Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Edited Volumes?

Chris Blattman got some heat for his post on advice he gave to junior faculty.  Specifically, folks got upset that he pooh-pooh-ed edited volumes.  So, he elaborated today.  I did not think that his advice was very controversial.  Indeed, I labeled it conventional wisdom but in a good way--this is what folks generally think. 

Why are edited volumes problematic? To be clear, there are two roles here: editing a volume and contributing to one.  A junior prof should be reluctant to edit one for at least two reasons--it is a huge time suck, and junior folks do not have a heap of time; and they could end up alienating senior faculty if they have to edit (reject or ask for substantial revisions) a big name who is contributing to the volume.  Contributing is a bit different, but that is what Chris was talking about.

One of his key claims is that people do not find such work as accessible.  Even in the gated community that is academia, fellow academics can usually get pdf's of articles in most journals pretty easily, but book chapters?  Not unless you want to buy the book or hope that the library has a copy.  So, it is simply less likely to be cited and less likely to be influential.  There are other problems as well--that the speed of an edited volume is very much like the speed of a naval convoy--it goes as fast as the slowest contributor/ship.  I have two contributions to edited volumes outstanding--and I have no clue about when they will appear in print.  I am ok with that because I can be ok with that.

Chris's basic calcuation is: could the time spent on a book chapter be better spent on an article that would appear in a refereed journal?  There are a couple of things that he overlooks: the networking and the feedback.  Edited volumes are usually not about sending off a piece to be joined with other stuff (it happens), but most usually part of a conference/workshop where one meets others doing work in related areas.  My first edited volume experience was terrific because it had multiple meetings (the last one in a cool location--Palm Desert) with a heap of smart people, only some of whom ended up in the edited volume.  The feedback was terrific, it inspired some new research directions that led me to interesting places, and the edited volume made a big splash.  My contribution has been well-cited, so the whole experience was very much worth.  But it was hardly typical.  I have had other good experiences but none so good as that one, not even when I was the editor.

Still, junior faculty can and perhaps should say yes to the occasional edited volume if it is attached with a workshop that would involve people one wants to meet and if the project is either not that much work or is the start of a promising direction.  But even then, the junior prof should be cautious. 

The value of a chapter in an edited volume depends on where one is working, how much the senior faculty value chapters versus articles, and how much one's subfield seems to value chapters versus articles.  Editing a volume, unless it does really, really well, does not help one's tenure chances as much as writing articles, and editing one volume takes a lot more time than writing one article.   I think Chris was right in emphasizing the time tradeoffs, but the networking/intellectual development possibilities were underplayed in his piece.

I think the answer is much clearer about book reviews, which was in the same entry for Blattman, as edited volumes--only do book reviews if you would read that book anyway.

As always, tradeoffs exist so one needs to be attuned to the opportunity costs of the various choices.


Bad Op-Ed, Good Social Science?

There was a piece in today's NYT that attracted the ire of my twitter friends who are veterans/care about veterans: it associated white supremacists with the US military.  Ouch.  The piece itself presented some broad generalizations that are pretty problematic  (as explained well here), but it raised a question that I do think is worth thinking about: what role does the US military play in the development of white supremacist movements in the US?

I am not saying all vets or most vets or even some vets are radicalized by war and become crazy, racist criminals/terrorists.  What I am curious about is:
  • whether military experience is over-represented in the white supremacist movement(s), 
  • whether future supremacists join the military to gain skills that they intend to deploy as part of the movement, 
  • whether young white folks who have no experience of "others" become more radicalized once they interact with perhaps the most integrated workforce in the U.S.--the US armed forces,
  • whether the military serves as a networking experience.
Lots of ink has been spilled over the various webs that connect Islamist extremists, but much less attention has been directed to white supremacists who have killed many, many Americans (some say the KKK has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda has).  

To be clear, in my one year at the Pentagon, I was amazed at how diverse the workforce there was, and it remains the most integrated of any workplace I have ever experienced.  I do not think that the military or war causes many people to become white supremacists, but we do have examples of former military folks becoming terrorists--Timothy McVeigh comes to mind.

