Tag: stuff political scientists like

Stuff Political Scientists Like #17: Outside Offers, or Stuff Other Political Scientists Like

Political scientists like to complain about how little they are paid, which tends to be irritating to any number of other groups, most notably anyone who has a job other than that of a political scientist and has to be into the office say, before noon.

Part of the reason that political scientists are so poorly compensated for their great contribution to humankind is that they are only rewarded when others from outside their organization value their work. This is because political scientists most like what other political scientists like.

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Stuff Political Scientists Like #16 — Summer Break

Political scientists love summer break. They do not sail, as they have no money for a boat. They do not sun bathe, as they would burn outdoors. Spending time with children is not high on the priority list, at least for male political scientists, who generally use their paternity leave as a sabbatical to finish a book. And it is well known that political scientists are all deathly afraid of kites. No, political scientists love summer break for the exact opposite reason as everyone else. They get to work. 
Political scientists like to “get stuff out.” This means to send out their articles and books for anonymous review by peers, not that they are constipated or have to clean out the garage, which is normally what non-political scientists think when they hear political scientists talk. Political scientists should really be more careful with their language. “Getting stuff out” is important because the median time between the inception of an idea and its publication in print for a political science article is 12.5 years. Books come in at 18. This is why there is so much pressure on political science graduate students. They are up for tenure. 
That political scientists love to work in the summer generally comes as a surprise to non-political scientists who assume that like other teachers, political scientists become political scientists so they can have summers off. This is a familiar refrain for political scientists at home with their families during the holidays. They try in vain to explain that they love to write and that they never have enough time to do so. Their relatives, remembering how painful it was to write 15 page papers in college, aren’t fucking buying it. Who wouldn’t want to work for only six months a year with good benefits and no chance of getting fired?  
“Getting stuff out” during the school year is made most difficult by professors’ biggest chore – teaching. Professors sometimes spend up to eight hours a week in the classroom. And they are expected to create new classes at least once a decade. Their office door must remain open for two hours a week, in case anyone stops in to ask a question, and the noise from the hallway is very distracting. Bell tower chimes are noisy. And those papers don’t grade themselves. Graduate students have to be given an answer key. And that takes time to create. Plus the traffic to work at 11am is brutal, just brutal. Bloomington is so congested these days. But in the summer, political scientists have none of these obligations and are free to let their hair down and just be themselves – the really uptight antisocial narcissists that they are. 
Most of political scientists’ summer is spent on their “APSA paper,” the one they committed to writing eight months prior for the annual political science convention, which marks the official end of summer vacation. Political scientists make such promises way in advance in order to force themselves to write, which might seem strange to non-political scientists. You might ask, didn’t you just finish saying that political scientists love to write? Yes, but political scientists find it difficult during the summer when they have no structure. They can get up anytime they want. There are no deadlines or traffic to contend with. How can one be disciplined with so much free time? There are all those back issues of the New Yorker and the Nation that have piled up. Without being surrounded by like-minded colleagues for a few months, how will one reinforce what one already thinks? Those beliefs don’t just bolster themselves.

As they sheepishly present their APSA “paper,” which generally resembles their sister-in-law’s high school term paper, sometimes even reaching 15 pages, political scientists promise themselves that the coming school year will be good for them. It will encourage them to use their time more wisely. And in another eight years or so, fingers crossed, that paper will be a pretty good publication.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #15 — The Thrill of the Hunt

The big cats in political scientists like to hunt big game, the book contract at a “major university press.” Landing such a catch can feed oneself and his or her cubs for a long time, even for a lifetime. The “book at a major university press” can get you tenure. You will never have to eat again.

Book editors are wily prey, however, and have adapted to their dangerous environment through a number of clever strategies, the most important of which is not answering their email. Another behavioral modification to survive in this Darwinian world of eat-or-be-eaten is the platitude. “This book is not for us, but I am sure it will find a good home. Please consider us an outlet for your future work.”

Increasingly rare in the wild, political scientists have an organized game park — the conference book room. There they can stalk their prey in an environment somewhat approximating a natural environment, with editors surrounded by their press’ books in a book stall. They are sitting ducks. To escape, these wily creatures have been known to use their weakest as shield. Editorial assistants look just like book editors and can distract hungry academics just long enough for book editors to escape. Lured by the business trip to San Diego, these poor, young, ambitious employees are sacrificed in the interests of their bosses.

