think are needed. We have run a number of posts on the need for more environmental and climate change research, including this recent multi-author post on how the wider field could explore important questions related to climate change.

How should international relations research be conducted, taught, researched? What are the important and understudied areas or questions? Are there methods that the field isn’t deploying or not nearly enough? Whose work merits more attention? How should syllabi change? How should we think about hiring? What is our relevance to practice and wider world? What kinds of work should count towards tenure? Lots of these kinds of questions and more.

We are certain many of you have outstanding ideas. Send me or any of the permanent contributors a pitch or post. We are looking in the 800-1500 word range. Hyperlink your sources. If you haven’t written a blog post before, take a look at a few just to get a handle on the format.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Wait…what about Iran?

Remember this summer, when we were about to go to war with Iran? Iran seized an oil tanker passing through the Persian Gulf. Iran also shot down a US drone. The United States responded by shooting down an Iranian drone flying near a US ship, and nearly launching an air strike against Iran. The United States also expanded sanctions on Iran.

With Trump’s behavior becoming…unpredictable, and hawkish advisers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo seemingly ascendant in the Administration, some sort of military clash appeared likely. But at some point this likely event kind of…faded away. It’s hard to point to a specific moment–someone backing down, tensions defusing dramatically. The issue just slipped away.

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Moscow in the Meddle

Between the burning Amazon and burning Siberia, Brexit clustercoitus and Hurricane Dorian, there is still some space in the tired news cycle for the tear gas in Hong Kong and broken limbs in Moscow protests. Elections to the local parliament in Moscow have proved unexpectedly difficult for the ruling vertical: by refusing to register oppositional candidates for made-up reasons, the election committee and the Mayor’s office drastically underestimated mobilisation capabilities of the opposition. Result: over a month and a half of “unsanctioned” protests in the city center, police brutality, several high-profile arrests and mass prosecution of random bystanders who happened to be in the melee. 

The protests in Moscow are a very local thing, but they are also indicative of a growing dissatisfaction among the Russian population that has manifested in region-specific unsanctioned protests that usually start with seemingly unpolitical issues: landfills in Arkhangelsk and Moscow region, a mall fire in Kemerovo, church construction in Yekaterinburg. Unlike the 2011-2012 protest wave that spread all over Russia, or the more recent pension reform outcry or anti-corruption rally against Prime-Minister Medvedev in 2017, these protests are about several oppositional candidates to the local Moscow parliament – a body with relatively little clout. Moscow electoral committee consistently refused to register oppositional candidates citing allegedly falsified citizen signatures, while the ensued brutal crackdown of the protests only added fuel to the fire. 

Live footage of violent arrests, an absolute insane number of police forces and National Guard that most likely outnumbered the protesters in spades, repressive measures by the universities (!) whose students were arrested for the rally organization, did not make Moscow or Russia look good. Moreover, there is an important difference between Hong Kong and Moscow: Russian protesters are consciously trying not to block public transportation routes and the work of governmental buildings or shops, so the accusation of “mass riots” and property damage that is supposed to justify the “yellow vest” level of police brutality is especially galling. 

What do Russian media cry? They cry wolf. I mean, West. For starters, the American Embassy allegedly published the protesters’ route and thus was involved in the organization of the rally. The provocateurs obviously strived for a “brutal and striking image” for domestic audience and for the politicians in the West. And most protesters are “not registered in Moscow” anyway, “were educated in the American young leader program” and were “controlled by their curators in social media”, “many from Ukraine” in order to organize a “Maidan” in Russia. Also, didn’t you know that you have similar protest legislation in Sweden and the UK?!

The problem with this narrative is that it is quickly falling apart. Some arrested protesters were let go. Some independent candidates got registered. Even some of Putin’s allies are saying that not letting real opposition run in the Moscow election is dangerous, which probably means that the cliques in Putin’s circle haven’t agreed on one course of action in the face of growing popular discontent.  There are no burnt cars or smashed shop windows, but there are distraught parents of arrested students standing in one-person pickets in front of the Mayor’s Office. And that’s one brutal and striking image. 

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Pompeo’s New Commission on Unalienable Rights Falls Short, But Represents a Real Opportunity

The following is a guest post by Dr. Ryan M. Welch. Dr. Welch is Assistant Professor at the University of Tampa who specializes in human rights institutions and is a former member of the Maricopa County Human Rights Committee.

Recently, the State Department created a human rights commission called the Commission on Unalienable Rights (hereinafter: the Commission).  Like an oil industry lobbyist heading the Department of Interior, a climate skeptic atop the EPA, and a charter school advocate running the public education department, most believe this another cynical instance of an institution being used to dismantle its own raison d’être .  Pompeo’s statements and the appointed chair’s research agenda suggest those worries are well-founded.  Specifically, most worry that the Commission will be used to redefine rights through a natural law lens that will limit LGBTQ+, reproductive, social, and economic rights.  I tend to agree.  Given the adminstration’s relatively poor human rights record, it is incumbent upon them to prove us wrong.  If it wishes to do so, the current Commission can do what other domestic human rights institutions do when they are serious about human rights – comply with the Paris Principles.   Doing so would not only better protect human rights, but also enhance the U.S. international standing.  Below I outline how the Commission as currently conceived stacks up to the Principles.

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Reanimating the Minerva Cast

In the Fall semester we will be reanimating the podcast series that Grand Duck Dan initiated a few several years ago. As in the original, the podcast will largely be conversations with academics, engaging them on their past and current work as well as their views on important unanswered or underaddressed questions and future of the discipline. But as we sketch out a general template for the conversations we would like to hear from you. Who would you like to see on the podcast? What kind of questions/topics would you like to see answered/raised? Do you have any other suggestions that would help make the podcast must-listen? Leave thoughts below in the comments, email the permanent contributors or me (Jarrod.Hayes@gmail.com), or @ me on Twitter @jarrodnhayes. 

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Choosing a Cover For Your New Book

This is a guest post from Bear Braumoeller, Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_BearB

Graduate study in the social sciences is overwhelmingly oriented toward the process of researching and writing a dissertation that will become a book. We very rarely talk about any other aspect of publishing—how to approach an editor, how to design a book with a specific audience in mind, or how to (gasp!) market a book.

The latter topic came to mind recently when Professor Matthew Shugart complimented the cover of my forthcoming book and asked what the story was behind it. That question prompted enough discussion that Josh Busby asked me to go into in more detail in a post for Duck of Minerva, in case the answers are of use to other authors who are facing this question.

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