Tag: political scientists

What We Really Need is a Slice of Humble Pie

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Daniel Nexon. The views that he expresses here should not be construed as representing those of the International Studies Association, International Studies Quarterly, or anyone with an ounce of sanity.

We now have a lot of different meta-narratives about alleged fraud in “When Contact Changes Minds: An Experiment in the Transmission of Support for Gay Equality.”  These reflect not only different dimensions of the story, but the different interests at stake.

One set concerns confirmation bias and the left-leaning orientations of a majority of political scientists. At First Things, for example. Matthew J. Franck contrasts the reception of the LaCour and Green study (positive) with that of Mark Regnerus’ finding of inferior outcomes for children of gay parents (negative). There’s some truth here.  Regnerus’ study was terminally flawed. LaCour and Green’s study derived, most likely, from fraudulent data. Still, one comported with widespread ideological  priors in the field, while the other did not. That surely shaped their differential reception. But so did the startling strength of the latter’s findings, as well as the way they cut against conventional wisdom on the determinants of successful persuasion.

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Why I Don’t Participate at Political Science Rumors

Over the last week we’ve had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, ‘why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?’ However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:

1. I think I know who the average ‘user’ is, and I don’t think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my ‘terrible pedigree’ and my poor choice of feminism as a ‘specialization’) have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?

2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we ‘rate’ against others? In the comments sections to Weber’s recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose ‘sub-fields’ like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don’t want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing). 

3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.

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The New Political Science Game

As the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association may face cancellation due to Hurricane Isaac, there is only one thing to do: wildly speculate how APSAHungerGames would play out in 2012.*  Spawned on twitter by @whinecough, an ABD (all but dissertation) on the job market, the idea is that in a hurricane-swept New Orleans, the APSA convention-goers must compete to survive.

* We honestly hope that all folks make it to and from New Orleans with the smallest amount of tribulations as we violate the classic comedic equation of pain plus time = funny.

The best line of the night, but the most inside baseball might be this one:

#APSA2012HungerGames Short break in carnage so everyone can agree that Thomas Friedman has no idea what he’s talking about.
— W. K. Winecoff (@whinecough) August 27, 2012

or

Ken Waltz thinks #APSA2012HungerGames wld be more peaceful if we gave *everyone* poison darts.
— W. K. Winecoff (@whinecough) August 27, 2012

While some would think the Neo-Realists would do well, since they focus on security or power (depending on the time of day), they might get distracted by blaming some heretofore ignored domestic actor for the policy failures.

Much of the money by the “sharps” in Vegas moved to favor the comparativists who have fieldwork experience and study contentious politics.  Will Reno, with much experience hanging out with warlords, working in places like Somalia, and known to have the biggest biceps in the profession, is currently the favorite at 4 to 1. But he does have some challenges as there is a whole new generation of hip kids who not only study insurgency and have done fieldwork in Afghanistan, but also have survived the worst academic job market in history.  And they do not lack confidence:

@texasinafrica @danatgu @smsaideman I have 2 kids under 2.5 years so I’ve been training for #APSA2012HungerGames for years. Reno is mine.
— Jason Lyall (@jaylyall_red5) August 27, 2012

The longest odds? Post-materialists.  They will find that in the Hunger Games that it is not so much the intersubjective meanings applied to arrows and bullets but the accuracy and power of the weapons launching them.  Blood may have all kinds of symbolism, but when it drains out of a post-modernist, the logic of consequences will dominate the logic of appropriateness.

Alas, the formal theorists will be killed first.  Why? Because they will have very difficult time getting their LaTex to work in all of the rain and wind.  Plus they will find that working on complicated appendixes is a dangerous distraction.

I am not going to the conference, so I can only grieve the losses and then participate in the next twenty years of study, where we fight about:

  • whether the games being played were chicken, stag hunt, prisoners’ dilemma, or deadlock;
  • whether the actors were pursuing relative or absolute gains;
  • whether the rational actor assumption is useful or appropriate (the Phil Arena fixation);
  • which element pop culture best describes the games, and, yes, many will argue against the conventional wisdom that the Hungar Games books best apply.  Indeed, Drezner-ites will insist that Zombie movies and books provide the most insights into APSAHungerGames 2012.  Somehow, Charli Carpenter will blame The Machines instead.
  • the scholars of civil war will debate about whether the Hunger really mattered, as grievances are over-rated. 

So, the bad news is that the profession may lose some of its best and its brightest in #APSA2012HungerGames.  On the bright side, the next job market might be a bit better and there will be new cottage industries of scholarship.