Poor, poor Chuck Myers. Against David Lake he did not stand a chance.

Press representatives have no choice though but to participate in these academic safaris as the hunters hold exclusive control over their main food source – the book that actually sells. Book editors are foragers in a scarce, overpopulated world, the camels of the academic desert. Over time, they have developed strong stomachs capable of digesting book prospectuses that at one time would have been impossible to consume. They have even been known to publish books about zombies in times of true desperation and starvation. To protect themselves from noxious odors, the most advanced editors have no sense of smell. Others simply hold their nose. It is a dog-eat-dog world.

Not all hunters stalk in the same way. Some charge headstrong into the fight, brandishing their prospectus in one hand while shielding, to the degree they can, their greatest vulnerability – their sense of self-esteem. More experienced political scientists generally prefer a more delicate dance that requires more effort but has a greater chance of success. They browse books, ask about the family, lulling the editor into a false sense of security. Then they pounce. “I have a book you might be interested in.”

Editors are not completely defenseless, however. If they cannot hide, they can counterattack through the right of exclusive review. This turns the tables, holding off the author’s strike for months, sometimes even years. The hunter has become the hunted. Press reps also engage in diversionary tactics. “I think that Cambridge might be interested in this book.” There is no loyalty among book editors. It is every press for itself. John Haslam might suffer a brutal attack, but Roger Haydon lives another day. It is just business. That’s all.

There is fierce competition among academics for access to this increasingly scarce commodity ,of course. If one browses the book stall too long, an interloper can step in. The political scientist must bide his time and circle back around later. By this time the carcass might be picked clean and other sources must be sought out. Academics live on borrowed time. The tenure clock is ticking. The stomach is growling. With the stags all gone, they must lower their sights – the rabbit, otherwise known as the commercial press. While not as nourishing, it can give the political scientist the strength to fight another day.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #14 — Fantasy Role-Playing, or Game Theory

Political scientists like fantasy role-playing games. But this does not mean they are simple nerds. They like a particularly elegant and sophisticated escapism called game theory. While it might seem obscure and overly complicated at first, you can grasp game theory and impress your political scientist friends with a very simple insight — game theory is just like Dungeons & Dragons.

Like Dungeons & Dragons, game theory players embark upon imaginary adventures in which they interact with others in situations never before seen in the real world. The game theorist operates as the dungeon master, setting up a stylized environment in which players cooperate and compete over some prize such as being elected, winning a missile crisis, or maintaining a fixed exchange rate system. He, always he, sets up the game tree or matrix that describes the actions that are possible at different moments in the adventure or campaign and gives them their powers like the ability to veto or escalate. The outcomes are based on probabilities, although game theorists do not use dodecahedron dice. And like Dungeons & Dragons, the outcome is of no consequence for understanding the actual world around us.

Game theorists believe that active use of imagination clarifies complex situations and concepts. They point out that simple games like Chicken, the Prisoner’s Dilemma or the Battle of the Sexes are apt metaphors that help us understand any number of strategic interactions in the real world. It is unclear how game theorists came about the inspiration for those games, as no game theorist has ever talked to a girl, much less been forced to choose between a romantic beach or mountain holiday. Their interactions with the opposite sex generally revolve around Japanese anime. And they aren’t exactly James Dean or hardened felons either.

Bargaining must have broken down due to incentives to dissemble. Dragons do indeed have a hard time making credible commitments as they make the offense dominant.

Game theory is sometimes called formal modeling, which is an unfortunate term, as no game theorist has ever worn a tuxedo, ever. They are generally pleased to find some sweatpants at the bottom of the laundry basket without a stain. And game theorists avoid having their picture taken when possible because… well, there is the sweatpants, for one.

It is not known whether a successful career in game theory is correlated with prior experience as a dungeon master although there are clear signs that this might be the case. Game theorists and D&D players both spend considerable time in windowless rooms. And both try to avoid any contact with genuine empirical data, whether it be books or the reality that there are no sexy witches in the real world.

However, there are clear differences as well. Game theorists make considerable sums of money while most D&D players, even adult ones, still live in their parents’ basement. And game theorists have clearly lost all sense of mystery. Their players are all colorless automotons who cannot talk to each without fearing that the other is lying, much less fly. They are, however, remarkably capable of making precise estimates of probability which is kind of like magic.

