Thursday, May 26, 2011

Libya Mission Creep Update (UPDATED)

You may have forgotten about the Libya campaign.  The media largely have.  But Western involvement is increasing, and likely to increase further soon.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Your Control Variables Don't Do For You: Health and Happiness Edition

This time around, I'm not identifying any new arguments.  Just applying arguments that ought to be widely appreciated at this point to a specific area.  Specifically, studies of health and happiness.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Politics of the 67 Lines

Netanyahu saids the 67 lines are indefensible.  His critics say this is bunk.

But they are largely talking past one another.

There are two reasons, in my mind, why Israel is not any time soon going to withdraw to the 1967 borders, nor accept an agreement closely based upon it with some adjustments through land swaps.  And neither of them have much to do with a belief on Israel's part that occupying Gaza and the West Bank are crucial to Israel's ability to defend itself from external threats.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Positivism, Empiricism, and Skepticism

In comments on this post, Dan Nexon rightly pointed out that I was very hand-wavy about "positivism", "post-positivism" and "critical theory."  He also notes that Wikipedia is anything but helpful here.  I agree completely.  Not only is their entry on positivism terrible, for all the reason described here, but by their definition of post-positivism, I'm not sure how many quant types would be considered positivists.  Even though Wiki informs me that positivism is "the dominant approach to both research and theory construction...in the United States," and that "the majority of articles published in leading...political science journals today are positivist."

So I won't claim to know what the appropriate definitions of positivism and post-positivism are.  I'm going to try to sort out a bit better what the dividing lines are within the field.  I'm sure I'm going to misrepresent the views of some, and I welcome corrections.  Let me be clear.  This is a crude attempt at moving the conversation forward, not an attempt to definitively lay matters to rest.

Miscellaneous Links

1. US finally decides to care about the brutal crackdowns in Syria.  Do you suppose it is a coincidence that protests in Syria spilled over into border clashes with Israel a few days ago?

2. Knesset to discuss Armenian genocide.  Read: Israel and Turkey continue to drift apart.  You'd think with all the paranoia about what a post-Mubarak Egypt means for Israel that Netanyahu would be doing everything he can to repair Israel's relationship with its other major Muslim ally.  You'd be wrong.

3. Editorial: Obama gives up, AIPAC wins.  Remember when John McCain and Hilary Clinton both wanted the US public to believe Barak Obama would be no friend to Israel?

4. Border clash between NATO forces and Pakistanis.  I'm still trying to figure out where this is going.

5. Coffee may lower risk of prostate cancer.  Brendan Nyhan said it perfectly: "Observational data analysis I don't really believe, but I'll cling to the idea that it's good for me anyway..."

6. A third of Berlin students would consider sex work to pay for college.  Considering that this is presumably a less viable option for male students, that's a pretty stunning figure.  Though one does wonder what respondents mean when they say they'd "consider" sex work, since only 4% report having done so.  How much of that is simply a difference in sexual mores? (H/T Brandon Valeriano)

7. Because nuclear annihilation is just that funny, I close this post with two humorous links: one and two.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Miscellaneous Links

1. What bargaining looks like, US-Pakistan edition.  You know, for a minute there, I was worried about US-Pakistani relations, but now that Kerry is on the job...

2. October 2010 report suggests OBL 'living comfortably in Pakistan'.  Senior NATO official said bin Laden was being protected by the ISI.  (H/T Kindred)

3. Shockingly, it doesn't seem like the Libyan war is going to be brought to an end by assassinating Qaddafi from 10k feet.  Wait, I mean, no one is trying to assassinate Qaddafi.  Forgot about that.  If a bomb just happens to fall on him (and a bunch of innocent people too), well, that just goes to show how effective no-fly zones are at protecting innocent civilians.  Right?

4. PM's Question Time on studying IR in grad school.  Excellent post.

5. Academic Research: Use with Caution. A-yup.

6. Best College Coffee Shops in the US.  I've only been to 4.  Making it to 25 is now a life goal.  That I will have forgotten about by August.  (H/T Robi Ragan)


8. "I'm worried about my grade."  (H/T Kindred)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rat Choice Apologetics IV

What's in a Theory?

I should be grading right now.  But I need a break.  First off, I apologize for the delay in continuing the series.   Second, a quick administrative note.  Scott Wolford has graciously agreed to write a guest post in this series, addressing the limitations of focusing on two player games.  There may be one or two other guest posts coming too, so stay tuned.

Let's recap.  So far, I've basically argued that we shouldn't worry about whether the assumption of rationality (either in the sense required for utility maximization or the everyday sense) is TRUE.  What we should worry about is whether the theoretical models that we analyze are useful.  I've started to talk some about how we judge whether a model is useful, or whether its assumptions are reasonable.  Both of those questions will be explored in greater depth by future posts.  For now, I want to argue that there really is no such thing as "rational choice theory."  At least, not in any sense that would be of interest to most political scientists.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Politics of Blame (UPDATED)

Blogger went down for a while yesterday, as many of you probably know.  Not only couldn't I post new things, but you all were unable to comment, and to top it all off, Blogger apparently managed to lose the comments on this thread as well as the two updates I'd added.  Quite frustrating.  I've added added some additional thoughts at the bottom of this post.  Some of that is trying to replace what Blogger deleted, but some of it is new, as I've had time to further reflect on the debate.  


