1. I have the least stressful job in America (duh)
2. B-school prof in a parody of short-term thinking
3. The academic clock
4. I guessed wrong
5. 2012 Conceptual Development Lab Newsletter
The tone of #5 seems perfect for this sort of newsletter.
A bit surprised that the entire staff seems to be female. I would expect the staff to be more female than male, but surprised it seems to be 100%. I guess I wasn’t interested in it in grad school, either, but as a father I found the development of my own children endlessly fascinating.
Regarding #1 (the tenured professor gig):
I’ve always thought the real thrill of being a professor of the social sciences is being able to misrepresent reality in a self-serving manner. I’ll give an example–the role of race in American elections. Reading APSR for the last 40 years one would think that voting is a intelligent, purposeful act with people making retrospective (or sometimes prospective) judgments on the economy and other issues. In actual fact, political practitioners (the people who run the campaigns) are aware that a visceral appeal to the gut, playing to the lowest instincts, is the way to win. This has been true since Nixon’s southern strategy and occasionally it becomes apparent to everyone (see the Willie Horton ads) but most of the time it is subtextual–read Lee Atwater’s memoirs if you don’t think the practitioners are viewing things this way. Obama’s campaign people saw things that way–they managed (if the exit polls are correct) to get black turnout from 11% to 15% of the electorate in Ohio–Obama won by 2%, and since 95% plus of the African-Americans voted for Obama, that was the margin. Obama’s people knew that they weren’t going to get the whites but they calculated they could make up for that with the demographic trends (goosed by their turnout machine). The subtext of the 47% and the changing American demography you can figure out for yourself.
Now, economic theory holds that individuals don’t behave irrationally but the political science literature likes to state that a few simple variables “determine” the presidential election, and these variables have nothing to do with racial attitudes. So the practitioners are behaving irrationally by designing campaigns that play to racial attitudes. One possibility for failure to address these attitudes as determinates of the vote is that political scientists have the same attitudes (expressed in a much more cultured manner) than the white population of the United States (as an example, the “broken windows” theory gained revalence in political science, when exposure to lead seems to predict criminality much better (Rick Nevin’s work)). Hence they ignore the racial subtext of American campaigns.
I actually have another explanation for academic political scientists ignoring or downplaying the racial component of American elections–this is a classic case of cover-up. Just as a number of Bolsheviks participated in a self-serving burning of the Okhrana’s files with the names of informers (Stalin was allegedly part of this group), academic political scientists who have bequeathed us the rational choice method of voting analysis don’t want to discuss why they’re still alive. The usual story of America’s return to conservatism is that the American middle class, appalled by the squalor and disorder of the 60′s, turned back to America’s roots and voted Republican. But there is another possibility, which I’ve never seen in any serious academic work (at least of the rational choice variety), which is simply this. The Depression and World War II were events that affected nearly everyone (Joe Kennedy’s son was killed in WWII, for example). These events were “bringing together” type of events. Vietnam, on the other hand, was a war where the less privileged served (80% of the soldiers were working class). This was a “bifurcation” event, and the creators of the rational choice school were of an age that being drafted and fighting in Vietnam was a real consideration–except they were exempt, due to student deferments. And this group internalized this lesson and began to believe that society could be bifurcated into those with privilege and those without. Since those without were disproportionately black, it was a simply psychological equivalency to equate those below with those with dark skins. And 400 years of socialization with the belief that blacks were inferior made the process almost inevitable.
So political scientists don’t like to talk about who went and who stayed, and the confluence of race and class. So they have developed esoteric and essentially non-falsifiable models of voting behavior that ignore what the practitioners believe and act on (note that both the Romney and Obama camps thought racially-polarized voting was the key to the election–the Romney people just misestimated the electorate). If these academic addressed the true dynamic of the electorate, they would have to explore where it originated from and this would lead to questions about their own role in avoiding service and sending others (Solzhenitsyn refers to this in the context of Soviet forced labor camps as “castling”–that is, putting others in front of you to take the blow and save yourself. He is of course contemptuous of those who did this, and morally, it’s hard to defend other than from a utilitarian viewpoint–he’s dead and I’m alive and that’s the way I wanted it).
This bias by a group of academics has happened before in American history–recall the southern historians at the end of the 19th century who spent their careers dissing Grant (and their view was preponderant until recently). Eventually in 30-40 years, this will be explored (if you don’t think what I’m talking about exists, look at Erickson’s work on low draft number and social-political attitudes).
But in the meantime, the diversion from the actual dynamic of American elections in the academic political science literature contributes to the bifurcation of society into the have’s and have-nots (or makers and takers, if you will). In that sense it has repercussions outside of a narrow academic field.
PS: I have to mention a real laugher–Ansolabehere, de Figueiredo, and Snyder’s “analysis” of campaign contributions and their lack of effect on policy. George Will liked it–mentioned it prominently in a nationally-syndicated column. Need I say more?
@1: Just a correction: ”you can never be fired” from a tenured position is not true. If the University closes down your College, your Department, then good bye.
Extreme scenario? Maybe at Columbia. But not for many public universities or smaller private colleges. I know people who suffered this outcome.