Tag: blegging

Afternoon Miscellany: Latour, Podcasts, and Big Data

This post would be much more interesting if it concerned the nexus of its three subjects. Sadly, it does not.

  1. I’m working on a forum piece with Vincent Pouliot on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) — one written from the explicit perspective of outsiders. We’ve been puzzled by the apparent lack of theorization of “the body” in Latour. For example, if social relations must be ‘fixed’ by physical objects, why isn’t the human body one such object? If any of our readers are able to weigh in, I’d appreciate it.
  2. I’ve been considering discontinuing the m4a versions of the Duck of Minerva podcast. They take much more time to produce than the mp3 versions; most people seem to listen to the mp3 versions anyway. Is there a constituency in favor of retaining the m4a variants, i.e., the ones with chapter markers and static images?
  3. Henry Farrell tweeted a paper by Gary King on setting up quantitative social-science centers. Henry highlights the section on the end of the quantitative-qualitative divide. I’m sympathetic to it: I certainly feel the pull of teaming with computational-savvy colleagues to do interesting things with “big data,” and I find myself often thinking about how it would be neat to use particular data for uncovering interesting relationships. But it also strikes me as a bit cavalier about the importance of questions — and forms of empirical analysis — that don’t fit cleanly within that rubric. Nonetheless, right on the direction that sociological and economic forces are driving social-scientific research.

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Is Anybody Out There?

One of the questions heard around the mid-tier blogsphere “why doesn’t anybody comment anymore?” Answers usually invoke ‘big think’ claims about the changing ecology and norms of blogging, the topics addressed at particular blogs, and so on. 
Here at the Duck, I tend not to worry about this kind of thing. After all, I know we have a decent number of regulars. Certain posts generate good discussions. Disqus is kind of a pain. Some months, such as August, are slow.
But occasionally one of our bloggers sends me an email noting that we have posts that generate significant numbers when it comes to”hits” but no commentary. And as I give my canned answers I think to myself: “isn’t the main point of the Duck to create a community of discourse? If we pride ourselves on our reach within the greater IR community, shouldn’t we be doing more to encourage engagement?”
So consider this an open thread. Are there things we can do to make the Duck a more hospitable and inviting place for engaged discussion? What suggestions or constructive criticisms do you have? Are there things you’d like to see us do more of?
PS: failure to comment constitutes, in this context, a kind of comment.
PPS: it may not seem like it, but we even appreciate requests to vary the videos, as we recently received. 
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Crowdsource Request: New Books in SF and Fantasy

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I am now chief interviewer for the New Books Network‘s SF and Fantasy channel. I’ve got some exciting authors lined up for launch, and a few more who have agreed to record in September. But my response rate has dropped off dramatically in the last two weeks.

In retrospect, August might not have been the best time to start interviewing.

Anyway, I’m hoping that many of the outstanding requests will come through. But I also need a longer list of authors to pester contact, especially if I’m going to bank enough interviews to start the channel at two podcasts per month. 
So, loyal Duck readers, do you have any suggestions for SF and Fantasy books and authors? Books with 2012 publications dates are best, but I can potentially discuss older works, particularly if there’s a new “hook.” How about someone you’d love to hear an interview with — and even better, have a backchannel for that question you’ve always wanted answered?

PS: I don’t know how many people have checked out the Duck of Minerva podcasts, but that side project seems to be moving along well. I’m lining up more interview subjects, including some “big names” in the field. If you have comments or suggestions for topics related to that endeavor, consider this an open thread.

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Historical International Relations: A Proposed Section for ISA

 Note: signatures are only valid for those who are members of International Studies Association at the time of review. Please do not sign if you are not, or will not, be an ISA member.

