Day: October 7, 2013

Citation Counts are Like Democracy

There is much gnashing about citations of late.  This tweet inspired the ensuing spew below:

But also this series of posts at the Monkey Cage last week on gender bias in citations (the link points to the final piece in the series, so it has links to the rest of the posts) raises questions about using citations as a metric of success.   If the numbers are problematic, what should we do?

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Taboo or Not Taboo?

[Note: This is a guest post by Richard Price, Professor of Political Science at University of British Columbia and author of The Chemical Weapons Taboo.]

Counter-intuitively, the first large-scale attack of chemical weapons (CW) in twenty five years is having the effect of actually reinforcing the CW taboo. Notably, both sides in Syria continue to deny that they used CW, reinforcing view that CW use unacceptable for anyone wanting to be accepted as a legitimate state actor in the international community. While there are of course counter-narratives, the fairly widespread government, public and media outcry, and politics of response including their justifications which typically stigmatize CW, have served to reinforce the norm overall, as of course has the remarkable ascension of Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention and ambitious schedule to eliminate Syria’s CW capability. These dynamics embody a central insight of constructivist accounts of norms articulated by Kratchowil and Ruggie in their seminal article in 1986: that norms can be valid even when violated, what matters are their justifications and how others respond to such violations.

These reactions are significantly different from the last previous violation of the CW taboo, by Iraq in the 1980s, where that use was relatively ignored in comparison by governments. This is very significant, as the tepid reaction to Iraq at the time was consistent with the longer historical pattern, which had been that the use of CW since WWI was to be avoided, but use in areas outside the industrialized – “civilized” – world were, well, more quietly tolerated. But after the Iran-Iraq war and the use of CW by Iraq against its own Kurdish population, the international community responded with a dramatic expansion of the CW taboo in the form of the CWC. That has put the taboo on another institutionalized level which has enabled the eventual outcome of pressuring Syria to join the CWC to ensure broadly multilaterally supported CW disarmament, leaving only 6 states as non-parties to this agreement. Thus, even though the taboo was violated, there is not a stampede of would-be violators waiting in the wings to follow suit in the event of Syria escaping a US military response. This stands in contrast to, say, what many believe was the greater damage done by the Bush Administration to the torture taboo since many governments could well be more willing to follow suit.

One of the most potentially troubling developments in the discourse, however, has been the way some skeptics have raised the question of why there is all the fuss about CW as such a red line. Nothing wrong with such open inquiry of course, but what is troubling is what seems to be implied – if not always stated outright; namely, why should we care about this norm when more people are dying from other weapons? John Mueller in Foreign Affairs is skeptical that CW are really any worse than AK47s; but does this really imply that we shouldn’t care about limiting CW?  Continue reading


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