Some of you have asked why I pulled the post, “Intellectual Jailbait: Networking at APSA,” which I put up last night.
First, a lot of people were obviously hurt by the post. Those of us who blog of course want to be read, and I try to use humor to get my points across. I think that most humor, or at least mine, tries to go up to the edge of inappropriateness without crossing it. You don’t know until you cross it until you do, however. I would have never posted this if I thought that it would hurt a lot of feelings.
Second, I felt that people were missing the main message, which was to focus less on self-promotion with senior scholars and more on having exciting intellectual exchanges, which I generally found to be more likely among younger scholars even if they are less influential. In the short-term, this will make you feel less cheap. Hence my use of the word “slutty,” still an accurate depiction of how I felt when I tried to attract the attention of those big wigs who were not interested. In the long-term, I think it is better actually for one’s scholarly ambitions as interactions with the most interesting if not the most powerful people will make you do better work. And those interesting young people will eventually themselves be in positions of influence.
I think one of the most interesting findings in all of international relations scholarship is that the disproportionate share of conflict in the international system is comprised of a few dyads fighting over and over, what are known as “enduring rivalries.” These are highly emotional conflicts in which countries are found to fight because they have fought before, not because of the presence of some tangible and intractable conflict of interest.
I avoided this work for a long, long time for a number of reasons. First, “rivalries” is a terrible, terrible moniker for what is being described and it made me not take it seriously. Rivalries sounds like Yankees-Red Sox. In reality these are at the very least like Manchester City/Manchester United in which fans actually hurt each other. Second, the enduring rivalries crowd does a really bad job drawing the consequences of their findings for international relations theory, I suspect due to the research tradition’s roots in peace research in which numbers and pushing the research agenda step by step are favored over grand theoretical statements. That is unfortunate because there is an enormous implication here. The international system is not conflict-prone due to anarchy. The international system does not really have a character at all. If it does it is mostly peaceful. Realists draw excessive conclusions from micro-level conflicts that have their own unique origins.
I think readers will be sad to hear, therefore, that I think I am in enduring rivalry with my next-door neighbors. Or if they do rational choice work or study Africa, perhaps they will be happy. Either way, let me explain. Continue reading
“All the fake news that’s fit to print”
The long awaited return of HBO’s wildly popular fantasy series, the Game of Thrones, has not generated enthusiasm on the part of at least one group. The nation’s international relations reference librarians, those who help students and members of the public research the complicated dynamics of world politics, are sighing collectively as they anticipate the coming months of boredom. During the airing of the show, they have noticed a marked decline in visits to the reference desk, as the nation’s public draws inferences about the intricacies of international relations from these fictional characters on television, rather than through the classic vehicle – books.
“No one bothers to read Machiavelli in the original Italian anymore,” said Myrtle, a reference librarian who refused to give her last name. “They just listen to Littlefinger and think that they know everything they need to know about Realpolitik. It is really sad.” She asked plaintively, “What I am here for? Who will I scold?”
The nation’s international relations reference librarians have been hard hit in recent years with the growing popularity of online search engines. A librarian known simply as Priscilla complained that “at least with Harry Potter my readers checked out the books when that Nexon guy told them they could learn international relations from it. Lazy sods.” She worries about the future. “If Drezner writes a zombie IR sequel, we are finished.”
Yesterday the Senate passed the Coburn amendment cutting off funds for political science research through the National Science Foundation. It was by a voice vote, which is another way of saying that it was so unanimous that no one bothered to even count hands. So that doesn’t bode well. I heard on NPR that the money will instead go to cancer research, which is a pretty clever move. Needless to say, APSA didn’t mention that in the press release. I must say that I would rather that the government spend money to help find a cure for the disease killing Aunt Millie than help Bueno de Mesquita advance selectorate theory.
But……… Coburn, who has probably trying to be too clever, left a weakness in the system as there is an exception for research that promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.” Dumbass, this is our bread and butter. We can “securitize” anything. In fact we learned how from you bozos. The bad news for large-N researchers compiling big datasets is that they are going to have to read a lot of Ole Weaver, which is going to be very hard for them. But if th at is the difference between a million dollars in grant money or rerunning the Correlates of War, I think I know what they will choose.
Let’s show you how easy this is by playing six degrees of securitization. You can take any political science problem and justify it on the basis of national security in six steps or fewer.
