Tag Archives: links

Links: Drones; Forecasting; Ranking Researchers; Surveillance Logic

A combat drone, via Wikimedia commons
A combat drone, because that’s the most photogenic of all topics covered here today… (Wikimedia commons)

I hope you’re having a great week so far! My fellow bloggers have other obligations, so you’ll have to tolerate my incoherent link lists for the time being…

At the Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter makes a crucial point regarding the debate on military drones (emphasis added):

In my view, all these arguments have some merit but the most important thing to focus on is the issue of extrajudicial killing, rather than the means used to do it, for two reasons. First, if the US ended its targeted killings policy this would effectively stop the use of weaponized drones in the war on terror, whereas the opposite is not the case; and it would effectively remove the CIA from involvement with drones. It would thus limit weaponized drones to use in regular armed conflicts that might arise in the future, and only at the hands of trained military personnel. If Holewinski and Lewis are right, this will drastically reduce civilian casualties from drones.

I’d like to recommend a couple of links on attempts to forecast political events. First, the always excellent Jay Ulfelder has put together some links on prediction markets, including a long story in the Pacific Standard on the now defunct platform Intrade. Ulfelder also comments on “why it is important to quantify our beliefs”.

Second (also via Ulfelder), I highly recommend the Predictive Heuristics blog, which is run by the Ward Lab at Duke University. Their most recent post covers a dataset on political conflict called ICEWS and its use in the Good Judgment Project, a forecasting tournament that I have covered here on the blog as well. (#4 of my series should follow soon-ish.)

A post by Daniel Sgroi at VoxEU suggests a way for panelists in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) to judge the quality of research output. Apparently, there is a huge effort underway to rank scholars based on their output (i.e., publications) — and the judges have been explicitly told not to consider the journals in which articles were published. Sgroi doesn’t think that’s a good idea:

Of course, economists are experts at decision-making under uncertainty, so we are uniquely well-placed to handle this. However, there is a roadblock that has been thrown up that makes that task a bit harder – the REF guidelines insist that the panel cannot make use of journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals as part of the assessment process. It seems perplexing that any information should be ignored in this process, especially when it seems so pertinent. Here I will argue that journal quality is important and should be used, but only in combination with other relevant data. Since we teach our own students a particular method (courtesy of the Reverend Thomas Bayes) for making such decisions, why not practise what we preach?

This resonates with earlier debates here and elsewhere on how to assess academic work. There’s a slippery slope if you rely on publications: in the end, are you just going to count the number of peer-reviewed articles in a CV without ever reading any of them? However, Sgroi is probably right to point out that it’s absurd to disregard entirely the most important mechanism of quality control this profession has to offer, despite all its flaws.

Next week, the Körber-Stiftung will hold the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. One of the panels deals with transatlantic relations. I’m wonder if any interesting news on the spying scandal will pop up in time. Meanwhile, this talk by Dan Geer on “tradeoffs in cyber security” illustrates the self-reinforcing logic of surveillance (via Bruce Schneier):

Unless you fully instrument your data handling, it is not possible for you to say what did not happen. With total surveillance, and total surveillance alone, it is possible to treat the absence of evidence as the evidence of absence. Only when you know everything that *did* happen with your data can you say what did *not* happen with your data.

Links: Coase; End of IR Theory; Spying and Leaks; Twerking and Colonialism


Transaction Costs

  • Ronald Coase passed away on September 2. Here is a brief discussion of his most famous contributions, of which “transaction costs” matter most for political scientists.

The End of IR Theory?

  • In case you somehow missed it: The Duck of Minerva is running a symposium called “The End of IR Theory?” together with the European Journal of International Relations. It spans “twenty-five planned posts consisting mostly of teasers of articles in the special issues and responses to those articles”. Here is an overview of all blog posts, and you can find the special issue here.
  • Steve Saideman offers a related post, looking at the types of theorizing and hypothesis testing that are being published in IR journals. (Also see Wiebke’s posts in this blog.)

