Forecasting and Ethics

Idean Salehyean has a provocative post over at the Monkey Cage arguing that forecasting is not a value neutral enterprise. If we forecast some outcome, we should expect policymakers to take some steps as a result, and those steps may or may not be acceptable ethically. Okay. But not forecasting may or may not be acceptable ethically either. I’m a bit of an ethics novice, so I assume people are coming at morals from either some consequentialist or deontological frame. It’s difficult for me to see how forecasting is directly a rights or rules violation, so we’re automatically in some realm of consequentialism when we are worried about forecasting. And once we are down that path, we have to explicitly consider the counterfactual of not forecasting. And not forecasting when one has some ability to do so might lead to bad moral outcomes.

We probably aren’t in the business of chaining Nate Silver, Andrew Gelman, and Gary King to their desks to forecast genocide even if it would achieve salutary consequences (probably for good deontological reasons about letting people make choices about their lives). But I think Idean Salehyean’s point ends up being a banal one because more or less everything we do is not value neutral.

Nothing is special about forecasting, I would stress. Observational studies—the democratic peace, for instance—might lead one to conclude that democracy should be spread, by force if need be.

We are inhabitants of the world. We happen not to be particularly influential inhabitants so the chain of causation from our studies to positive and negative consequences is lengthy. We shouldn’t be paralyzed or fascinated by our presence in the moral universe.

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What We’re Reading

More of “What We’re Reading” from the TSFR team, with a healthy dose of Egypt links at the bottom:

  • Learn your ABC’s with this Soviet-era erotic alphabet. This is interesting on many levels; in particular, consider that this was a policy by the USSR used to combat adult illiteracy: in other words, art, erotica, and a bit of sexism were combined in imagery as an educational policy. A friendly warning: do not open this at work. Do not open this around children, either.
  • More on protests in Brazil, from Nauro F. Campos. He concludes: “Against the stereotype of a laid-back and peaceful people, the historical record suggests the propensity to protest in Brazil is high and may have increased in the last decades. The current wave of protests has multiple causes but three important ones are corruption and inefficiency in public services delivery, political ineptitude and the electoral cycle. These make for the possibility that protests may well continue as the executive and the protesters push for political reform and improved public services against forces that are well represented in the legislature.”
  • Andrew Gelman writes in Slate about “researcher degrees of freedom” — reminding all of us to leave stargazing to the astronomers.
  • Why all Muslims are not terrorists, according to Bayes (and Phil Arena at the Duck of Minerva).
  • Sometimes it seems like Jordan might be one giant attempt to see how many things you can do to a state before it fails. The current episode: Syrian refugees. Lots of them.
  • Matt Yglesias wonders aloud about whether poor social mobility in the American South is associated with historical efforts to disenfranchise blacks: “If your poor population contains a very large number of African-Americans, then perhaps the only viable means of keeping the black man down are going to involve denying opportunities for upward mobility to poor people of all races. Strong public schools, economically mixed neighborhoods, dense cities, and other pathways of economic mobility would undermine the racial hierarchy, so they meet with unusual levels of resistance.”
  • Ahsan Butt has a clever new piece in International Organization arguing that the decline of U.S. intervention in Latin America in the 1930s is the cause of a bump in Latin American wars during that same time period. We don’t know if we buy his empirical story, but the piece is important because it has obvious implications for U.S. retrenchment today. It seems like trying to find analogous historical episodes of retrenchment is something both sides should be doing in making their arguments for U.S. policy, rather than arguing solely based on fuzzy concepts like “leadership.”
  • Selection effects and the Voting Rights Act: Justice Ginsberg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder argued, “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens weighs in on the case (including this particular argument) here.
  • Interesting empirical finding from India: “We find that increasing the political representation of Muslims improves health and education outcomes in the district from which the legislator is elected. We find no evidence of religious favoritism: Muslim children do not benefit more from Muslim political representation than children from other religious groups.” The paper exploits a regression discontinuity based on narrow electoral victories. If the finding is true, it seems like a coalitional story — where Muslim politicians are often part of a coalition that also represents poor Hindus — is likely part of the answer, although the draft has little explanatory narrative.
  • An opposition figure is gunned down in Tunisia with the same weapon used to kill another prominent politician earlier this year, further complicating Tunisia’s transition.
  • Fighting in Syria as diplomatic wrangling proceeds in New York.
  • Egypt!
    • Steve Negus at the Arabist on army chief General al-Sissi calling for mass demonstrations seeking a mandate against “terrorism” — code for the Muslim Brotherhood and allies. Negus argues this marks a strategic shift (“Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  — as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics — al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front.”) and offers some possible explanations as to why this shift took place.
    • Steven Cook weighs in with a NY Times op-ed: “A Faustian Pact: Generals as Democrats”
    • Sinai continues to boil over following Morsi’s unceremonious ouster from Egypt’s presidency early this month.
    • If you can’t disperse ’em, massacre ’em (not an endorsement of said tactics): some images (many disturbing/graphic) from clashes at a pro-Morsi sit in on Saturday.
    • Speaking of terrible violence, Sarah Carr writes Saturday on state strategy, and parallels to Tiananmen: “It seems more and more likely that security bodies will act in the next few days. Yesterday night’s violence on Nasr Road demonstrates that they are incapable of acting with restraint or with any kind of sensible plan. That they are taking on a massive civilian sit-in spells disaster. But just for the record, I would like to suggest that there are ways to minimise [a Brit!] the deaths and injuries so that we do not replicate what happened in Tiananmen Square.”
    • Another piece by Sarah Carr, on al-Sissi’s speech and its reception in Egypt: “The general public was sold. It ran stumbling and screaming into Sisi’s protective arms and nestled in his bosom. Almost overnight, people mutated into barrel-thumping nationalists celebrating a victory against a foreign enemy, when no battle has yet been won and their enemy is one of them. Hot air — lots of hot air — has been blown into former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s corpse. Perhaps they are trying to blow his spirit into Sisi. Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate. There is nothing of real ideological substance here, no long-term goal other than either containing the Brotherhood or crushing the Islamist movement.”
    • Egypt’s foreign minister on Brotherhood participation, and potential repercussions if they fail to come into the political process following Morsi’s ouster, which the group has strongly opposed: “If they decide to withdraw from politics, it will be disappointing. If they decide to pursue violence, then you are looking at a completely different confrontation […] Even if I personally reject their positions or ideology, they have to find their place in Egypt’s political life.” But…
    • …see Ashraf Khalil on setting the legal basis for Morsi’s detention through investigation of espionage charges: On July 26, “an Egyptian judge announced the detention of deposed President Mohamed Morsi for 15 days while authorities investigate charges of espionage levied against him by the transitional government… The fact of Morsi’s detention is less surprising than the nature of the charges themselves—branding Morsi and the Brotherhood, in essence, as traitors. It is not the sort of maneuver that a government interested in reconciling with disaffected opponents would make. Friday’s ruling, combined with the pro-military protests called for the same day, have now set the stage for a sweeping crackdown on the Brotherhood that seems likely to drive the organization back underground.”