Below is a letter requesting support for a new section of the ISA on “Historical International Relations.” The section would be cognate to BISA’s Historical Sociology working group and APSA’s International History and Politics section. The idea came out of discussions among the co-signers of the letter below.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
For a few years now, many of you will have heard us mention the need for a new section at the ISA, one in which there would be a room for historical pieces which engage with international issues in a broad sense. We hereby ask for your support for a new section at the ISA entitled Historical International Relations by signing the online petition at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/hir/, and forwarding this email to colleagues you think will have an interest in supporting the section. 

As you may all have noticed, there seems to be an increasing interest in historical scholarship in the discipline, an interest which is largely reflected in papers and panels presented at the conferences. However, these historical engagements appear in general in a host of different guises, sponsored (sometimes halfheartedly) by different existing sections. Some are sponsored by International Security, others by Diplomatic Studies, while more still have found shelter in the English School Section. While some may not see this as a problem, as it forces historical scholarship to engage with other sections of the discipline, we nevertheless think this situation requires a new section at the ISA. 

The idea of a new section is not for historical scholarship to colonize the ISA. We do not see such a section becoming one of the leading sections of the ISA. Rather, we see it as carving out a modest space for scholars who engage historically to work together, meet, and engage with each other’s work without having to pretend to be talking about something else. This common space would allow for conversations across sub-disciplinary boundaries, conversations which are difficult to carry out within many of the other sections of the ISA, and it should thus also increase the overall cohesiveness of the discipline. Rather than fragmenting the discipline, we think a Historical International Relations Section will contribute to increased intra-disciplinary dialogue. 

It is important for us to emphasize too that this is not meant to be a section for international history. What we think we have identified, is that to the extent that IR scholars engage historically, they do so as “merry amateurs” rather than professional historians. It is this spirit of collegial openness and inclusion as well as intellectual curiosity which we would like to foster by creating a new section. 

In short, we see the founding of a new Historical International Relations section as a way to create a space for this type of scholarship, but also legitimize efforts to address IR historically, as it would make these topics interesting in their own right, and not because of their potential relevance for the other sections.

Thank you for supporting the new section and for forwarding the email.

We look forward to seeing you at the inaugural section meeting in the near future. 

Best wishes,Benjamin de Carvalho, NUPIDaniel Green, University of DelawareHalvard Leira, NUPIDaniel Nexon, Georgetown UniversityAndrea Paras, University of Guelph

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Who needs experts to forecast international politics?

 This is a guest post by Michael C. Horowitz, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Who can see the future? For us mere mortals, it’s hard, even for so-called experts. There are so many cognitive biases to take into consideration and even knowing your own weaknesses often does not help. Neither does being smart, apparently. So, what does make for “good judgment” when it comes to forecasting? When, if ever, do experts have advantages in making predictions? And how can we combine expertise and statistical models to produce the best possible predictions? This is not just an academic question, but one relevant for policy makers as well, as Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg recently pointed out. There are new efforts afoot to try and determine the boundary conditions in which experts- both political scientists and otherwise- can outperform methods such as the wisdom of crowds, prediction markets, and groups of educated readers of the New York Times. At the bottom of this post is information on how to assist in this research. I hope you will consider doing so.
Jacqueline Stevens recently argued in the New York Times that “Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters.” In her article, which othershavealreadydissected, she discusses Phil Tetlock’s work on expert forecasting. His book, Expert Political Judgment, has become the definitive work on the subject. The postage stamp version she cites is that experts are only slightly better than dart-throwing chimps at predicting the future, if they are better at all.
However, the notion that Tetlock argues that experts are know-nothings when it comes to forecasting is simply wrong, as others have already pointed out. More important, Expert Political Judgment was a first foray into the uncharted domain of building better forecasting models. Several years later, Tetlock is back at it, and this time he has invited me, Richard Herrmann of Ohio State University, and others to join him. The immediate goal this time is to participate in a forecasting “tournament” sponsored by the United States intelligence community. The intelligence community has funded several teams to go out and build the best models possible – however they can – to forecast world events. Each team has to forecast the same events, a list of questions given to the teams by the sponsor, and then submit predictions [note: Tetlock’s team dominated the opposition in year one – so we’ll find out this year whether adding me helps or not. Unfortunately, there’s no place to go but down].

