Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Amateur Forecaster’s Diary Pt. 2

Good Judgment Project

Yesterday, all of us in the Good Judgment forecasting team received feedback on round 2, which has just finished. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read part 1 of this series.) Time for me to reflect on the past months.

What kinds of questions were asked?

Early in the season, we were told that it would be more difficult than in the first round. This turned out to be true for three reasons. First, the admins simply asked more questions, making it harder to keep up with the tournament. Second, the share of rather obscure items was higher. Questions like the about “the removal of Traian Basescu from the office of President of Romania in a referendum vote before 1 August 2012” did not immediately ring bells with me. Third, and most importantly, the admins introduced conditional and ordered items.

Conditional items looked roughly like this: “Will Israel invade Gaza?”, (a) “if a Hamas rocket reaches Jerusalem”, (b) “if no rocket reaches Jerusalem”. While it is fairly obvious how the condition is thought to affect the probabilities in this examples, other cases were less straightforward. Anyway, this type of question further complicated the process, given that it offers another possibility to instinctively overstate probabilities, or to construct illogical connections between conditions. Some of them even had two sets of intertwined conditions.

Continue reading The Amateur Forecaster’s Diary Pt. 2

Links: On Tomatoes and Careful Phrasing

(Image CC BY-NC by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Today I overheard colleague A explaining the “Pomodoro” technique of time management to colleague B. In case you’re not familiar with it, please take a minute to enjoy the official website.* Although A claimed that the technique had helped him a lot during the “particularly terrible phases of writing the thesis”, B remained unimpressed. But maybe I should by a kitchen timer…
  • Speaking of time: PHD Comics has an, uhm, improved version of what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us university students are doing…
  • I know it’s not exactly International Relations, but I have been following the Reinhart & Rogoff vs. Herndon et al. skirmish over the weekend (and covered it earlier). Today, Herndon (a PhD student) replied to the last round of replies by R&R (famous economic historians). His wording in response to one of their statements struck me as great example of … being very careful:

This is not our interpretation of our work

* Aforementioned website also tells me that I “may not write an article about the ‘Pomodoro Technique®’ without quoting the author. This may lead the reader to attribute the origin in a misleading way. Obviously, the worst case is an explicit attribution of the technique to someone else other than Francesco Cirillo.” So let me, at this point, state very clearly that Francesco Cirillo has invented this mind-blowing and totally not trivial way of conditioning oneself to get work done with short breaks in between. (Is that even legal?)

Links: Parenting, R&R, horrible neighbors

Back from California, back to serious work … I mean, blogging. Here we go:

  • Over at the Duck, Amanda Murdie has a great post on doing a PhD as a parent, similar to ours in its positive conclusion
  • A widely cited working paper on public debt and growth by Reinhart & Rogoff is under fire for weird omissions and the weighting of cases as well as mistakes made in MS Excel (R&R paper & the critique by Herndon, Ash and Pollin / coverage on Marginal Revolution & FT Alphaville). Worrying, given how influential R & R are regarding austerity policies!
  • It’s unclear, however, to what degree their findings hold despite the errors — and what their policy advice was in the first place. Which is even more worrying, right? (And maybe I should finally read that book.)
  • The Duck, again: Brian Rathbun’s “enduring rivalry” with his neighbors is a great case of applying IR concepts in real life, and his response (take a look at the pictures!) seems like “naming and shaming” to me.

Varieties of Powerpoint

Apart from teaching me a lot of interesting things, last week’s conference showcased the whole range of academic presenting. Now that I have witnessed some U.S. variants of familiar European patterns, I feel confident enough to attempt a typology of what could be called the Varieties of Powerpoint.

-1- The Wall-of-Text Orthodox

Varieties of Powerpoint 1Unfortunately, this is the bread-and-butter type of presentation, at least in European settings. Usually it involves slides using the respective institution’s (slightly old-fashioned) corporate design, very few images in a comically low resolution, and lots of text. If you’re particularly unlucky, this text will then be read out loud by the presenter.

In any case, he or she will have a hard time getting through all of the 23 full-text slides, leading to a dizzying whirl of words when skipping through “the less important points here”. The good thing here is that, if you were to miss the talk (e.g. because you were sleeping) but could then acquire a copy of the slides, you would still know more or less everything of importance in the paper. Of course, the downside of this style of presenting is that you actually might doze off…

Pros: If you don’t want to read the paper, you’ll find the money quotes here
Cons: Boring; no added value of having slides; you either fall asleep or get angry
Bonus point: If there’s a single “funny” thank-you image on the last slide
Who does it? Mostly the Germans

Continue reading Varieties of Powerpoint

“The ISA Underestimated Us!”


Last week at ISA I attended a panel on “The End of the Western and the Rise of Chinese IR Theory”. After my experiences with panels on Latin American IR (blog post will follow) and a general low attendance of any panel, I expected maybe half a dozen interested listeners. However, what I got when I entered was an over-crowded room with too few chairs and people standing in the hallway to get some glimpse of what was going on instead! Given the ratio of room size and people actually showing up, it was the best attended panel I have seen this whole week. As the chair Zhang Yongjin put it: “ISA underestimated us!”

For anybody familiar with the discourse on a rising Chinese IR theory, or even Chinese School of IR, not much new was gained from this panel. But the panelists definitely achieved to engage their audience into the topic. Continue reading “The ISA Underestimated Us!”

A North American Perspective on doing a PhD in Europe

Whether we like it or not, the world academic language is English, and if you are a North American aspiring academic, it would make sense to stay close to the ivy-covered centre of the universe. Some of us, however, do not make that choice. We are two Canadians (one Anglophone and one Francophone) who decided to study in Europe instead of staying in Canada or going to the US. Much is made of the differences between Anglo-American and European approaches to both of our disciplines (IR and philosophy respectively) and leaving North America to study in Europe may raise a few eyebrows.

So, what is it like to leave the hegemonic academic culture to study in Europe? We asked ourselves a few questions about it, and the following is our take on doing a PhD across the pond…

Continue reading A North American Perspective on doing a PhD in Europe

Brief Update from ISA


I’m very sorry about the lack of posts. Here’s a brief updates with first impressions from the ISA Convention in San Francisco:

  • Twitter: Check out the Tweets using the #ISA2013 hashtag! There’s a wild mix of funny and/or insightful stuff going around.
  • Jet-lag jinx: Yesterday I proudly told everyone how I’m not jet-lagged at all. And I wasn’t. Today I woke up at 5 am, thinking that I really need to write something for the blog, and then couldn’t sleep anymore. Bad karma?
  • Varieties of Powerpoint: The very first panel I saw had them all. The over-achiever, with fancy slides like in a TED Talk, who unfortunately failed to get to his results before the time ran out. The German academic with classic wall-of-text slides. And the pro, with slides so well done that I got self-conscious about my own… wish me luck!
  • Attendance: The conference dynamics are a mystery to me. The aforementioned panel had a pretty famous discussant and I was sure a lot of people would show up. In the end, a crowd of 8 was listening to 7 panelists. I’ll try to improve my forecasting skills in that regard.
  • People currently in Berlin, please stop reading now.
  • Weather: Sunshine! We had lunch outside! Palm trees and blue sky! No matter how the conference will go the next three days, the trip was worth it…

(Tip of the hat to Kai S., who provided at least 50% of the idea for the image above.)

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