The Gestation of a New Indian Strike Corps

Indian newspapers have variants of this headline today: “India to create new Army corps along China border.” (For example, here and here.) And I think to myself, man, am I getting old? I swear I read this story like ten times now. So, I decided to go look. It might only be interesting to those that track Indian security issues closely, but I think glimpsing the news stories over the years on the new Indian strike corps gives you a little bit of a feel for the Indian bureaucratic process at work. It’s not pretty, but it’s not absurd either. A proposal is generated. It moves forward. Questions are asked. It goes backward. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. More after the jump for those that care. Continue reading

What We’re Reading

Or, how we’re spending our summer “vacations”…

  • Melonie Fullick on “Risk, responsibility, and public academics“. 
  • Writing intro textbooks is apparently more lucrative than we might have guessed. Buried in a story about a textbook publisher’s bankruptcy: “Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University professor who advised Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is owed $1.6 million in royalties, according to the bankruptcy filing.” Since Mankiw has been producing this textbook for well over a decade now, this suggests that the $1.6 million is only some small portion of what the textbook has garnered him over the years. Krugman flags this because — from what we can tell — he hates Mankiw. Mankiw provides a story that suggests he’ll get paid.
  • Barry Blechman on cutting strategic nukes: “Reducing the size of our strategic [nuclear] force by one-third would save a lot of money — funds that could potentially shore up conventional air, naval and ground forces being hollowed out by the sequester-driven budget cuts.”
  • “29%:The share of college undergraduates who are traditional students.” Here.
  • Reflections of an IR lecturer here: “We’re trained on how to give conference talks, which we’ll give perhaps four times a year (and the median performance there is still pretty bad), and extensively workshopped in giving job talks, which my generation will probably give (at the median) about three times. But lecturing, which is our most common vehicle for expressing scholarship, is never clearly discussed. What makes a good lecture? What is an appropriate amount of time to write a lecture about a subject you know well–or, as happens to us all, about which you know almost nothing?”
  • Roger Berkowitz reflects on the debates sparked by Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” newly reanimated by Margarethe von Trotta’s recent film. He argues that many of Arendt’s critics misread and oversimplify her argument, which retains immense relevance to contemporary politics.
  • Louis Hyman at Symposium Magazine talks about the how, when and why of writing the history of capitalism. In related news, some feminist writers are rediscovering (reemphasizing?) Karl Polanyi.
  • An older post on sexual assaults in Tahrir: “In Tahrir Square since Sunday, when protests against Morsi first began, there have been at least 169 counts of sexual mob crime.”
  • On social capital and the Nazis: “Towns with one standard deviation higher association density saw at least one-third faster growth in the strength of the Nazi Party. [A]ll types of associations – veteran associations and non-military clubs, ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ associations – positively predict NS party entry. These results suggest that social capital in Weimar Germany aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.”
  • Morsi’s downfall hammers Hamas”  — Relations between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinian Hamas were not as warm as many had expected upon Morsi’s election, but his fall and the military’s return to power could spell trouble for the Gaza-based movement. Political instability in Egypt could also encourage instability and violence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Women and IR Blogs: Equally Likely to Blog, Less Likely to Study IR