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7 things I don’t like @ being an Academic

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This genre is growing on the Duck, so here are are a few more thoughts before you take the PhD plunge. Enjoy your last summer to read as you choose, without following a peer reviewer or a syllabus. Such lost bliss…

Generally speaking, yes, I like being an academic. I like ideas and reading. I like bloviating at length. The sun is my enemy, and exercise bores me. I would really like to be a good writer/researcher. Including grad school, I’ve been doing this now for 15 years, so clearly I could have switched. I am committed. But there are at least 7 things I didn’t see back in my 20s when I had romantic ideas that if I got a PhD, I’d be like Aristotle or John Stuart Mill – some great intellectual with real influence on, what a Straussnik once called to me, ‘the Conversation,’ which I took in my heady, pre-game theoretic youth to be this (swoon).

1. It’s lonely.

I didn’t really think about this one at all before going to grad school. In undergraduate and graduate coursework, you are always very busy and meeting lots of people. You live in a dorm or fun, near-campus housing, you have lots of classes, you hit the bars on the weekends, you go to department functions. Girlfriends/boyfriends come and go. So even if you didn’t like 9 of the 10 people you met, you were meeting so many, that you eventually carved out a circle and did fun stuff that kinda looked like the 20-something comedies you see on TV. But once you hit the dissertation, you are suddenly thrown back on your own, and you really re-connect, or try, with your family, because they’re the only ones who’ll put up with your stress. You spend way too much time at home, alone, in a room, staring hopelessly at a computer screen. You don’t really know what you’re doing, and your committee, while filled with good, smart people who are almost certainly your friends, can’t really do this for you, even though you try to push it off on them.

Then, when you get your job, you spend lots of time in your office or your home office, because the publication requirements are intense (or at least, they feel that way, because you still don’t really know what you’re doing). Maybe you do a joint paper, but the collective action problem strikes. Pretty soon, you spend lots of time, alone, with your office door shut. You eat lunch at your desk, and you read at night in your home office after dinner. It’s the only way to keep up (more on that below). Isn’t that a weird sort of existence that seems unhealthy given that ‘man is a social animal’? I remember at a conference once a few years ago, a colleague opened it by saying, ‘we like going to conferences, because we get lonely all day at work by ourselves.’ I’ve always remembered that remark for its sheer honesty. The room erupted in laughter and approval.

Sure I could meet people if I had cool hobbies like mountain climbing or biking, but how many academics do that? That’s…outdoors, and far too healthy. And who has time for that? I need to read 20 book and articles just for my r&r. I gotta spend my weekends reading, blogging, and chewing my fingernails in anxiety over the quality of my work. And the rest of my time goes into family. Sure, I could let myself get sucked into academic service to expand my circle, but how often have you seen academics trying to get out of service and such, in order to get back to their offices to research, alone?

2. It’s made me fat and squirrely.

Part of spending too much time by yourself, is letting yourself go. Groups helps socialize and discipline behavior, so if you’re sitting at home all day reading alone, why not just wear pajamas the whole time? Actually, this is probably worst in grad school when I recall lots of us thickened up because of the dramatic lifestyle change to sitting in a chair reading all day. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fester, to become like Gollum living in your dissertation cave, obsessing over the precious as your nails get longer. You don’t shave enough; you write in your pajamas; you stop going to the gym. You probably start smoking. You eat crappy microwave meals and cereal for dinner, because you can bring the bowl easily to your workstation. When you do get a break, you binge drink too often. Your nails are now long enough that you really can climb the walls.

I’ve found this gets better later. I’m a lot better disciplined than 10 years ago. Marriage helps, if only because your spouse forces you out of the house when your pants stop fitting. She’ll force you to take a shower before checking your email in the morning, compel you to stop wearing the same clothes, tell you to shave more, and make you quit smoking. Students help too. Undergrads won’t respect you if you look like a furball TA, and they’re a helluva lot better dressed than you.

3. It’s made me hypersensitive to criticism.

I remember reading Walt somewhere saying that academics are very thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive.  I think I am too, although I am trying not to be. This is one reason I chose to blog; I thought it might toughen me up. But when reviewers and blog commenters criticize me, I inevitably take it the wrong way. It makes me nervous and skittish, as if maybe I’m a dilettante who got found out. (This is no plea for kid gloves, only an admission.) When I get rejection letters from academic journals, my hands shake (lame but true). I presume that means I am really insecure about my work, even though you’d think that would pass after 15 years. I think sometimes it’s because the only big thing I have in the professional world is my intellectual credibility. I have no big money, no cool DC or think-tank perch, no ‘network,’ no inside track to anything. The only reason anyone would even notice me is because I try to be a researcher who says stuff that can at least be verified somewhat. So I read at least an article of IR a day just out of anxiety. How’s that for job satisfaction?