Our team is called the Good Judgment team, and the idea is to not only win the tournament, but also to develop a better understanding of the methods and strategies that lead to better forecasting of political events. There are many facets to this project, but the one I want to focus on today is our effort to figure out when experts such as political scientists might have advantages over the educated reader of the New York Times when it comes to forecasting world events.
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force?
We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.
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Syllabus Bleg: Science Fiction (Updated)

I could use some help. As I did in the spring, I’m teaching a seminar on “Science Fiction and Politics.” I’m working on some significant changes to the syllabus. The class will now meet twice a week, which has implications for its flow, and I want to teach some different works. But I’m flailing a bit about some aspects of the syllabus, particularly with respect to (1) short readings to pair with books and (2) some specific assignments. A rough outline follows, including some notes about the kinds of pieces I’m looking for. A major issue concerning the latter is that I generally want supplemental readings that are short.

1. No Class.
2. SF, Popular Culture and Politics: Jutta Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics: Exploring Intertextual Relations,” in Weldes, ed. To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics, pp. 1-27; Iver B. Neumann and Daniel H. Nexon, “Introduction: Harry Potter and the Study of World Politics,” in Nexon and Neumann, eds. Harry Potter and International Relations, pp. 1-25. Recommended for non-genre fans: Edward James, Science Fiction in the 20th Century, pp. 12-53.
3. Collins, Hunger Games I: paired with something on the structure and organization of empires, preferably with examples drawn from Rome.
4. Collins, Hunger Games II: paired with something on social roles, role theory, and/or performativity.
5. Banks, Player of Games I: K.M. Fierke, “Links Across the Abyss: Language and Logic in International Relations,” International Studies Quarterly 46 (2002): 331-354.
6. Banks, Player of Games II: paired with something about ritual and social order, or perhaps gender and social order.
7. Stross, Halting State I: Vernor Vingee, “Technological Singularity”
8. Stross, Halting State II: Plato, The Republic (selections)
9. Schmitt, Political Theology: paired with a short piece on securitization theory?
10. Moore, Watchmen I
11. Moore, Watchmen II
12. Heinlein, Starship Troopers I: Harold D. Lasswell, “The Garrison State,” The American Journal of Sociology 14,4 (December 1943): 627-650.
13. Heinlein, Starship Troopers II
14. Ender’s Game I
15. Ender’s Game II
16. Todorov, Conquest of America [might be moved before Ender’s Game]
17. Wolfe, Fifth Head of Cerberus I [Parts 1-2]
18. Wolfe, Fifth Head of Cerberus II [Part 3]
19. No Class: Film. Perhaps Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell: SAC (the compilation of the “Laughing Man” episodes), or Ghost in the Shell 2.0?
20. Le Guin, The Dispossessed I
21. Le Guin, The Dispossessed II
22. Herbert, Dune I
23. Herbert, Dune II: paired with a piece on jihad and/or religious warfare and/or religion and politics
24. Film.

As should be clear, I have one moveable film slot and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m also curious about other suggestions for pairings (but keep in mind that I am not sadistic enough to pair Fifth Head of Cerberus with anything, as they’ll have enough trouble making sense of the narrative as it is).

One option that I’m considering is to open with some kind of cliched genre SF, e.g., Foundation (or at least the first novella or two). My current inclination is to keep the readings for session 2 but assign something to watch, such as an episode of ST:TNG (Darmok?) or Farscape. What I’m looking for should be (1) accessible on its own and (2) complete with all the “bells and whistles” of stereotyped SF: spaceships, strange aliens, energy weapons, etc.

Last year our readers provides excellent feedback. Let’s make that a trend!

UPDATE: Trend underway! I should clarify some things about the course and comment on some of the excellent suggestions. I’ve benefitted from PTJ’s extensive experience teaching a similar (and better) version of the class; as I’ve had one semester under my belt, I’ve also learned a bit.