It is possible that game theorists are fantasy enthusiasts who no longer possess an inner child’s sense of wonder. This is perhaps due to the crushing experience of interacting with other game theorists on a regular basis.Contrary to longstanding rumors, however, game theorists are not Satanists. It is all just good clean fun. Indeed their preferred environment, a godless dystopia of egoistic utility maximizers, suggests that they are much more likely to be atheists. It is also not possible to harm a game theorist with silver, although they do suffer great pain when their on-line access to the American Political Science Review is cut off.


Stuff Political Scientists (Don’t) Like #13, Holiday Edition — Explaining Themselves to Loved Ones

Even political scientists have families. And during the holidays they are occasionally forced to talk to them. Not their spouses and children, who have already given up on them, but extended families, like aunts, uncles, etc. This puts political scientists in the awkward position of trying to explain just what on earth it is they actually do.

Non-political scientists, in their desperate effort to make small talk with someone they see just every few years, make the assumption that political scientists know something about politics. They will ask, “What do you think Obama’s chances are?” Or, “do you think Herman Cain really groped that woman?” At this point, they will be inevitably disappointed by the response, which will be straight from the New York Times, where all political scientists get all their information about real politics –that, or the New Yorker.

Non-political scientists think that political science is current events, high school civics for college students. So if a political scientist tells someone at the gym that he studies international relations, the response is always, “Boy that is interesting these days. There is a lot to keep busy with.” Until recently the political scientist could simply respond, “Yes, we are very close to knowing where Bin Laden is” and the non-political scientist would go away comforted that political scientists were on the case. Now he must simply nod, or risk crushing the non-political scientist by explaining what his new book is actually on – early 20th century Portugese colonialism.

People get the wrong idea, however, when political scientists appear on the network news in their natural environment, a room shelved with what looks like two dozen complete series of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Political scientists feel very comfortable amongst reference books. Here they are asked to lend gravitas to already established and self-evident facts. Did you know that Newt Gingrich’s recent decline in polls suggests that he might have difficulty securing the Republican nomination? That the situation in Iraq will become more uncertain with the departure of U.S. troops? Some guy in a library told me so! This gives the impression that political scientists follow or care about politics, when in fact they just want to be on TV.

Political scientists are smart enough to know that politics does not matter. They are the keepers of the secrets, the underlying generalizable forces that truly explain the events of our time. Will Burma democratize? Well what is its GDP? Will Iran develop the nuclear weapon? Well what is the size of its selectorate? This makes them terrible at small talk. So if there is a political scientist in your family, stick to sports this holiday season. How about that Tim Tebow?


Stuff Political Scientists Like #12 — Artistic Pretensions

If you stumble upon a political scientist unwittingly, perhaps mid-conversation at a party, you might assume they are a great humanitarian or an artist. Who else would make constant references to “my work,” with the implication that what he or she does if of enormous social and political consequence? You will be puzzled. Certainly no one wearing Dockers can be pushing the boundaries of social convention. And if this person is such an agent of change, why is he or she in your friend’s kitchen drinking a Negro Modelo rather than personally putting up mosquito nets in Africa?

No. That’s not it.

Political scientists have the same pretensions as artists, using “work” as a noun rather than a verb (as in ‘I work hard’), with an article (rather thanthe generic ‘work is hard these days’), and without being prefaced by a preposition (like ‘I am at work’). This makes their profession seem somewhat transcendent in nature, existing in a space beyond everyday human experience, ineffable and inscrutable even to those who do it – like art. I don’t care if Nazi stormtroopers are about to capture me, I must finish this canvas! The work is too important!

To be fair, being a political scientist is somewhat akin to being a sculptor. They sift through lumps of raw material and try to fashion it into a coherent shape. Their work will indeed have profound implications on “the work” of as many as five other people. And political scientists also like to work in the light in southern France….when they are on sabbatical.

Political scientists, like artists, have different schools. Political scientists have their own practitioners of the baroque, advanced statisticians testing simple arguments with ever more sophisticated decoration that does not really change the result. In stark contrast, formal modelers adopt an abstract expressionism, reducing variegated and complicated institutional forms such as the state to the simplest possible symbols in an effort to capture their very essence. They are particularly fond of Greek characters.