“All the Fake News that is Fit to Print”
Cat Fancy, Inc. is the target of an aggressive takeover bid by Battlestar Galacitcum, an upstart nerd pornography site. The Duck of Minerva, purchased by Cat Fancy earlier in the year, would be the prize in the acquisition. A mainstay among international relations blogs, it has increasingly veered into the academic analysis of science fiction and fantasy and seen its readership soar. “We believe there is significant growth potential here,” said CEO Bob Guccione.
Guccione first noticed the pattern in which symposia on esoteric nerd debates such as the strategic errors of the Rebel Alliance or the insights into international relations provided by the Walking Dead attract far more clicks than trenchant analyses of East Asian alliance politics or the difficulty coming to terms on a global climate regime. “Let’s be honest here,” he said. “These readers really just want to see robots have sex with one another. This hasn’t been an IR blog for quite some time.”
WARNING: EXPLICIT MATERIAL BELOW
“All the fake news that’s fit to print”
I feel the need to make a disclaimer here. If you think I am trying to get a tasteless laugh out of a tragic situation, you are incorrect. I have made my views about the gun lobby known here. In light of recent NRA proposals to place armed guards in every school in the country, real life is more farcical than this issue of the Canard. The point, it should be clear, is to illluminate the absurdity of the group’s position.
In the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association is advocating a new alternative policy for prevent gun violence – the arming of children of all ages. Wayne LaPierre, spokesperson for the NRA, issued a statement declaring: “Bad guys will think twice about entering a school to hurt kids if they know the kids are packing too. I know America’s youth. They are not going down without a fight. Even kindergartners need to know the price of liberty. This is about the future of American democracy.”
The NRA is citing studies by prominent international relations academics who argue that the proliferation of weapons actually makes all safer. The absence of weapons, it is argued, invites aggression, whereas the presence of weapons serves to deter. They cite the profound peace and stability that currently exists in the Indian subcontinent as an example.
“All the fake news that fit to print”
A new report issued Tuesday by the American Political Science Association reveals that compared to their counterparts in American politics, comparative politics and political theory, international relations scholars are twenty times likelier to have a belly button fetish. “There is an epidemic of navel-gazing among today’s great experts in foreign affairs and something must be done,” said Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University professor and President of APSA.
The news comes amid the newest surge in button-peeping, a hot new spread published by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in the European Journal of International Relations lamenting the current state of international relations research. The piece has produced fevered introspection and self-analysis on professional blogs, not only in the fetid quarters of reprobates such as Political Science Job Rumors but even on esteemed sites such as the Duck of Minerva. “This is a mainstream problem,” declared Mansbridge. “This is not back alley. It is Main Street. People are doing this in the light of day without internet handles. It is perverse.” The most recent spike in umbilical-gandering was just a few months ago with the publication of the results of the 2011 Teaching, Research and International Policy survey.
In the wake of the Connecticut shootings and in light of the hints dropped by Obama at the vigil for the victims, it seems we should be prepared for a debate in the coming weeks and months between those who advocate greater gun control to protect innocent lives and those who make a competing moral claim that such regulations infringe on the more important right to bear arms, which is supposed to be part of a general value of freedom. But that’s bullshit. Human beings with a moral compass who live in any kind of society do not have total freedom. Never have and never will. Total freedom is incompatible with any notion of morality, whether liberal or conservative, and makes collective living impossible.
Many of you seem to have read my earlier post knocking the use of assumptions in theory-building, particularly rationalism, and Phil Arena’s defense of it. My earlier post was a little over the top and insulting, which led him to take umbrage. I called him a dick; he called me a dick. We were both right, although I guess I started it. When we are thinking about who to ask in as guest contributors, my main criteria was theoretical and epistemological diversity. Then I pulled this. Now we are going to hug it out. Come here, buddy. Give me some sugar. Wait, wait…. No tongue. You are still just a guest contributor. Only over the shirt action.
But……..! I read Phil’s rebuttal and I still don’t get it. His position seems to rest on two points. First, that everyone uses assumptions in theory building, even in their daily lives. So that means rationalists are no different than others. And second that assumptions, even those that don’t reflect reality, are still useful in getting us somewhere.
I got some snippy responses, well one in particular, to my post on the future of international relations theory based on a reading of the tea leaves over the last year or so. And it made me realize that there is a fundamental divide between me (and I hope others) and rationalists on the issue of assumptions. I thought I’d write about and get some feedback. I’m sure that there is a literature and debate on this somewhere else, but I blog about things that I don’t really have time to look into. Isn’t that the point? (Although I would appreciate it more responsible people pointed me in the right directions…..).
