Tag: blegs

Afternoon Miscellany: Latour, Podcasts, and Big Data

This post would be much more interesting if it concerned the nexus of its three subjects. Sadly, it does not.

  1. I’m working on a forum piece with Vincent Pouliot on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) — one written from the explicit perspective of outsiders. We’ve been puzzled by the apparent lack of theorization of “the body” in Latour. For example, if social relations must be ‘fixed’ by physical objects, why isn’t the human body one such object? If any of our readers are able to weigh in, I’d appreciate it.
  2. I’ve been considering discontinuing the m4a versions of the Duck of Minerva podcast. They take much more time to produce than the mp3 versions; most people seem to listen to the mp3 versions anyway. Is there a constituency in favor of retaining the m4a variants, i.e., the ones with chapter markers and static images?
  3. Henry Farrell tweeted a paper by Gary King on setting up quantitative social-science centers. Henry highlights the section on the end of the quantitative-qualitative divide. I’m sympathetic to it: I certainly feel the pull of teaming with computational-savvy colleagues to do interesting things with “big data,” and I find myself often thinking about how it would be neat to use particular data for uncovering interesting relationships. But it also strikes me as a bit cavalier about the importance of questions — and forms of empirical analysis — that don’t fit cleanly within that rubric. Nonetheless, right on the direction that sociological and economic forces are driving social-scientific research.

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Crowdsource Request: New Books in SF and Fantasy

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I am now chief interviewer for the New Books Network‘s SF and Fantasy channel. I’ve got some exciting authors lined up for launch, and a few more who have agreed to record in September. But my response rate has dropped off dramatically in the last two weeks.

In retrospect, August might not have been the best time to start interviewing.

Anyway, I’m hoping that many of the outstanding requests will come through. But I also need a longer list of authors to pester contact, especially if I’m going to bank enough interviews to start the channel at two podcasts per month. 
So, loyal Duck readers, do you have any suggestions for SF and Fantasy books and authors? Books with 2012 publications dates are best, but I can potentially discuss older works, particularly if there’s a new “hook.” How about someone you’d love to hear an interview with — and even better, have a backchannel for that question you’ve always wanted answered?

PS: I don’t know how many people have checked out the Duck of Minerva podcasts, but that side project seems to be moving along well. I’m lining up more interview subjects, including some “big names” in the field. If you have comments or suggestions for topics related to that endeavor, consider this an open thread.


Who needs experts to forecast international politics?

 This is a guest post by Michael C. Horowitz, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Who can see the future? For us mere mortals, it’s hard, even for so-called experts. There are so many cognitive biases to take into consideration and even knowing your own weaknesses often does not help. Neither does being smart, apparently. So, what does make for “good judgment” when it comes to forecasting? When, if ever, do experts have advantages in making predictions? And how can we combine expertise and statistical models to produce the best possible predictions? This is not just an academic question, but one relevant for policy makers as well, as Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg recently pointed out. There are new efforts afoot to try and determine the boundary conditions in which experts- both political scientists and otherwise- can outperform methods such as the wisdom of crowds, prediction markets, and groups of educated readers of the New York Times. At the bottom of this post is information on how to assist in this research. I hope you will consider doing so.
Jacqueline Stevens recently argued in the New York Times that “Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters.” In her article, which othershavealreadydissected, she discusses Phil Tetlock’s work on expert forecasting. His book, Expert Political Judgment, has become the definitive work on the subject. The postage stamp version she cites is that experts are only slightly better than dart-throwing chimps at predicting the future, if they are better at all.
However, the notion that Tetlock argues that experts are know-nothings when it comes to forecasting is simply wrong, as others have already pointed out. More important, Expert Political Judgment was a first foray into the uncharted domain of building better forecasting models. Several years later, Tetlock is back at it, and this time he has invited me, Richard Herrmann of Ohio State University, and others to join him. The immediate goal this time is to participate in a forecasting “tournament” sponsored by the United States intelligence community. The intelligence community has funded several teams to go out and build the best models possible – however they can – to forecast world events. Each team has to forecast the same events, a list of questions given to the teams by the sponsor, and then submit predictions [note: Tetlock’s team dominated the opposition in year one – so we’ll find out this year whether adding me helps or not. Unfortunately, there’s no place to go but down].

Our team is called the Good Judgment team, and the idea is to not only win the tournament, but also to develop a better understanding of the methods and strategies that lead to better forecasting of political events. There are many facets to this project, but the one I want to focus on today is our effort to figure out when experts such as political scientists might have advantages over the educated reader of the New York Times when it comes to forecasting world events.
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force?
We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.

Syllabus Bleg: Science Fiction (Updated)

I could use some help. As I did in the spring, I’m teaching a seminar on “Science Fiction and Politics.” I’m working on some significant changes to the syllabus. The class will now meet twice a week, which has implications for its flow, and I want to teach some different works. But I’m flailing a bit about some aspects of the syllabus, particularly with respect to (1) short readings to pair with books and (2) some specific assignments. A rough outline follows, including some notes about the kinds of pieces I’m looking for. A major issue concerning the latter is that I generally want supplemental readings that are short.

