The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Why I Participate At Political Science Rumors

April 10, 2014

The first rule of the internet is not to read the comments for any op-ed one posts.  Why?  Because the cover of anonymity allows people to say awful stuff.  Of course, Twitter amply demonstrates that people will say awful things on the internet even when one can be clearly identified.  Anyhow, over the past several years, a series of websites have been gathering spots for both aspiring and experienced political scientists to exchange in rumors and opinions about the profession (to be clear, anyone can post so it might be economist students seeking to troll or other folks entirely).  Given yesterday’s post about PSR, I thought I would explain my presence there.

The initial ambition of these places made a great deal of sense–that there was much confusion and disinformation about job searches, and wouldn’t it be nice to know when a place had come up with a short list and began interviewing.  In the old days of the 1990s, one would never know about the places to which one applied unless one got invited for a job talk, unless a friend got invited, or when one eventually got the rejection letter (which often never came at all).  The crowdsourcing worked for a while, until folks started attacking the job candidates that were doing well.  Then people stopped posting job rumors quite as much and much less reliably.

With anonymous posting, these sites became fairly toxic.  Lots of personal attacks, lots of homophobia, misogyny, racism and other forms of nastiness ensued.  Political Science Job Rumors had some moderation and its successor, Political Science Rumors has more moderation, but still much ugliness persists.

I play a fairly unique role at PSR–I post as myself.  There are a few other professors who do so, but most use either standard pseudonyms or use randomly assigned names.  So, the questions then are: (a) why do I hang out there at all; and (b) why do I identify myself?  I actually don’t have a well-worked out rationale–things just kind of happened, but here is my take.

I started going there for three reasons: I was on the job market and wanted to see if there were rumors about the places to which I had applied; I had students on the job market so I wanted to know what they were facing; and the place I worked at had a few searches, and I wanted to see what was being said.  All of these come down to curiosity–which is one of my strengths and also my greatest weakness.

I am not alone in having such curiosity, as I have encountered many profs who say that they check out PSR on occasion, if only to check what is trending there in terms of what people are worried about.  I am nearly alone in the non-anonymity part.  I started posting as myself because there were rumors about my school’s searches that were quite wrong.  I knew that anonymous corrections would have no weight, so I posted as myself to dispel the particular rumors.  Once that happened, and after I got a few questions directed at me, I realized that I could serve as a voice of semi-reason when people had questions about the discipline/profession.  I would chime in on posts where I thought I could contribute, given my experiences at several institutions and years of job searches.

This did eventually lead to a thread dedicated to asking me anything (very much an on-going reddit-style AMA).  The folks on PSR are protective of that thread, not wanting to be a give-and-take with everyone chiming in, but with just me answering questions that range from what a good CV looks like (and I point them to a relevant duck post) to bargaining strategies to off the wall topic’s like whether I found Barney or Teletubbies more annoying.

I occasionally get attacked on the site for my conventional, naive views (I tend to argue that the quality of the work matters) or just for my participation.  They suspect that I am doing it to get attention, that I am a narcissist.  There is probably something to that, given that I admitted my narcissism when I started up my blog five years ago.   I do get occasionally creeped out by those who are my fans there (they call me Sadie).  On the other hand, I find inspiration for some of my blog posts among the questions and comments at PSR.

I don’t think that one voice can redeem an entire site where anonymity provides folks with an ability to vent whatever they want.  But I have found that there are folks who lack decent advisers, that some will even pay for advice (something that I find rather abhorrent), and so I give advice and feedback with my name attached.  The folks there can then evaluate the advice and the advice giver for what it is worth.

Again, I never really had a plan, but as it evolved, and given the feedback I have received over the years, I think I making a contribution.  Does my existence there legitimate the place?  Probably not since the place has dubious legitimacy.  Does it legitimate the awful stuff that appears there?  I don’t think so, as people can separate out what I write from the other stuff.  The place can and did exist without me.  Still, I am always thinking and re-thinking my participation there.


website | + posts

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.