It seems for rationalists that assumptions are statements that one makes to make the building of theoretical models easier. It does not matter if they are true, only if they are useful. Assumptions in rationalism are just things you don’t touch. It is a synonym for elements of an argument that are not subjected to empirical analysis or testing. I guess this is a necessary evil to make formal models in particular work. Otherwise one can’t find equilibria and generate expectations of outcomes.
Hi everyone. I haven’t been around much lately as I’ve been furiously writing a book. But it is almost done and I’m feeling reflective. Have you missed me? I’ve missed you. What’s that you say? Why yes, this is a new shirt. Thank you for noticing.
I thought that I would offer some thoughts about where I think international relations research is heading in the near to medium-term future, based on what I’ve noticed about the job market, what friends are writing, and the sometimes surprising reactions to what I am doing on the part of others. Obviously this is all anecdotal and unsystematic, as a good blog post should be.
First, we all know that the field is becoming more quantitative, but I don’t think that this is driven by a methodological fetish (at least on the part of those who are doing the work. I think the fetishists are the ones who don’t do this type of work but think it is necessary to have in their department irrespective of its content). I think it owes to a frustration with the inability of previous generations of international relations scholarship to say anything precise and with confidence. Well, let me put that differently. We are looking to say something precise and with accuracy. Some people might have said that states always maximize power but we all knew that was never true. And what does that even mean? What will that proverbial state do on Tuesday? Those arguments are essentially non-falsifiable. They are simply too elastic and too sweeping.
“All the Fake News that is Fit to Print”
The Duck of Minerva, considered one of the nation’s top international relations blogs, has recently come under attack from Cat Fancy magazine. Aggressively trying to expand their market share and brand, the leading source of information for feline aficionados looking for the latest reviews of mechanical litter boxes is looking to acquire new assets, through hostile takeovers if necessary.
Duck readers are known to fit certain key demographic that are particular attractive to Cat Fancy – they are academics who like to cuddle up in bed watching science fiction and generally favor the company of cats to children. The Duck routinely features pictures of LOL cats as they are particularly suited to explaining the complicated cleavages of international relations theory.
Sasha Persian, CEO of Cat Fancy, envisions a seamless internet experience where cat lovers do not have to go to separate sites to get their daily dose of international relations analysis. “We like the idea of dressing up kittens like Hamid Karzai. Wouldn’t that be informative. And adorable?”
Financial analysts report that Cat Fancy is highly liquid. The Duck, on the other hand, owing to its recent transition to Word Press is highly leveraged. Permanent contributors currently owe over $100 to the blog’s main creditor, Laura Sjoberg. Reached for comment, permanent Duck contributor Dan Nexon issues a terse statement: “I has no comment on dis at the advize of me loyerz.”
Cat Fancy, however, has competition for the Duck. The Jamie Bamber Fan site is also considering purchasing the site. So far other prominent blogs such as the Monkey Cage appear secure, most likely because they generally feature no pictures of any animals, not even monkeys.
Political scientists like to complain about how little they are paid, which tends to be irritating to any number of other groups, most notably anyone who has a job other than that of a political scientist and has to be into the office say, before noon.
Part of the reason that political scientists are so poorly compensated for their great contribution to humankind is that they are only rewarded when others from outside their organization value their work. This is because political scientists most like what other political scientists like.
|The valets at the Kinchasa Hilton will be happy to take your bags.|
The American Political Science Association announced today that it will hold its 2013 annual meeting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After being criticized for its belated cancellation of this year’s convention in New Orleans on account of Hurricane Isaac, the organization’s leadership was looking for a site that would provide fewer potential headaches. APSA President G. Bingham Powell told reporters, “We have been assured that there is 0% chance of a hurricane hitting the Congo on Labor Day, or as they call it here, Mubutu Assassination Day. Curiously they celebrate the same way, by taking a three day weekend. What could go wrong?”
Extreme weather has made it increasingly difficult to plan APSA’s convention. Terrible droughts have rendered the West unsafe due to fires. Global warming has raised the temperature too high for Atlanta. San Francisco is always at risk of an earthquake. Washington, DC, in Powell’s words, “sucks.” That leaves other options only outside the country. “Honestly,” he said, “New Orleans in hurricane season looked like our best bet. Live and learn.”