I am not a military sociologist so I do not know what has been done in this area, but I would imagine that some folks react to the military experience in ways that are not so positive.  It may or may not have anything to do with combat.  The twitter discussion today produced several testable hypotheses--can we assess whether white supremacists are more or less likely than the average American of the same race/class/background to have military experience?  To have combat experience?  I have no idea, but it is something that we should consider even as we ought not generalize and consider all veterans to be potential extremists.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Boxes

After my talk at the University of British Columbia, I was asked about where I stood between the subfields of Comparative and International Relations.  The observer noted that some of the theory behind NATO in Afghanistan is built on comparative politics, but the subject is very much IR--alliances and war.  So, what am I?  An IR person or a comparativist?  Basically the former with a willingness to use the tools of the latter.

Outsiders may see this as strange, but as social identity theory will tell you, it matters to you and it matters to others how one is identified.  The questions that have always interested me the most are those that cross borders--who gets involved in someone else's conflict (book 1), why do some wars happen and others not (book 2), how do alliances operate in wartime (book 3).  I have always taught IR classes, such as Intro to IR.  However, I have written on topics that fall squarely within comparative politics: why some groups want to secede, how do institutions ameliorate ethnic conflict or not, and so on.  More to the point, my understanding of IR almost always hinges on how I think about domestic politics, and because I am almost always interested in more than one country, I end up applying comparative politics.  That is, theories from the field of comparative politics have often been useful to me as I seek to understand why countries vary in how they do their International Relations.

Perhaps some folks are confused about me.  I do think that this might have been a problem at the start of my career, but I am pretty sure that people have gotten used to folks working at the intersection of the two fields.  I had some senior colleagues who had outdated views of what IR people do, but they had outdated views on pretty much everything else.  For me, the basic thing is that I go where the questions lead me and my curiosity tends towards IR, and then I go to where I think the answers are, which because of my biases, in domestic politics.  

Still, we have the boxes.  They make it handy for studying for comps, for defining job ads, for allocating responsibilities and so on.  I am now in an interdisciplinary place where the distinctions are not between IR, Comparative, Theory and American/Canadian Politics but between Conflict Analysis, Development, and National Security.  I am so confused about my identity these days!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Prime Directive for Academic Writing

I was trying to figure out this morning if I had written this before.  I know I have said it many times.  In my search, I found that I have several Rule #1 posts (such as this and that), but none for writing and apparently no Rule #2 posts although this post mentions both my rule #1 and a potential rule #2.

Anyhow, with NPSIA grad student Eric Jardine writing about his dissertation experiences, I was thinking of my rule #1 for writing, which I was thinking of already as my students in my Contemporary Security course are now working on their final papers and the rule is relevant for them as well.

Rule #1, the prime directive of academic writing, is:
Just because you learned something does not mean it is relevant for the current writing project.  
The danger of doing heaps of research is losing track of that which is relevant to the argument, the project, and that which is cool but not so relevant.  I have had a series of conversations lately where I am reminded about that which Dave Auerswald and I learned as we researched the book but did not put in the book.   Some of that info will be handy in my teaching, some will come out in my blogs and in other writings, but if it was not relevant for the book's main arguments, it got dropped. 

Given that book publishers and journals have word limits, following this rule should make one's life a bit easy. 

Oh, and rule #1 of reading, at least for me, is not to read folks that are always wrong (a.k.a. the Robert Kaplan Rule). 



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Canada and NATO: Pondering the Confusion

Today, I met with a European diplomat based in Ottawa.  He was seeking a better understanding of Canada's stance towards NATO.  I don't think I was of much help.  I am seriously confused by the Harper government's stance.  I have heard much mutterings in Ottawa that the government is not thrilled with NATO and is disengaging.