Spying and Leaking

“If the US has demonstrably lied to the EU about the circumstances under which it has been getting access to SWIFT, it will be hard for the EU to continue with the arrangement (and, possibly, a similar arrangement about sharing airline passenger data) without badly losing face.”

Twerking and Colonialism

Links: Taking Kids on Field Trips; Forecasting; Cyber Security; Syria’s Future; Football and Violence; New UN Blog; Honest Acknowledgments

Temperatures in Berlin are falling. Let’s wait and see what this means for the blog…

A great match to our little series on parenting:  Kim Yi Dionne writes about “taking children to an African country while you conduct research” (via the Duck)

Jay Ulfelder has two great posts on forecasting. One deals with common “screw-ups” in predictive models. The other is about the ethics of statistical forecasting, and the responsibility of researchers to be honest about their limits:

The fact that we use mathematical equations to generate our forecasts and we can quantify our uncertainty doesn’t always mean that our forecasts are more accurate or more precise than what pundits offer, and it’s incumbent on us to convey those limitations. It’s easy to model things. It’s hard to model them well, and sometimes hard to spot the difference.

Brandon Valeriano offers a comprehensive reading list on cyber security, nicely balancing intro stuff and very specialized articles.

Jeffrey Stacey writes about Syria’s future (“intervening not now but later”), with a big potential role for the EU:

It is difficult to predict which way the current conflict in Syria will end up, as even some sort of stalemate could be the result.  But if opposition forces were ultimately successful in defeating Assad’s forces then it would be difficult for Western governments to ignore their shared security interests in the assurance of post-conflict stability in Syria.

Andrew Bertoli has a paper about nationalism and aggression, arguing that countries that qualify for the football/soccer World Cup behave more aggressively. German weekly Zeit has an interview with him (h/t Tobias Bunde).

Instead of lamenting the state of the German twitter- and blogosphere, let’s try and improve networking! So far, I had completely overlooked the blog “Junge UN Forschung”, written by members of the German junior researcher’s working group for UN studies (h/t Christian Kreuder-Sonnen).

Finally, Dan Drezner offers 15 examples of a world where book acknowledgments are really honest, such as:

I’m grateful to Peter Klugman, a Big Shot in my field who made a useful offhand comment to me once. People reading this will hopefully think I really know him and therefore be impressed.

Links: NSA, Brazil, Tenure, MOOCs

Plötzensee, Berlin (Wikipedia)
Plötzensee, Berlin (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Over at Bretterblog, a colleague has noted (in German) that many IR blogs seem to take a summer break. Might that have been directed at us? Well, here are some links to prove that not all of us are swimming in a lake right now… (I wish!)

PRISM / NSA surveillance, even though you’re sick and tired of it:

In other news:

  • Nauro F. Campos analyzes why people are protesting in Brazil, using a dataset from 1870 to 2003. The list of factors he and his colleagues have identified for the current wave of protest doesn’t sound too surprising: “corruption and inefficiency in public services delivery, political ineptitude and the electoral cycle.” Another interesting finding: The number of riots is decreasing over time, but there are more peaceful protests.
  • There’s a great post at Scientific American by computer scientist Radhika Nagpal, who decided not to stress too much about tenure and instead treat her job as a “seven-year postdoc”. This means: don’t spend all your energy networking and sucking up to important people, but rather enjoy life and get good work done. Probably works best if you’re very smart and hard-working anyway; she’s now a professor at Harvard. Steven Saideman offers his comments at the Duck of Minerva.
  • Are MOOCs (massive open online courses) a game-changer, or are we just being fooled by the “hype cycle”? Dan Drezner contrasts the two perspectives and ends up in the skeptical camp [Foreign Policy account needed].

Links: Big data, Climate policy, Filibuster, Germany

Texas Senate (Public domain via Wikimedia)
“The Senate Chamber of the Texas Capitol” Source: Wikimedia (public domain)

Today’s links somehow focus on U.S. politics. But all of the topics matter globally, so please bear with me. Also, we’re pleased to announce that the Economist is as unhappy about the lack of German strategic thinking as we are.