In 2010, APSA held its annual convention just outside of U.S. lines, in neighboring Toronto. Political scientists tell reporters that this is the capital of Canada. The Toronto conference was a great success as attendees remarked on the great warmth and friendliness of their neighbors north of the border. From here, sources say, it was a natural choice to expand APSA into newer markets. Powell said, “There is no reason to restrict the APSA brand to the United States. We hope to show young Congolese boys and girls that if they work hard and apply themselves, maybe one day they can present at one these conferences, too. Plus we got a great rate at the Kinchasa Hilton.”
However, APSA’s decision has met with criticism in some corners of the organization. A caucus of political scientists called “Perestroika” has circulated a letter condemning the holding of the conference in a poor African country as “neoimperialism.” “APSA, as always, is looking to take advantage of cheap underdeveloped country labor. Hotel employees at the Kinchasa Hilton will struggle to put food on the table for their families while Executive Committee fat cats will sip fruity drinks by the poolside for only $2 instead of the usual $15 at American convention venues. And the Congo denies basic human rights, like gay marriage. That is unacceptable in 21st century Africa.”
APSA officials had no comment but responded with their own press release: “APSA appreciates the values of cultural diversity. We can think of no better place to celebrate those virtues than this enormous country in the heart of Africa in which all tribes and nationalities mingle and live peacefully.”
Political scientists are nevertheless urged to prepare appropriately, stressing that students of Congress might be surprised that a different currency is used in the Congo than in the United States. It is recommended that all political scientists bring raw diamonds to avoid currency exchange fees and facilitate local transactions, such as ransom-paying.
The god of tolerance struck down with fury yesterday, unleashing a mighty hurricane headed for New Orleans that forced the American Political Science Association to cancel the first day of its annual conference. The organization had thumbed its nose at the god, choosing to convene their enormous meeting in a city that is in a state that discriminates against gays and lesbians by refusing them the right to marriage. Now it appears they will suffer the consequences. With its short courses shelved, a year’s worth of knowledge about introducing technology into the classroom and qualitative methodology will be lost.
The discipline’s theorists and post-positivists joined with the ten others in the field of 6,000 who take normative policy issues seriously to draft a statement. “For years, we have voiced our concerns that holding the annual convention in New Orleans, despite its historical affinity for bright costumes and overall fabulousness, is a tacit endorsement of Bobby Jindal’s intolerance for our LBGT brothers and sisters. While we wish to say, ‘we told you so,’ we actually did not of course because we are all atheists. But still, we appreciate the help. Thank you, god. By the way, should that be capitalized? We are really new at this.”
New Orleans residents are puzzled as to why they should be punished by the god for the sins of political scientists, when as a whole they are supportive of gay rights. They also expressed confusion, as the previous hurricane was said to have been retribution for the city’s cultural and sexual libertarianism. They fear they are being caught in the cross-fire between the god of tolerance and Jesus, who is said by some to not like gay people.
The American Political Science Association though remains undeterred. APSA president G. Bingham Powell issued a statement: “Our work will go on. We will rebuild. We reject any interference in our democratic right to hold our conference wherever we please. The god of tolerance cannot be allowed to restrict our precious freedom. This is a question of liberty.”
Escalation is expected. Theologists fear that if all the nation’s political scientists do not immediately leave the United States, whose federal law bans gay marriage, and pursue work in more egalitarian places such as Canada or Sweden, the god of tolerance will strike next on San Francisco, reducing it to rubble, or at least forcing the political science association to cancel cocktails when it meets there in 2015.
|Photograph by Matt Gratias|
Area political scientist Joseph Nye of Harvard University emerged Sunday as a hero, thwarting an attempted robbery at a local convenience store. Suspected robber Donnie McFlanagan was pointing a sawed-off shotgun at the quickie-mart clerk, demanding him to empty its contents. Taking his own life into his hands, Nye intervened according to multiple witness accounts. Armed only with a bottle of Coca Cola and a copy of US Weekly he managed to convince the assailant to put down his weapon and surrender his weapon. One witness recounted: “He had this sort of power over [the robber]. But he wasn’t holding a gun or anything. I can’t describe it. Maybe he is a Jedi master or something.” Another said: “That dude was hard. Well, not quite hard. That’s not the right word. But he was the man. Dude didn’t even use any carrots, and there were some right there in the produce aisle if we wanted ‘em. Of course, they did look nasty. No one buys vegetables at the 7-11.”
As they sheepishly present their APSA “paper,” which generally resembles their sister-in-law’s high school term paper, sometimes even reaching 15 pages, political scientists promise themselves that the coming school year will be good for them. It will encourage them to use their time more wisely. And in another eight years or so, fingers crossed, that paper will be a pretty good publication.