Tag: stephen colbert

Threat inflation: intergalactic edition

Should IR scholars worry about material threats emanating from outside the confines of earth? IR scholars Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall sort of tackled that question in a 2008 article in the journal Political Theory. They discussed the “UFO taboo,” which essentially prohibits “the authoritative public sphere” from “taking UFOs seriously.” Dan gave the scholarly response some attention at the time.

In any event, here’s a summary of the Wendt and Duvall argument:

The UFO compels decision because it exceeds modern governmentality, but we argue that the decision cannot be made. The reason is that modern decision presupposes anthropocentrism, which is threatened metaphysically by the possibility that UFOs might be ETs. As such, genuine UFO ignorance cannot be acknowledged without calling modern sovereignty itself into question. This puts the problem of normalizing the UFO back onto governmentality, where it can be “known”only without trying to find out what it is—through a taboo. The UFO, in short, is a previously unacknowledged site of contestation in an ongoing historical project to constitute sovereignty in anthropocentric terms. Importantly, our argument here is structural rather than agentic. We are not saying the authorities are hiding The Truth about UFOs, much less that it is ET. We are saying they cannot ask the question.

The Wendt and Duvall piece is available for free download, so check it out if you are interested.

This post is about the fact that physicist Stephen Hawking broke the taboo this past week with the broadcast of his Discovery Channel program and followup interviews for newspapers and television. Moreover, Hawking is clearly worried about extraterrestrial threats.

The following quotes are from a Times of London story dated April 25, 2010:

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

…He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

According to published reports, aliens might pose enormous threats to earth that wouldn’t even directly involve the planet:

“Hawking contends that one such consequence of contact with advanced life is the possibility of our sun being either drained completely for energy resources, or used as the catalyst to create massive wormholes for cross planetary travel. In either case, these two options being catastrophic and deadly for humans.”

Perhaps because of the SETI program and other human activity, Hawking told Larry King that humans cannot readily hide our existence: “It is already too late. If they are out there they will know.”

Earlier this week, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert was far more sanguine about the alleged threat.


Not At All Shiny

On the Report tonight, Stephen Colbert gave a long, funny, monologue about how he is more hip-hop-pop-cultural-savvy than Michael Steele.

Then, in the following segment on Node 3 of the International Space Station, he (and his screenwriters) seemingly demonstrated a surprising lack of cultural literacy. How else to explain their disbelief at the fact that “Serenity” beat out “Colbert” as one of the most-recommended names for Node 3? Watch the clip and tell me if I’m misinterpreting this.

Oh, and you can go here to vote.


Truthy or Dare

If you’ve not done so, open up your Political Science & Politics and read James Fowler‘s article “The Colbert Bump in Campaign Donations: More Truthful than Truthy.” In this brilliant piece, Fowler empirically tests whether support exists for Stephen Colbert‘s claim that Congresspersons who appear on his late-night comedy show receive a “bump” in their approval ratings.

Now I need to go back through my video archive to make sure I’m correct in thinking the correct indicator of approval ratings, according to Colbert, is opinion polls (Fowler uses donations to Congressional campaigns as a proxy). That notwithstanding, I think this article is brilliant for three reasons.

1) It’s brilliantly, refreshingly funny – bravo to PS&Politics for publishing not only a scholarly article about political satire, but one written in a satirical style. (Fowler peppers his descriptions of selection effects and Mann Whitney U nonparametric tests with such gems as: “I’m sure Stephen will be pleased there is a ‘man’ in his statistical test – though, what kind of a man calls himself Whitney?”

2) It’s an article born to make students excited about political science: a simple empirical test of a popular empirical claim, with all the boring theory-relevance evacuated. Of course, because it does absolutely nothing to build theory, many journals might not have published it. But I’m delighted it was published, because it advances our understanding of how popular culture impacts political outcomes. More political scientists should focus on using our methodological tools to test popular assumptions. Who says polisci has to be boring?

3) Also, the article introduces political scientists who don’t watch the Colbert Report (I was surprised to learn that the average viewership is only about 1.3 million) to a popular phenomenon that nonetheless exerts “a disproportionate real-world influence” due to its elite demographic; while introducing Colbert fans to a dispassionate analysis (minus hype) of the show’s impact on real-world politics.

Fowler’s methodology is creative and intriguing. Instead of simply tracing the actual before-and-after campaign success of Colbert’s interviewees, he controls for selection effects by pair-matching Colbert Report guests with similar political candidates who did not go on the show. His none-too-counterintuitive finding is that the Colbert “bump” in fact exists, but only for Democrats.

Read the whole thing here.


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