Like everybody, I like being cited. It’s flattering. Andrew Sullivan has linked me twice, which sent thousands of people to my website. But honestly, it made almost as nervous as happy – all those people pulling apart my work, maybe thinking it was just crap. Perhaps I’m just new at this, but also I think this is an artefact of the way we are trained – to ruthlessly tear apart essays in our coursework, or to ask the preening, show-off question that knocks the conference speaker or job applicant off-balance (did you select on the dependent variable?) and makes us look clever and witty in front of our colleagues. Who hasn’t seen that kind of sarcasm at conferences, cutting, ‘I can’t believe you wrote that’ sort of analysis, ad hominem put-downs, most obviously on blogs? IR has never struck me as an especially polite, well-tempered field, more like a shark-tank. Ned Lebow once told me that IR grad school is like ‘bootcamp for your brain,’ and it’s really true that we’ve created a hypercompetitive atmosphere.

I understand why of course – US IR and other grad programs wouldn’t have the global reputations they do without it. And yes, I support it; quality control is growing issue in the Korean university system, because Korea sill lacks a major, globally ranked school. And of course, peer review is absolutely central to preserving quality and maintaining the line between us and journalism. But the tradeoffs are there – enervating and unnerrving, at least in my experience. I can’t imagine how Andrew Sullivan or Stephen Walt go to sleep at night when all those red-staters, e.g., think they are the antichrist or something. I’d be pacing the bedroom.

4. The money is weak given the hours we put in.

This one is a no-brainer. Social science is nothing if not totalist. If you don’t believe me, just go watch a movie or TV show with one, and watch her analyze it to death, draining all the fun away by endlessly interrupting to explain why the Transporter is really a commentary on traffic laws or gun control. (I’m guilty of this too.) My point is that we see our work all over the place. We think about ‘opportunity costs’ when we pick movies on date night, or ‘free riding’ when the check comes for dinner. I guess this is good in one way. It means we are using are hard-won education. But it also means that we are effectively working all the time. Even if we are reading for leisure, we will still take notes or write things down if we catch something really relevant to our work. We take social science to the beach; we read Duck of Minerva on our iPhones on the subway. At this point, I read basically everything with a pen in my hand. Who knows if you won’t find a cool quote buried in the middle of Anna Karenina?

Worse of course, is the absolutely impossible mountain of material in your field that you really should know if you want to somehow get into the top cut of journals. And who doesn’t want that? That’s the whole point. That’s why we do this to ourselves. We all, quite desperately I think, want our name up in lights in the APSR or IO. We all want to be invited to Rand or the State Department. I knew a guy who had the first page of his first APSR article embossed in gold to hang on his wall like a degree. (It was more tasteful than it sounds.) You’re always under-read, so you’re reading constantly. To be sure, your other friends in white collar profession work long hours too. That’s a constant now, but they almost certainly get paid substantially more than you and think that all you do is teach five or ten hours a week. In short, when I compare the work levels between myself and the professionals just in my family and friends (doctor, dentist, automotive engineer, nurses, lawyer, computer design tech), they make a lot more than me even though I work fairly equivalent hours.

Of course, I knew when I joined that academics don’t make a lot of money, and I accept that. We all do. Rather I am suggesting that, per work-hour, we make a lot less than most white collar professionals. That’s kinda depressing, because, e.g., we scarcely have the resources to travel much in the countries we write about. You’ve probably mentioned China in some of you published work, right? But how much time have you actually spent there? Does it feel right to generalize about a place you’ve never visited?

5. The hours I put in aren’t really reflected in my output.

Connected to point 4 is, at least in my experience, the many, many hours I spend reading, blogging, thinking that result in – not very much… I genuinely wonder how someone, say Pinker, can write an 800+ page book with hundreds of footnotes, that’s also really good. Wow. That just blows me away. I’m so impressed, and how cool that he’ll get invited onto Charlie Rose or something. Or, how do Fukuyama or Bobbitt crank out multiple books of that length? Or how did Huntington manage to write a major book in each of the 4 subfields of political science? Where does one get skills like that? That just makes me green with envy. For me, I’d be thrilled if I could just land a top ten journal piece sometime soon.