1. No Class.
2. SF, Popular Culture and Politics: Jutta Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics: Exploring Intertextual Relations,” in Weldes, ed. To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics, pp. 1-27; Iver B. Neumann and Daniel H. Nexon, “Introduction: Harry Potter and the Study of World Politics,” in Nexon and Neumann, eds. Harry Potter and International Relations, pp. 1-25. Recommended for non-genre fans: Edward James, Science Fiction in the 20th Century, pp. 12-53.
3. Collins, Hunger Games I: paired with something on the structure and organization of empires, preferably with examples drawn from Rome.
4. Collins, Hunger Games II: paired with something on social roles, role theory, and/or performativity.
5. Banks, Player of Games I: K.M. Fierke, “Links Across the Abyss: Language and Logic in International Relations,” International Studies Quarterly 46 (2002): 331-354.
6. Banks, Player of Games II: paired with something about ritual and social order, or perhaps gender and social order.
7. Stross, Halting State I: Vernor Vingee, “Technological Singularity”
8. Stross, Halting State II: Plato, The Republic (selections)
9. Schmitt, Political Theology: paired with a short piece on securitization theory?
10. Moore, Watchmen I
11. Moore, Watchmen II
12. Heinlein, Starship Troopers I: Harold D. Lasswell, “The Garrison State,” The American Journal of Sociology 14,4 (December 1943): 627-650.
13. Heinlein, Starship Troopers II
14. Ender’s Game I
15. Ender’s Game II
16. Todorov, Conquest of America [might be moved before Ender’s Game]
17. Wolfe, Fifth Head of Cerberus I [Parts 1-2]
18. Wolfe, Fifth Head of Cerberus II [Part 3]
19. No Class: Film. Perhaps Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell: SAC (the compilation of the “Laughing Man” episodes), or Ghost in the Shell 2.0?
20. Le Guin, The Dispossessed I
21. Le Guin, The Dispossessed II
22. Herbert, Dune I
23. Herbert, Dune II: paired with a piece on jihad and/or religious warfare and/or religion and politics
24. Film.

As should be clear, I have one moveable film slot and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m also curious about other suggestions for pairings (but keep in mind that I am not sadistic enough to pair Fifth Head of Cerberus with anything, as they’ll have enough trouble making sense of the narrative as it is).

One option that I’m considering is to open with some kind of cliched genre SF, e.g., Foundation (or at least the first novella or two). My current inclination is to keep the readings for session 2 but assign something to watch, such as an episode of ST:TNG (Darmok?) or Farscape. What I’m looking for should be (1) accessible on its own and (2) complete with all the “bells and whistles” of stereotyped SF: spaceships, strange aliens, energy weapons, etc.

Last year our readers provides excellent feedback. Let’s make that a trend!

UPDATE: Trend underway! I should clarify some things about the course and comment on some of the excellent suggestions. I’ve benefitted from PTJ’s extensive experience teaching a similar (and better) version of the class; as I’ve had one semester under my belt, I’ve also learned a bit.

Providing related nonfiction helps ground the students in terms of discussing and analyzing SF. Works we might think of as “meh” or of dubious quality can provoke terrific discussions. Even some of the students who consume science fiction lack contextual knowledge that our readership unwittingly assumes.  Standalone SF episodes are much more difficult to follow than people who’ve watched the series realize.

For example, I showed “33” last year as a means for talking about the notion of “the exception” — although we also discussed jus in bello issues and compared “33” to Watchmen. I may put it back on, but the students were really, really confused about the characters and the setting. For some of them, that overshadowed the whole experience. Similarly, Bank’s Culture universe is pretty difficult to feel comfortable in if one begins with Look to Windward. Despite the fact that it doesn’t tackle the kind of broad thematics of that book, Player of Games provides a much better introduction to the Culture.

I should also note some of the meta-themes in the course, although one nice aspect of teaching this kind of class is that the students take it in unexpected directions.

  1. The relationship between politics, roles, and games. This carries across a wide variety of the literature and bridges works that deal with different themes.
  2.  Sovereignty and the exception. Although this also cuts across a number of works, Watchmen, Starship Troopers, and Enders Game constitute the “core” of this discussion. Related, of course, is “guardianship.”
  3. The status of the “Other” in politics in general, and imperial relations in particular. 
  4. Technological shifts and politics, particularly around the idea of the “singularity” but extended out much more broadly to issues of political change. 

I eliminated a number of works that were in the previous semester.  The most difficult one to cut was Julian Comstock. I am close to pulling the trigger on a CJ Cherryh — likely Downbelow Station or Cyteen, both of which would integrate nicely. Due to their length, though, I need to think hard about how to make it work. Either gets at core themes of the syllabus, and it would allow me to add another female author.

Thoughts? Keep the ideas coming, please!


Visualizing the Correlates of Global Issue Creation

My big work-related task this month is to pull together my focus group findings into something approximating a theoretically relevant conference paper. I like to start with visualizations.

