The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

NYT and Poli Sci Public Engagement

February 15, 2014

The ISA mess is the gift that keeps on giving.  Now Nicholas Kristof has written a piece in his NYT column that “addresses” the controversy.  The problem is that the column is out of date.  Not just in focusing on the ISA proposal that has been beaten back by the forces of reason (that would be me and other bloggers?), but that other canards get lumped in.  While some noted bloggers have been denied tenure, it is highly unlikely that their blogging did them in.  Indeed, there is more pressure by lots of folks (presidents, provosts, deans, grant agencies) to do more outreach.

And there is plenty of it, from Monkey Cage having a prime perch now at the Washington Post to the new news that Lynn Vavreck just got hired to replace Nate Silver to do the NYT blogging (hmm, check your own paper, dude) to Political Violence at a Glance to to and on and on.  No, APSR does not have heaps of policy prescriptive stuff, but other journals have more.

And comparing us to economists is kind of fun, given that the economists that preach stuff that politicians like (such as austerity) get heaps of love even if their stuff turns out to be quite wrong.  The “no one predicted Arab Spring” reminds me of “no one predicted the end of the Cold War.”  I think the former is more untrue than the latter.  There was heaps of analysis about the Mideast and much of it was being disseminated to the public (just read Marc Lynch’s stuff at and the mini-website there that he curates/edits/whatevers).

There is so much confirmation bias in this piece that it is worth of some social science.  Academic journals have their place in the generation and dissemination of knowledge, even stuff jammed with jargon.  That stuff has its uses, but we need to other stuff to share our knowledge beyond the folks who are trained to understand the jargon AND that is happening.

Regarding the decline of area studies, (a) blame the government for cutting the money for developing language skills; and (b) please do ignore the much fine work being done today by theory driven folks who think comparatively while doing significant time “in the field.”  The Jason Lyalls who spend much time in Afghanistan, write policy oriented stuff that is methodologically sophisticated, the Laura Seays who are deeply engaged in Africa and communicate that knowledge to the planet via twitter, and on and on.  The future is actually mighty damned bright.  I am glad I don’t have to compete with these multi-skilled (language, area studies, high tech quant skills) junior demons professors.


So, yes, we could do better, and yes, there are still folks who are stuck in the past … including those who think we are not engaging the public now more than ever.

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Steve Saideman is Professor and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He has written The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy and International Conflict; For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War (with R. William Ayres); and NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (with David Auerswald), and elsewhere on nationalism, ethnic conflict, civil war, and civil-military relations.