This makes sense if you focus on a few things:
  • there are some costs savings, minor as they may be, by opting out of NATO efforts such as the AWACS planes, AGS (alliance ground surveillance [drones]), etc.
  • the Harper government would seek to undo any and all Liberal legacies that they can find.  NATO happens to be one of those things that the Liberals always engaged.
  • the general Harper distaste for anything that is multilateral.  There is a definite preference for bilateralism.
However, disengaging now makes less sense:
  • as it wastes whatever street cred Canada earned in Kandahar.  If Canada gained heft in Brussels as a burden bearer, then withdrawing means that heft goes unused as hard as it is to measure heft.
  • if the Arctic is Canada's defence priority, most of the countries involved are either NATO countries (US, Norway, Denmark) or NATO's raison d'etre (Russia).  One would think that as Canada tussles with Russia over their respective expansive claims that Canada might want more than just the US.  Sure, bilateral relations with the US plus NORAD help tie the US to Canada, but NATO and Article V would be an additional bond. 

And then there is Ukraine.  Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister Baird have come out swinging, demanding more action and more support for Ukraine.  Why? The Russian menace?  The threat to Alaska?  The political relevance of the Ukrainian Canadian community?  I'd have to bet just a bit on the latter given my career focus on ethnic ties.

So, what happens if NATO wants to do something about Ukraine?  Would disengaged Canada set aside or would enraged Harper/Baird jump in?  If this was someplace else (Syria?), I would say the former, but the political relevance of Ukraine for Canada might just tip the balance.  As a social scientist, I am kind of thrilled to see the natural experiment play out.  As a person who does not want World War III over Ukraine, I am just a bit nervous.

I don't think there is much NATO can do about Ukraine.  Especially since it will be mighty hard to get consensus, which is necessary for NATO to act.  So, perhaps this is all performance art by Harper and Baird since action is hardly likely.


Monday, April 7, 2014

A Reminder

Montreal was pretty cool, the ultimate scene was great, and I miss most of my colleagues, but when I look back, there is one element that I miss more than any other--the students.  Here is a nice illustration of why:


Oh, and the video features heaps of places I hung out, but unsurprisingly Leacock 132, the big lecture hall, seems to be missing.

Whining Works

Ok, I cannot and should not take credit for a change in corporation policy, but the coincidence amuses me.

While I was traveling, I found out via social media that Chili's, the restaurant chain, was supporting an autism awareness group that supported the anti-vaccination movement.  Since I am, ahem, virulently opposed to the anti-vaxxers, I was most disappointed to see that the only fast food restaurant at my terminal in Calgary was Chili's.   I tweeted my frustration

and eventually Chili's tweeted back at me, so I responded thusly:
and then a friend tweeted me the news:

Clearly, I was not the only one upset at Chili's and I am sure others were tweeting at/about the food chain.  Sure, they might not have known better.  The reality is that if you give money to a group that supports a conspiracy theory that is leading people to undermine the collective good of having a vaccinated population, those folks who tend to buy into this thing we call science are going to get upset.  Companies have a hard time these days dancing between different motivated opponents who can tweet/facebook/blog/whatever their various concerns.  A good rule of thumb might be to stick with science?

Anyhow, I jokingly took credit for the change, as Laura was just teasing.  The folks who deserve the credit are those who got out the news, as it is easy to tweet and retweet.  It is harder to keep track of all these companies and the questionable charities that some support.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Calgary Tourism, Step 1

I went to the Military Museums this morning.  I don't think I have ever been to museums that were focused mostly on units as opposed to battles or countries.  So, the first hunk of the building is dedicated to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.  PPCLI was formed at the outset of World War I and has played a significant role in pretty much every Canadian engagement since. 
The memorial room demonstrated a few basic truths about the larger Canadian efforts:
  • that Canadian soldiers got killed doing peacekeeping.  We tend to forget this, but it is important to remember that the blue helmet was no magical shield.
  • that Afghanistan was almost as costly for the PPCLI as Korea, and given medical improvements, the slightly lower KIA probably can be read as a higher number of wounded in action than in Korea.  
  • that WWI really sucked.  Most of the room's walls are covered by markers to those lost in the "war to end all wars."  Such poor strategy, such poor leadership.  Amazing that anyone would be willing to serve under the British again...
The afternoon will be spent at other kinds of museums and checking out the city itself.  

Reaping the Whirlwind

Perhaps it is too early to bathe in schadenfreude, but there are plenty of folks eagerly anticipating the defeat of Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois on Monday.  Why?  For many reasons but mostly because people want to see Marois and the PQ punished for their embracing of xenophobia.  The symbolic politics has gone awry for a variety of reasons.