I am reminded of a complaint by Schiller about Goethe’s poetry. He envied Goethe’s ability to easily reel off lines and lines of wonderful material while he had to work very hard to produce much less. In Amadeus, Salieri complained that Mozart seemed to be taking dictation from God, even though he worked hard too. When I read really good IR, it makes me wonder how am I not fitting together what I read into good insights, whereas writers so much better than me seem to be able to do so. How do they do that? Are they reading social science all the time, on Christmas morning too? How much more do I have to read? I feel like I read all the time already. I find this a chronic source of professional frustration.

6. Few people really give a d— what you think.

Unless you scale those Huntingtonian heights and get to Charlie Rose or Rand, your reach is pretty limited. Policy-makers are bombarded with a huge volume of material, but I recall reading somewhere that they almost always consult internally produced material (memos and reports from within the bureaucracy) rather than the kind of stuff we generate on the outside. So we aren’t really policy-relevant much, unless you are the really big fish like Bernard Lewis (who got to meet W on Iraq – and blew it).

Beyond that, there are so many IR journals now (59 in the SSCI alone) that your work easily slips into the great ocean of Jstor. If you land APSR or ISQ, that’s awesome, but beyond the biggest IR journals that we all cite to each other, it’s hard to get profile for yourself. This may be another reason to blog. You can go around the editorial r&r process and speak directly to the community. But of course, blogging or op-eds aren’t peer-reviewed, and, as Steve Saideman noted, that is (and must be) the gold-standard. Worse, everybody’s blogging and tweeting and consulting now, so you’re still lost in the crowd. This too can be enervating and depressing, especially as you came into grad school as one of the better students of your college. You thought you were pretty smart, and you’d make a big splash. Now you find out that there are lots and lots of others in the field, all very smart and clamoring to be heard. Good luck.

7. I miss the ‘classics.’

The super-nerdy intellectual in me really misses this. Those black-edged Penguin Classics were the books that really got me interested in politics and ideas when I was in high school, and I never read them anymore. The first time I read Thucydides was an absolutely electric experience. I roared through it in 4 days. Same goes for stuff like On Liberty, Beyond Good and Evil, The Communist Manifesto, Darkness at Noon, 1984. God, I miss that stuff, the sheer intellectual thrill of new vistas opening. Now all I read is hyper-technical stuff, loaded with jargon, mostly from economics, so I can sound like a robot (defection, spirals, stochastic, satisficing, barriers to entry, iteration) when I talk if I need to. See Dan Nexon on this too.

As with everything else I’ve complained about above, I understand why we do this and I accept it. We can’t really read Plato or Bodin all day in IR, but I sure wish we could. I’ve often thought the IR should have a book series of classic works in our field with introductions and notes connecting classics like Thucydides, Kant, or Clausewitz to contemporary IR. We make throw-away references to these guys all the time in our introductions to make ourselves sound smart and grounded in the long tradition of political philosophy. But we don’t really read them, because we‘re reading post-Theory of International Relations stuff most of the time. When is the last time you opened up Sun Tzu or Machiavelli?

So taking a cue from Doyle’s effort to tie IR to the ‘Conversation,’ we could be release volumes like the Norton Critical Edition series or the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. But the selected texts would be more narrowly relevant to IR and the editorial matter and essays would explicitly connect the book to the IR. Reading Hobbes in an edition solely designed for IR readers would be pretty fascinating, no?

Bonus Immaturity: I knew I was a hopelessly cloistered academic the first time I glared at a difficult student over my glasses on the end of my nose, while sitting behind my desk. Good grief. I remember that pose from my own undergrad and that I wanted to punch professors like that…

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

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Political Scientist Provides Heaps of Perspective Sauce

An academic friend of mine and of other Duck folks, Patricia Weitsman, has gone through hell over the past two years.  Today is the the anniversary of her “re-birth” as last year on May 3rd she had a bone marrow transplant.  This was to fight Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to Leukemia. 


Just in the past year, she has gone through:

treatment, transplant, broken ankle, multiple pulmonary embolisms in both lungs, residual host cells in the marrow 100 days post transplant, osteoporosis, chemo induced ovarian failure (pre to post menopause and XX to XY virtually overnight), Graft versus Host Disease, elevated glucose levels from 8 months of steroids. It has also brought new DNA, a new blood cell system, a fledgling immune system, a new identity, new hair, new hair color. 

I found out about her struggle pretty late in the process, but have sought to help out through the only way I can at a distance: sending her silly pictures to make her laugh.  Which is a good thing given her list of lessons learned through this process, which I post below with her permission:


1. Your strongest and closest allies will see you through your most difficult moments. But they can only do so if you let them.  