  • Evgeny Morozov on the perils of Big Data: “there is an immense—but mostly invisible—cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomized by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions and jump straight to dealing with their consequences.
  • Obama didn’t really talk about climate policy in his Brandenburg Gate speech, but he did so yesterday. The excellent Duck of Minerva covers the main points and adds interesting links with further information.
  • By now everyone must have heard of the filibuster in Texas, right? For a nice summary and an appreciation of the crowd in the Senate building, check out The Monkey Cage.
  • Fun fact: Did you know that all U.S. states except Nebraska have upper houses?
  • Bonus fun fact: In Nebraska, the unicameral state legislature is called Legislature, but the representatives call themselves … Senators! (Wikipedia)

In line with our negative assessments of German strategy and leadership in the last weeks (ex. 1, ex. 2), please make sure to check out the Economist’s recent special report on Germany, the “reluctant hegemon”:

“On the euro, Germany’s competitiveness agenda is insufficient, and based on a distorted reading of the country’s own history. And Germany’s energy policy is less an example of bold leadership than of an ill-planned unilateralism that illustrates the country’s deep reluctance to think strategically about international challenges.”

Don’t worry, there are some more positive bits in there. The whole thing is available through the navigation on the right hand side of their website.

Links: Keep calm and carry on?

Protests in Turkey
A whirling sufi wearing gas mask in 2013 protests in Turkey in Gezi Park (2 June 2013) –  CC-BY-SA “Azirlazarus”, Wikimedia Commons

The biggest news over the last week of course has been the events in Turkey, and speculation about the movement – “Occupy Gezi” or the “Turkish Spring” – is everywhere. So, are we witnessing the beginning of a revolution, or will these protests go the way of Occupy and fizzle out over the coming months?

According to some at Foreign Affairs, the protestors are primarily “peevish elitists” and “anti-capitalist Muslims” and, with 50% of voters behind him, Erdogan doesn’t need to worry (especially given Turkey’s recent economic success).

Or, it could be that Erdogran’s conservative cultural agenda, which places restrictions on alcohol consumption and access to abortion; tensions over urban development; and his proposed move from a parliamentary to a presidential system with extensive new powers for the president, has sufficiently worried the other 50% of the population that didn’t vote for him.

Either way, it’s important to know that, while the Arab Spring was tweeted, whatever’s going on in Turkey is going to be “Vined” (is that something we’re going to have to say now?)

For more on Turkey, here’s a post from The Monkey Cage with links to some interesting details not being widely reported. Also note this data on Twitter usage in the protest.

Continuing with a regional and thematic focus, while the Arab Spring unrest has apparently made Dubai even richer Tunisia’s president says the country’s progress is jeopardized by persistent poverty.

Meanwhile, Egypt is passing legislation that strengthens government control over NGOs, potentially denying them domestic and international funding says Human Rights Watch.

It’s not all bad news though – while the Chinese government likes to censor any mention of the June 4th Tiananmen Square massacre, some clever people have found an ingenious way around that.

Paper Stacks vs. Android Apps

copy paper
According to Wikimedia, this is what a typical stack of paper looks like… (CC-BY-SA) Jonathan Joseph Bondhus

A couple of weeks ago, I got frustrated by the various stacks of papers in my apartment and on my desk in the office. That’s when I decided to give the “paperless office” a new shot. This post is a progress report on my revival of that early 2000’s buzz word. Apologies for the nerdy technical details …

Discovering & filing

When new information enters my “academic workflow”, it is often in the form of digital journal articles. Avoiding paper is obviously easy in this case: just don’t print that stuff! The same goes for working papers sent to me by email.

