Viking Duck

  • Discussion has picked up again on Elizabeth Saunders’ guest post, “How Would Al Gore Have Fought the Iraq War.” I think it worth clarifying that Elizabeth’s piece does, as I read it, two things. First, it extends the debate by asking, in essence, “if we believe that parallel-universe President Gore would have launched an attack against Iraq, what would that war have been like?” She concludes that it might have been better prosecuted than the real-world Bush version. Second, she undercuts the thesis of the book by pointing to ex ante evidence that Gore would have engaged in different cost-benefit calculations abou the war itself.
  • I agree, however, that the “Gore invades Iraq” argument is very difficult to sustain, as I discussed in comments at The Glittering Eye way back in 2007. The politics of this debate are interesting, though. In essence, now that everyone pretty much agrees that invading Iraq was a bad idea for the United States, the argument shifts from “look at how superior the Bush Administration is because it is willing to confront the threat posed by Saddam Hussein” to “but Democrats would have done it as well.”
  • Reza Aslan’s interview with Fox News anchor Lauren Green has gotten a lot of discussion along the lines of ‘Aslan pwnd Green’ and ‘Fox News looks terrible,’ although right-wing new media continues to howl about aspects of the book. As an aside, claims such as “Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem” are pretty standard fare in debates about the historicity of the Gospels, and pretty widely accepted by a wide variety of scholars. So the issues here really do seem to be that (1) Aslan is a Muslim and that (2) because he’s a Muslim, people who otherwise ignore much of the relevant scholarly debate are suddenly confronting a popularization of it and freaking out. Regardless, PTJ has it right that the interview supports the importance of drawing a distinction between science and politics as vocations.


And also:

  • On a related note, Idean Salehyan, Jay Ulfelder, and Chris Clary have interesting things to say about forecasting, foreign-policy making, and ethics. Oddly enough, the participants get pretty close to noting the performativity problem involved (or, if you prefer, “interactive kinds” issue), but don’t really confront it directly. Obviously, it isn’t just a matter of “false positives”: how actors respond to forecasting models can shape outcomes, and hence our assessment of the models, and hence outcomes.

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