In response to David Brooks, Paul Krugman says blame the elites.  In response to Krugman, Kindred Winecoff and Dan Drezner say the public bears some blame as well.  Drezner refers to the public as an "un-indicted co-conspirator", while Kindred deems Krugman's focus on the "unwisdom of elites" to have "the political sophistication of a six year old."  In response to them (but mostly Kindred), Dan Nexon and Henry Farrell say that Krugman more or less had it right, we should blame the elites.

I certainly don't want to make apologies for the Bush administration.  And Krugman surely has it right when he says the public was not clamoring for the Iraq war.  But even so, I think Kindred had it right when he said that Krugman's politics of blame is anything but sophisticated, and I'm with Drezner in viewing the public as partly responsible.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What Bargaining Looks Like (UPDATED)

The night it was announced that the US killed bin Laden, I speculated on Facebook that the US must have secured tacit approval from Pakistan, as it seemed to me all but inconceivable that bin Laden was not where he was because he was being sheltered by some parts of the Pakistani government (such as the ISI).

My friends were quick to point out how absurd my claim was.  Sure, the ISI probably knew he was there, but no way in hell did they approve letting the US come get him.

Well, we still don't know who knew what, and whether the agreement negotiated by Bush and Musharraf was still in force, but this news makes me feel partly vindicated.

Miscellaneous Links

1. What's the half-life on US-Pakistani ties?  What about the over-under on China stepping in as Pakistan's new sponsor while the US strengthens ties with India?

2. Were we all too quick to say bin Laden wasn't all that important to AQ?  I'm still not sure this really establishes that the threat AQ posed the US last Saturday was much higher than this past Monday, but I don't claim to be a terrorism expert.

3. At any rate, Petraeus thinks it may spell the end of the alliance b/w the Taliban and AQ.  Of course Petraeus isn't going to say it was mostly symbolic.  But he makes a good point that the Taliban have never had the same goals as AQ to begin with.

4. Scott Wolford, back from a long hiatus, on the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Self-recommending.

5. Greenwald and Frum on bin Laden, law, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  You need some tolerance for hackery (of which both are guilty), but there are some interesting arguments made (again by both, I'd say).  Especially when they talk about the implications for the future of the Afghanistan war, around the 30 min mark.

6. Actually, they're not perfect, but yes, GREs do measure something meaningful.  There's a word for people who "just aren't good at tests" and "just aren't good at math".  (H/T Doug Gibler)

7. Pro-Qaddafi tribal chiefs say all rebels should be offered amnesty.  Is such a call more likely given a belief that the rebels are winning or that they are losing?

8. Does the study that made the rounds on the interwebs last week actually demonstrate the prices aren't correlated with quality?  Some excellent points.

9. Refugees left to die at sea.  Yes, Italy and France are intervening in Libya because the international community has a responsibility to protect innocent lives.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.  (H/T Emre Hatipoglu)

10. This hits too close to home, what with having to buy a new laptop this week as a result of my Macbook dying.

11. Tine Fey reprises her role as Sarah Palin.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Advice on Writing a Dissertation Proposal

Right now, there are a bunch of grad students out there who just passed their comps this spring.  Many of them are probably just starting to transition from the "wow, I'm  never going to have to write a response paper about an article I didn't really read ever again!" stage to the "dang, now I have to, like, write stuff, right?" stage.  (Incidentally, you're not really done with response papers, it's just that in the future you'll call them referee reports.)

So here's some random thoughts about how to make the most out of that process.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rat Choice Apologetics III

What do People Want?

So far, I've argued that if we accept the everyday definition of rationality, one need not assume the agents whose behavior we model is rational in order to assume that they maximize expected utility (see here), and, further, that we need not worry much about whether the assumptions of our models are non-falsifiable, provided the model nonetheless produces non-trivial insights (see here).

But, at best, I've given you reason not to be persuaded that game theoretic models rest upon a set of assumptions that are so absurd that the entire practice is doomed.  But as Dan Nexon has rightly pointed out, that's not a high bar to cross.  There are folks out there who are willing to dismiss the entire practice on the basis of such sweeping claims, but still.  There are also lots of folks who are open to the idea, at least in principle, that valuable insights into political and social phenomena might be generated by mathematical models in which actors are assumed to maximize expected utility, but who nonetheless have very legitimate questions about whether the models that social scientists tend to develop in practice are in fact achieving that goal.  In short, I want to move away from a general defense of the approach and start getting into specifics.

This next few posts will address some of the more controversial specific assumptions that are frequently made in practice.  We start with the question of what people value.