Constructivists adopt an intersubjective perspective, stressing how the same phenomenon looks very different in different lights. They are also fond of lily ponds and ballet dancers. Despite the increasing popularity of this more impressionistic style of political scientist, the realism of positivists remains the style preferred by the establishment in the grandest salons, err, departments and constructivists must display, err, publish, their works in outside galleries, err, journals. Positivists dislike their fuzzy terms lacking in clear lines.

Yeah, that’s about right.

Political scientists might think of post-positivism as surrealist, but those identified with the school would resist that label and insist that they are infact making sense. A few political scientists move from style to style throughout their careers, adopting new techniques. At one point, Ted Hopf submitted all of his manuscripts in blue font.

But political scientists really bear no resemblance to painters. In fact they specialize in taking a fascinating reality and squeezing all the beauty, life and color out of politics by reformulating its elements and reducing its complexity to the most pedestrian of shapes – the two-by-two table. And no political scientist has ever, ever, sired multiple children by multiple different models. In fact they mean something very different by that term that isn’t sexual at all. Well, maybe for some…..


Stuff Political Scientists Like #10 — a Degree from an Elite School

Political scientists like other political scientists with a Ph.D. degree from a good school. Those who go to Harvard or Yale or Berkeley are ‘well-trained.’ This means that they have successfully completed coursework in rigorous quantitative methods, not that they don’t pee on the floor. Schools with a good pedigree degree offer no guarantees on the latter. In fact, continence is unlikely.

Different kennels elite departments are known for their skill in preparing graduates of particular breeds kinds. Midwestern schools tend to produce terriers students excellent at getting close to the ground to inductively derive theories based through extensive quantitative data mining. European schools are fine producers of hounds post-structuralists capable of sniffing out even the deepest reifications. Chicago has a reputation for training both Rottweilers offensive realists and German sheperds defensive realists. The University of California, San Diego excels at producing herding dogs rationalist scholars who round up the appropriate cases so as to avoid selection effects, while Rochester is an excellent school for sporting dogs game theorists.

Every year students of various pedigree and breed compete for best in show a tenure-track academic job. They are judged on the basis of their gait job talk, teeth collegiality, and, to please the diversity office, color. Pure-bred elite students with papers a diploma from a top school are almost guaranteed a good job. Those mutts who adopt a more analytically eclectic approach find that they please no one, and often spend several months if not years in a humane society visiting adjunct position before they find a nice home with colleagues who love them. They are generally no longer puppies much older than the average student with a good degree when they begin their first job. For unknown reasons, however, they do have fewer health problems and generally live a longer life. Nevertheless, often they are never adopted, in which case they generally are euthanized forced to go to law school. Faculty members generally prefer a student with a good degree, but they often feel better in the end giving someone else a shot.

Of course, having a good degree has a major downside too, however. Generations of inbreeding at elite schools of political science can lead to congenital problems such as an exceedingly narrow dissertation topic involving something called a “selectorate” and, somewhat inexplicably, hip problems. They are snooty and have bad dispositions. In rare cases, this can be blamed on rabies, but this has mostly been eradicated.

If the particular candidate selected for a permanent position turns out to not in fact be well trained and bites people does not perform adequately, it is possible but not to easy to get rid of him (or her). He likely has children friends and allies who do not want to part with him. The department might, nevertheless, find a nice place for him in the country deny him tenure.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #9 — Being Liked, or Citations

Political scientists love citations, or, more accurately, to be cited. Actually compiling citations is a tremendously tedious chore that political scientists leave to the very end of any paper, one marked by a bitter struggle with Endnote.

Citations are the best marker political scientists have of success. As political scientists come in both male and female varieties, they cannot simply measure penises. And even if all political scientists were male, there would not be, to use political science parlance, enough “variation” in such a measure to properly differentiate between them. What is exactly is the substantive difference between 4 and 4.15 inches? Once could of course use the standard deviation, but many political scientists would simply not know what that meant.

Political scientists love to be cited for the same reason that rich people like to name buildings — proof of their existence after death. I was here! I was noticed! I was read! Political scientists are not going to cure cancer. Or even stop genocide, which as well all know is a simple product of strategic logic utility maximization that all human beings are powerless to stop. Every back issue of the American Political Science Review will one day be like a time capsule from the past, showing how we lived back then. It is not etched in marble, but it will have to do.