But what about books? My solution so far is to scan the relevant sections and then run a simple OCR software (in my case: ABBYY PDF Transformer). This way, I end up with PDFs that allow for full-text search. Archive material? Don’t bother with making hard copies to carry home. Instead, I take pictures with my smartphone, which I can later run through the same PDF routine. From my limited experience, it seems that specialized apps for your phone (to help with contrast and straighten the image) are unnecessary, but ask me again after 1,000 pages…

No matter what files we’re talking about, they all go to my Dropbox folder – but you could of course use any of the many competitors. The crucial things is to have all data synchronized on all devices, so I never need to think about how to access it. For sensitive information and for my Citavi database (which according to the publisher might get corrupted if put directly in a shared folder), I use an encrypted virtual device that is also located in the sync folder. This means that on every computer with Citavi, I also have Truecrypt (For some people, a web-based citation management might be better, and I plan to transition to that eventually).

Reading & annotating

Continue reading Paper Stacks vs. Android Apps

Links: Consumption; Space Travel; Academic Proof

Step 1: Write an article about how conspicuous consumption is immoral.
Step 2: Make the headline resemble a spam mail and advertise for luxury watches
  • Irrespective of the ironic choice of the headline and unfortunate ad placement (see above), I recommend Peter Singer’s thoughts on conspicuous consumption by public officials
  • John Quiggin pokes fun at the recent discovery of two Earth-like planets “a mere 1200 light years away”. So, time for space travel? Well we shouldn’t bet on getting there any time soon, since (assuming linear scaling) “the total cost comes out roughly equal to the value of current world GDP accumulated over the life of the universe”. Make sure to read the comments, unless you’re busy making travel plans…

Finally, I’d like to recommend two items that have nothing to do with International Relations, but everything with the nature of “proof” and “truth” in academia:

Links: Pop Culture; Data; Fossil Fuel

Happy Ascension Day! (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Happy Ascension Day! (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

To the surprise of some members of the team, it’s a holiday in Germany. A great chance to catch up on some links…

  • At ISA, I really enjoyed a panel on using popular media to teach International Relations. Rhonda Callaway and Julie Harrelson-Stephens talked about employing the Hunger Games to illustrate IR theory, and Marco Fey and colleagues (from Frankfurt’s Peace Research Institute) applied Tannenwald’s “nuclear taboo” to Battlestar Galactica.
  • Not everyone was convinced — shouldn’t we spend more time teaching actual history instead? Yet, pop culture and social science seem to mix well: Jane Austen was a game theorist, many IR scholars love their sci-fi, and the zombie question is well-established by now… (BSG link via the Duck)
  • Oh, and of course this is not limited to political science. Economists, too, like to think about important topics like how to feed all those orcs in Lord of the Rings, or transactions involving ‘military assets’ in Game of Thrones (spoiler alert!) …
  • Well, at least every minute spent analyzing fictional events helps to avoid silly mistake with your large-n analyses… in any case, Alex Tabarrok has some tips for researchers and readers of quantitative work.
  • Speaking of data analysis: I’m really intrigued by recent developments regarding data-driven journalism as well as new data sources for social scientists. Jonathan Mayer (of “Do Not Track” fame) just published part 2 of a set of data on U.S. legal rulings in a machine-readable format, and the “Global Dataset on Events, Location, and Tone” (GDELT) looks fascinating – although Jay Ulfelder says it’s not easily accessible just yet.
  • Finally, in case you’ve missed it, please read Charles Mann’s article in the Atlantic on the future of fossil fuels. (Plus: replies by Dan Drezner and Erik Voeten.)

Links: The Bad News Edition

Some of us our on our way to the ISA conference today, leaving behind cold, still slightly snowy Berlin for California, while others remain, trying to remember what the sun looks like. So, to go along with the weather, here is a roundup of fairly bad, IR related news:

Live in the EU? You might be one of the 19.07 million people currently without a job according to the latest Eurostats.

Feeling smug because you’ve got a stipend (or you’re not European) so don’t have to worry about being jobless for at least a few more years? Don’t get too comfortable. Despite our earlier hopes, the US Senate has passed an amendment that prohibits the NSF from funding any work that does not promote the “national security or the economic interests of the United States”.

Not everyone thinks this is a bad idea, however. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s certainly a debate we should be having (and one that Joseph Nye weighed in on back in 2009).
Continue reading Links: The Bad News Edition