2. Who you are is not what you look like.  

3. There is no such thing as a bad hair day: only a bad no hair day.  

4. The people who mean the most will always know who you are and will think you are beautiful no matter the circumstances.  

5. Going through a process of this kind gives you unambiguous information about the substance and quality of the people around you. This is very valuable information to have.  

6. Never let a day go by that you don’t express gratitude for the myriad blessings in your life.
7. When there is choice, opt to streamline negativity out of your life. 
 

8. People are cured from disease every day—it requires a commitment to being one of them. Never deviate from this goal. And when fluff starts obscuring your vision, remove it; do not tolerate it.  

9. Make your survival meaningful; make your life truly matter.  

10. Spend time the way you want to spend your time. With the people you love doing things that are important to you. Your family. Your close friends. Exercise. Strong mind, strong body, strong heart.  

11. Know your boundaries, your barriers, what is acceptable, what is unacceptable. Demand what you need for survival. Only you are accountable for your life. You know best. Trust yourself. Never apologize for demanding what you need to survive. It is non-negotiable.  

12. Never worry about how inconvenient or difficult your health issue is for others, especially those who remind you that it is. Never worry about the people who tell you they are far too busy to help, or that they don’t deal well with illness. (Who does, I wonder? Alas, some do not have the luxury of choice. Those who truly love you will deal with it anyway.) Worrying about these things is a waste of time and energy. And they are irrelevant. Focus on your sources of joy. There are so many.  

13. Know your body, listen to your body, honor your body.  

14. Appreciate the beauty of your strength and the miracle of what your body does every second of every day.  

15. Strive to be kind, open minded, mindful, and tolerant. Not only of others, but of yourself.  

16. Avail yourself of any and all resources. Survival is always paramount.  

17. Caring for your body, eating well, being committed to fitness cannot always keep you from getting sick, but it can help you triumph over the terminal.  

18. Sometimes french fries are a healthier choice than salad; sometimes high fiber low fat diets need to be replaced by high fat low fiber ones. What is healthy is not absolute, but rather a product of what your circumstances are and what your body needs.  

19. Giving up grapefruit can be harder than giving up wine.  

20. There are 4g of carbs in the juice of a lemon!  

21. Surviving the recovery is harder than surviving the disease and treatment. Once you fight for your life, you have to fight to get your life back.  

22. While most will be ecstatic at your resurrection, accept the fact that there are casualties in a process of this kind. There will be people who fail you; there will be people who have benefitted from your absence. Enjoying every moment of life is the best antidote.  

23. It is uncomfortable to see people who dropped out of your life for the duration of your most perilous moments. But it sure beats the alternative!  

24. It is hard for others to understand what the journey to the precipice of death and back is like, or the ongoing challenges you confront. Accept this fact and move on.  

25. Even the most sensitive people will say exceptionally insensitive things. These comments are very painful and extremely difficult to manage with diminished emotional reserves. Do yoga and breathe it out. Let it go. Focus on what serves your higher interest. Always.  

26. Laugh every day. It is the best core workout of all.  

27. Growing older is a privilege not a curse. This doesn’t mean you have to act your age. Channel your inner 8 year old, it is much more fun the second time round. See #26.  

28. Truly revel in and appreciate the extreme depth of love the people in your life have for you and you have for them.  

29. Recovery is not linear; transplant is a process.  

30. There is no medical procedure more dangerous, more invasive, or more miraculous than a bone marrow transplant. Understand the scope of this and accept the changes it brings in your life.  

31. One year is only the beginning of the recovery, the physical, emotional, and psychological components will take years to process. It changes you forever.  

32. Control what you can control and let everything else go.  

33. Strive for balance. Health, work, family, friends, exercise, recreation. Don’t say you don’t have time. You do. You make the time. Period.  

34. Never underestimate the power of Providence.  

35. You can do anything for 30 seconds. Oh! But I already knew that ;-) 

Patty says she is in awe of the people who have been with her in this, and I am awestruck by those folks as well.  But I am even more awed by Patty.  Clearly, she is winning this fight mostly due to her own courage and perseverance, with some assistance from the doctors, nurses, relatives and friends.  I often use the word awesome, but here I really mean it–I am just awed by Patty’s spirit in all of this.  I will probably not follow all of these lessons (I think I do #26-27 pretty well and am bad at #7) consistently, but I will try a bit harder.  Patty has inspired all those around her.  I appreciate her letting me share her lessons as it is better to learn from her than to have to learn these things through experience.

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