Sure, the Charter of Xenophobes seemed swell when it banned government workers from wearing religious symbols--remember it had heaps of support for quite a while.  I guess the specifics made it just a bit less popular: that it also might cover private companies contracting with the government (H/T to Jacob Levy for pointing this out to me); and when the obvious was admitted--that people would lose their jobs--folks got turned off.

Marois's effort to say that the government would help the newly unemployed was shrugged off as the sham that it was--since damn near all health care is public, there would be no private jobs for those doctors, nurses and technicians losing their jobs.  Where would the professors go?  No private universities in Quebec.

Of course, one of the biggest problems with using hate and fear symbolically to divide the opposition is that you tend to pick up allies along the way that really do hate and really do fear.  And then they speak up and make the party and the platform appear even more awful.  So, we get testimony about Muslims praying on their knees, concerns about McGill rich men dominating the hours of a private pool (nonsense on stilts), candidates promoting conspiracy theory about kosher and halal taxes on their websites.  This is what happens when a party creates an environment where fear and hate are tolerated and even embraced.  As Marois did on multiple occasions, including holding up Ms. Betrand, the woman who somehow that that a bill on public servants would affect a condo pool.

Yes, heaps of schadenfreude indeed.  Marois is going to be penalized heavily as the PQ does not treat its leaders well even when the going is good.  When they fail, oh my.  By embracing hate and fear, Marois will earn not just a defeat for the PQ but the ire of her defeated party.  She will not be the one to lead to the PQ to the promised land of sovereignty (more on that later).  Instead, she gets to spend the rest of her political life in the desert, without any of the respect that previous PQ losing politicians (Parizeau) somehow continue to receive.

Grail Knight IJ - Embracing Hate, Marois? You have Chosen Poorly

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dumb Lede Du Jour

How do they say du jour in Danish?

I ask because this story's headline is dumb on stilts.  Denmark is leaving Afghanistan early?  Yes, its troops are coming home earlier than planned but summer of 2014 is not early compared to nearly everyone else.

The Dutch withdrew from combat in 2010, the Canadians withdrew from combat in 2011. These folks were the early departers.  A quick look at the NATO placemat that
  • New Zealand has essentially left (2 out of previous commitment of 200--and an active 200 they were--see the book's chapter seven).
  • France is down to 200 or so, and that will be zero soon enough.
  • Australia is similar, down significantly and out soon.
Anyhow, I get uppity when folks say bad things about the Danish in particular since they sacrificed more than any other country, pretty much, if one factors in the size of the country's population or the size of the contingent.

Networking Amidst the Slopes

Networking can be fun:

I skied today at Sunshine Village in Banff National Park, just west of Calgary.  Trip had some serious purpose behind it:
  • meeting with some of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute people since I am now a Fellow.  I still am not sure what it means to be a Fellow, so that was one of the reasons I came to Calgary--figure out the expectations and share my views with these folks.  I had a very interesting lunch where they threw a bunch of questions at me--some of which I actually had some knowledge about (NATO, irredentism) and much I did not (China, Putin's inner soul).
  • presenting the book's findings to the people at U of Calgary's Center on Military and Strategic Studies.  Canada has few universities but is a big place, so it made sense for me to go to the CMSS folks to meet them and exchange views.  
  • Both meetings were part of a larger effort that I am leading to build networks among the folks interested in Canadian defence stuff.  The partnership grant will try to make up for the loss of much of the old networks that was lost with the end of the Security and Defence Forum.
These three aspects are all part of a larger thing--once I moved from Montreal to Ottawa, I realized I was committing to Canada for the long term.  I didn't spend much time institution building or networking when I was trying to leave McGill because I expected to move south back below the Wall.  But the magic of the job market led me to my sweet job in Ottawa.  So, doubling down on Canada.

And, yes, going skiing after my work was done is very much part of my "declaring success."  My knees survived today's skiing, and Sunshine Village had many excellent slopes, including a kick-ass trail to the parking lot.  So, I declare "success."

Next week? Daughter's turn as we go to Vancouver to check out UBC.  And, yes, there will be some skiing involved.  Woot.