This chart is derived from a code scheme we developed to categorize human security practitioners’ responses in focus groups to the question: what factors facilitate or inhibit the emergence of new issues on global policy agenda? Answers fell into five broad buckets, and this is an overview of the contents of the various buckets and how they relate to one another and to the extent literature on advocacy networks. Of most interest to my project is the highly central yet largely under-theorized category “network effects.”

Reactions on either the chart, the theoretical argument embodied here, or the data very welcome.

Also, a bleg: do any readers know of user-friendly visualization software to make a graph like this interactive? I’d like viewers to be able to move their pointer over a code-name and see the code definition, and over a code bucket and see a frequency distribution of associated codes.


Hybrid car bleg

I’ve been doing some car shopping this past week and it appears as if one of the best bargains around is the 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid. The base car’s invoice price is a bit less than $26,000. However, Nissan is offering $5000 (!!) cash back in some areas of the country — $4000 that has been available for many months, $500 that is a generic Nissan incentive over the next month, and $500 more for the holiday weekend.

That means that some dealers are offering the vehicle for under $20,000.

Additionally, because Nissan hasn’t sold many of these cars, they are still eligible for a nice tax credit from the federal government: $2350.

We’re now talking about a midsize Sedan Hybrid for $17,500. The non-hybrid version of this car is the top-rated vehicle in its class according to Consumer Reports. Prius may be a better mobile billboard, but the Altima seems like a very good car. Plus, Nissan licensed Toyota’s hybrid technology.

Personally, I’d add the K01 “convenience package” to the base brice, which provides an electrically adjustable driver seat and some other stuff for $1300. Indeed, including that option, I’ve been quoted $21,280 from a dealer I found on-line. The tax credit would reduce the price another 10% next year.

Here’s the catch — and the reason for my bleg: I apparently cannot buy (or even test drive) the car in Kentucky. Or anywhere near here. The dealership I linked is geographically the closest to my home and it is over 400 miles away.

Nissan is only marketing this vehicle in states that have adopted the “California emissions standards.” These are mostly in the northeastern U.S. — or on the west coast.

Thanks to cars.com, I found a used 2009 version of the car in Louisville and gave it a test drive. As some reviewers had warned, the vehicle hesitated (jerked?) a bit when switching from electric to gas-power. However, the car I drove had over 30,000 miles on its odometer as it was a former fleet car. I presumed the automobile had been worked hard and was not an especially good representative of the model.

Has anyone been behind the wheel of a 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid? Rental agencies sometimes have them. Does anyone own an older model? If so, I’d really appreciate your feedback. I’m seriously thinking of heading east to get this car — and that with the knowledge that the closest certified Nissan service technician for its hybrid is in Indianapolis, just over 100 miles away. Local dealers could only work on the non-hybrid parts of the car. In my view, AAA would provide any needed towing if something major went wrong.

Most reviewers disliked the vehicles limited availability and relatively high price (before rebates). Doesn’t it seem as if those problems can be resolved?

Anyone want to talk me back from the brink?



Beach Book Blegging

At the invitation of an old friend, my daughter and I will be traveling to Thailand the first two weeks of July, and I’ve been commanded to bring only vacation reading. It’s been awhile since I did any of that and I could use suggestions for humorous, smart, non-war-crimes related non-fiction or other good beach reads.

In the past I’ve enjoyed humorous science writing like Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; funny, twisted memoirs like Augusten Buroughs’ Running With Scissors or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle or social-science-for-laypersons books like More Sex is Better Sex:The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics Heck, I’ll even take a good novel as a last resort. (No mysteries please. Zombie literature ok.)

And it has to be available in paperback. What should I consider? Comment away.


Crowdsourcing Syllabus Design: A Bleg

It may come as a surprise to you that, having spent most of my career in a policy school, I have never taught a doctoral seminar surveying the field of IR theory. Until now. Frankly, I’m pretty daunted by trying to squeeze the empirical, substantive, methodological, epistemological and theoretical complexity of the entire field into a semester. I’ve settled on making sure they have a basic foundation on which to begin the IR comp reading list: a grasp of relevant international history, parameters of debate between major theoretical schools, familiarity with the substance of the key subfields, plus a chance to develop the basic skill-sets they need to survive doctoral work at UMass, where cross-subfield work is encouraged.

So the plan is to have them to read seven canonical books in seven weeks, each one exemplifying a major school of thought or IR subfield.* The rest of the readings will be articles to complement the books. My problem is in identifying the single most important canonical book to exemplify each of these thematic weeks.

Question: If you were going to assign one and only one book for each of the following weeks to a gateway doctoral seminar in IR theory for political science students who may or may not choose IR as their major field, what would that book be?

1) Realism and Neorealism
2) Liberalism and Neoliberal Institutionalism
3) Constructivism
4) Critical Theory (will incorporate feminist IR here)
5) International Security
6) International Political Economy
7) International Institutions (Law and Organizations)

*The remaining six weeks will include the Introduction, a Concepts and History week to give them some working facts and jargon, and a Classical IR Theory week where we do Thucydides, Kant, Hobbes etc, plus three weeks of skill-building at the end where guest speakers come through to present work in progress on cross-cutting themes that engage the various theories and/or subfields.

Many thanks in advance.


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