Providing related nonfiction helps ground the students in terms of discussing and analyzing SF. Works we might think of as “meh” or of dubious quality can provoke terrific discussions. Even some of the students who consume science fiction lack contextual knowledge that our readership unwittingly assumes.  Standalone SF episodes are much more difficult to follow than people who’ve watched the series realize.

For example, I showed “33” last year as a means for talking about the notion of “the exception” — although we also discussed jus in bello issues and compared “33” to Watchmen. I may put it back on, but the students were really, really confused about the characters and the setting. For some of them, that overshadowed the whole experience. Similarly, Bank’s Culture universe is pretty difficult to feel comfortable in if one begins with Look to Windward. Despite the fact that it doesn’t tackle the kind of broad thematics of that book, Player of Games provides a much better introduction to the Culture.

I should also note some of the meta-themes in the course, although one nice aspect of teaching this kind of class is that the students take it in unexpected directions.

  1. The relationship between politics, roles, and games. This carries across a wide variety of the literature and bridges works that deal with different themes.
  2.  Sovereignty and the exception. Although this also cuts across a number of works, Watchmen, Starship Troopers, and Enders Game constitute the “core” of this discussion. Related, of course, is “guardianship.”
  3. The status of the “Other” in politics in general, and imperial relations in particular. 
  4. Technological shifts and politics, particularly around the idea of the “singularity” but extended out much more broadly to issues of political change. 

I eliminated a number of works that were in the previous semester.  The most difficult one to cut was Julian Comstock. I am close to pulling the trigger on a CJ Cherryh — likely Downbelow Station or Cyteen, both of which would integrate nicely. Due to their length, though, I need to think hard about how to make it work. Either gets at core themes of the syllabus, and it would allow me to add another female author.

Thoughts? Keep the ideas coming, please!

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Pan-Social-Media Bleg

I’m looking for good histories of Taiwan; I’m particularly interested in political histories.

Cross-posted, in various forms, at Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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Ipod Touch Bleg

I just purchased a 16gig I-Pod touch. Its a fun new toy, and a more than ample replacement for my overflowing 2gig nano. I also added the new operating system. The benefits of a blog being the ability to crowd-source stuff like this, I ask loyal duck readers with a touch or iphone if they have any suggestions on how to get the most out of my new device. Any favorite uses, applications that are must-gets, or other cool things that can be done besides the standard music, photos, and the like?

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Wanted: Catchy Book Title

In an effort to keep up with Dan, I’m happy to report that Columbia University Press has just agreed to publish my book Constructing Rights and Wrongs: How the Human Rights Movement Forgot Bosnia’s Children Born of War.

I’m less happy about the fact that they are demanding I change the title. OK, anything with “Constructing” in it is probably too jargony to attract a wide audience. But my goal is to keep reference to my very interesting case study (children of war rape) in the subtitle, and have the main title refer to the wider theoretical contribution of the book, which is about how the process of constructing atrocity narratives regarding certain populations can frame the rights of other populations off the agenda altogether. Hence, “Constructing Wrongs and Rights.”

Well, now I’m in the market for ideas: a catchier, pithier title that still communicates this and engages constructivist literature on human rights advocacy.

“Wrongs and Rights?” “Blaming and Framing?” :)

Help! Whomever comes up with an idea that gets used shall receive a free copy.

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Post-Holiday Bleg

Not to remind everyone enjoying their holidays that Spring Semester is right around the corner, but I need to ask for help with my World Politics 101 syllabus. I’ll be traveling on research early in the semester and need a film I can show one day while I’m away. At that point in the term, the only thing really appropriate will be a short film intended to excite students about global affairs, sort of a recruitment-into-the-major film on careers in global affairs, the way globalization affects us all, the value of a global outlook, that sort of thing. 50 minutes or less.

I’m having a harder time than I expected finding something. Any suggestions?

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