Author: Cullen Hendrix

Ignoble Lies? The Problem of Prosocial Lying in the Economics Profession

Photo credit: pixy.org under Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post by George DeMartino, professor of international economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. This post is the first in an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas engendered when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Imagine it’s time for your yearly checkup at the family doctor. Sitting on the paper covered medical bench in a fluorescent room, you submit to the full array of tests. You say “ah,” you squint at letters from across the room, you feel the cold stethoscope against your back, maybe you even get some blood drawn. After answering all of your doctor’s questions, they look you in the eye, smile, and send you on your way with a clean bill of health! Feeling great, you go about your day. Perhaps you even take the stairs instead of the elevator because you’re feeling invigorated and full of life. There is an implicit trust between doctor and patient, so why should you feel otherwise? 

Let’s say however, that your doctor actually lied to you – everything is not okay. Perhaps they lied for your own good; because they don’t know what will happen to you or what to do about it; or perhaps they lied for monetary gain. But does the reason really matter? The inherent doctor-patient trust has been broken and we fervently and unequivocally condemn deceit of any kind in the medical field.

Why then, are we so cavalier about untruthfulness in economics? 

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Do Policy Recommendations = Policy Relevance?

Whether scholars embed policy recommendations in their work is a flawed measure of whether work is policy-relevant.

Across a series of articles and book chaptersMichael Desch and Paul Avey have argued international relations scholarship is declining in policy relevance, with IR scholars falling into what Stephen Van Evera has called a “cult of the irrelevant”: a hermetically-sealed professional community that values technique and internal dialogue over broader societal and political relevance. As evidence, they cite data demonstrating a marked decline in the frequency with which articles in top IR journals provide policy prescriptions.

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The Virus in the Digital Domain: How Governments Can Respond To Coronavirus-Themed Cyberattacks

Courtesy of US Navy, used under Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post by William Akoto, a postdoctoral researcher jointly appointed at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy at the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, and the One Earth Future Foundation. In the fall, he will begin a tenure-track appointment at Fordham University. 

As people have become consumed with concern about the coronavirus, organized cyber criminal groups are actively exploiting uncertainty, doubt and fear to target individuals and businesses in a variety of ways. Reports of cyber phishing attacks using coronavirus themes started appearing in early February 2020, but these attacks have since become widespread. The explosion of coronavirus-related scams, range from fake storefronts hawking fake vaccines to sophisticated phishing scams that take advantage of the uncertainty around the pandemic. For instance, Google’s threat analysis group reported in late April 2020 that they find an average of 18 million malware and phishing messages per day related to COVID-19. This is in addition to more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages that are automatically deleted by Gmail spam filters. 

Analysis by industry experts show that a significant portion of these attacks are carried out by state-sponsored hackers, some of whom are targeting coronavirus-related research. Responding to these state-sponsored attacks poses a significant challenge to targeted states as they seek to navigate the foreign policy and international relations implications of retributive action. While technical solutions provide the best bet for responding to these attacks, government policy could play a crucial supporting role. In this post, I review modalities of COVID-19 themed cyberattacks and outline some options available to governments as they seek to deal with them.

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The United States: Not a Failed State, but a Failing Society

Note: This post began life as an op-ed; I have amended it slightly from the version shared on Facebook to add more social scientific perspective.

The United States set new single-day record for new COVID cases on June 24th through 26th, surpassing what had been hoped would the highest point of the curve on April 24. The United States is now in a two-horse race with Brazil to be the epicenter of the COVID pandemic. The economic and social sacrifices made to attempt to flatten the curve—sacrifices that include the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression and school closures that will have lifelong consequences for student outcomes—from March to May have essentially been rendered completely moot.

This has many observers saying the United States is a failed state. George Packer argued this in the Atlantic. Chinese state media has leveled similar claims. 

The United States is not a failed state. It is something much more disturbing: it is a society that has the means but has decided not to try.

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Public Health Research in Mainstream International Relations Outlets

Steve Saideman’s recent Duck piece on international relations scholars’ relative silence on issues of pandemics, and public health more generally, has ruffled feathers[1]and generated a lot of discussion: about marginalization of certain research outlets and methodologies, about the value of interdisciplinary work in a self-identifying-as-such-but-still-not-all-that-interdisciplinary discipline, and about what it means to say “IR as a field has little to say” vs. “individual IR scholars having said quite a bit.”

This all hits pretty close to home. As an IR scholar whose main area of specialization—climate change and conflict—has not received much purchase in mainstream political science and IR outlets, I can sympathize with feeling marginalized. And I’m sure I would bristle at the idea of someone saying “why don’t IR scholars study climate change”, though I’ve always read these pleadings as supportive of a broader platform for work in this area, not a failure to recognize the work that’s already being done. But I think the data are pretty clear: comparatively speaking, public health is not a widely published on topic in mainstream IR journals.

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Policy Engagement* (*But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

Earlier this year, our team at the Sié Center at the University of Denver announced our program on the three R’s of Academic-Policy Engagement (or R3, if you prefer): Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility. Generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, our program is intended to both study and help train early-career scholars around the ethical issues that arise when academics—who face ever-increasing pressures to demonstrate the broader social impacts of their research—attempt to interface with policy audiences. Broadly speaking, our scholarly community is doing a good job of training scholars to engage: initiatives like the Bridging the Gap Project (BtG) have been massively successful in demystifying the mechanics of engagement: how to write for policy audiences, give good interviews, etc. BtG now has over 100 alums who are doing an excellent job of making IR scholarship legible for policy and general audiences.

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