When pressed, political scientists will acknowledge that citations are a very flawed marker of current academic influence and future immortality because very few citations are actually indications of having learned anything from prior scholarship. Political scientists are bad listeners.

Ironically the most cited political scientists are those with the least influence, those whose work is so terribly bad that other political scientists write innumerable articles criticizing it, thus driving up the citation count. This is called the “Huntington Index.” One might think that if something is so wrong it should be so obvious that it need not merit such overwhelming response. This proves you are not a political scientist.

Political scientists also use “drive-by citations,” repeatedly citing the same one or two works seen as representative of an entire school of scholarship that one does not feel like reading but must acknowledge.* There are also “hat tip citations,” those perfunctory recognitions of those others who blazed the trail before you and who must be cited lest one incur their wrath for not being cited when they serve as reviewers. This is the academic version of saying, “ ‘sup?” and barely nodding one’s head.

Citations are also not immune to the influence of organized crime. Ordinary, law-abiding political scientists live in fear of “citation cartels,”** those who artificially inflate their citation counts by citing one another, thereby distorting the operation of ordinary market mechanisms based on actual consumption. See “peace, democratic.”

Finally political scientists must cite the work they seeking to discredit. Most citations are therefore passive-aggressive. Passive aggressiveness can be enhanced by finding a much older article that made the same point 80 years before and citing it first. This is not hard to do. Political scientists are the world’s leading consumers of old wine and new bottles.

*Credit goes to Mike Tierney for originating this term.

**Harald Schoen came up with this. My thanks.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #7, International Relations edition: Isms

Lest you ask, I do understand the irony of me writing this particular post and risking being a one-hit blogger with the continuation of this series. But I haven’t read a single Harry Potter book, so there is not much I can do. Enjoy!

If you show up at the bar at a conference of international relations scholars, you will immediately stumble upon a conversation about paradigms or ‘isms.’ You will quickly learn that almost all of those same scholars hate the isms and believe the field would be better off without them. Yet this conversation is the same one that has occurred at every hotel bar at an IR conference for 20 years. You are confused. This is because you must first recognize that international relations is like reality TV. This particular species of political scientists claim not to like the ‘isms,’ but the ratings speak otherwise.
If you are an international relations scholar and you want to get published in a big IR journal with a high impact factor, the odds are low, somewhat less than the chances of becoming the next American Idol. And even if you do get this type of network TV facetime, people still might not notice you. Do you remember who the second Bachelor was? The most important thing to do is to say something really crazy, like you can explain war and peace merely by reference to the size of the ‘selectorate.’ From this, you can build your ‘ism,’ your very own IR brand. This ensures a high citation count, the academic equivalent to press coverage, on which all reality TV contestants depend to keep their celebrity alive after their series end.

It is best if you contrive a feud with another, equally mental international relations scholar. Take lessons from Kanye West. This strategy is the same as what TV tells us is the best way to establish street cred in prison – sucker punch the biggest guy in jail on the first day. All academics like a good fight. Even the constructivists. Even feminists will watch female mud wrestling. You can’t look away.
You are now an instant celebrity, the Snooki of the field. (Wear underwear at all times.) It is obvious to non-celebrity academics (the TV audience) that you couldn’t possibly believe such nonsense, but they will not be able to stop talking about you (People magazine). Gossip sites like Political Science Job Rumors (Perez Hilton) will allow internet trolls to post spiteful things about your success, but this only ensures that your reputation grows. Soon you will have a prestige book series to edit (line of fragrances) and an endowed chair (development deal) with which you can train graduate students to be just like you but who inevitably fizzle out as they are always lesser versions of the original (Temptation Island, Hogan Knows Best, the Real Wives of Orange County).
International relations scholars like ‘isms’ for the same reason that television execs like reality TV. They have much lower production costs, as they are much less arduous and cognitively taxing than intense empirical work, which is the equivalent of scripted television. For regular workaday scholars, they are just the kind of brainless thing to sit down and read after a long, mentally tiring day. ‘Iron Chef’ trumps ‘The Wire’ any day. They might feel guilty about it, but this is what they end up talking about at the hotel bar at conferences, which is closest thing to a water cooler that international relations scholars have.
There are still outlets for non-‘ism’ work in excellent niche journals with a more narrow readership, where nuance and sophistication are still important, much like cable TV. But whatever you do, do not start blogging. That is a ticket straight to the D-List.

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