By Suparna Chaudhry and William Nomikos

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara Walter and Taylor Marvin over at Political Violence @ a Glance asked why so few women in IR blog. They offered four potential explanations for the dearth of women in this part of the blogosphere: a lack of tenured women employed by elite research universities, imbalances in invitations to participate in blogs, outright sexism as a deterrent to blogging, and, finally, a low willingness of women to participate in blogs. At the Smoke-Filled Room, 3 out of our 12 bloggers are women or, looking solely at those who have IR as a concentration, 2 out of 9. Neither figure reflects equality in any real sense and so, given our existence as an exclusively graduate student blog, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mechanisms Walter and Marvin offer. Ultimately, we suggest that the lack of female bloggers in IR and, in particular, female graduate student bloggers, is a direct result of extreme gender imbalances that exist within graduate political science departments where two-thirds of students studying International Relations are male and only one-third is female.

In a related post, Jeremy Pressman asks whether the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs might just be a reflection of students in top PhD programs. To see if the paucity of female bloggers in international politics is just a reflection of the low number of women studying these topics in the top PhD programs, we looked at the distribution of women studying international relations and comparative politics across 17 schools (Top 20 schools selected non-randomly). Though the initial post did raise a question about the paucity of women specifically in IR, a look at some of the prominent blogs in the field such as The Monkey Cage, Duck of Minerva & Political Violence @ a Glance shows that posts are often made by comparativists as well.

Proportion of Each Gender by Subfield

Figure 1: Proportion of men and women studying International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Science in Top 20 Political Science Departments.

As Figure 1 shows, there is no paucity of women studying comparative politics. In fact, across the 14 schools that listed subfield interests for their doctoral students women have virtually equal representation (about 47%). Data from International Relations paint an entirely different picture. Only 33% of IR graduate students at these 14 schools are women. These numbers are especially stark compared to the gender balance across subfields. As we can see, women remain underrepresented in graduate programs in political science (39%) but much of this is due to one subfield—International Relations (American Politics is about equal; Political Economy, Methodology, and Political Theory are all skewed somewhat toward men).

Histogram of Proportion of Women Studying IR

Figure 2: A histogram of the distribution of the proportion of women studying International Relations at Top 20 Political Science departments.

Digging deeper, we can see from Figure 2 that only 2 schools have more women than men studying IR. And only 4 out of the 14 have at least 40% women. By contrast, 13 out of the 14 have at least 40% men studying IR. Clearly, a serious imbalance exists, which, in turn might lead to fewer women—in graduate school and in academia more broadly—blogging.

But, might it be the case instead that women are simply more reticent to post on and join blogs? This could be due to various potential causal mechanisms. First, foreign female students may not feel as comfortable voicing their opinions, especially if English is not their first language. However, since foreign male students are likely to face a similar language barrier, it may be the case that different cultures prescribe different norms of behavior, in particular with regard to the role of women in public and political life. It is perhaps the interaction between cultural differences and gender differences that makes international women more hesitant to blog. Second, looking beyond foreign students, it is also possible that women’s reticence to post, regardless of the geographical location of their prior education, could also have something to do with their classroom experiences, something that we are unable to capture just by looking at the distribution of women in PhD programs.

Relatedly, might IR blogs simply post about topics that women do not study? A 2006 TRIP survey of 1,112 IR faculty throughout the United States revealed certain dissimilarities between men and women in their status in the profession, approaches to teaching and scholarship, “Women study substantively different issue areas. Higher percentages of female than male faculty study international organization (+6%), international political economy (+3%), international law (+2%), the environment (+2%) and human rights (+1%). Higher percentages of men, in contrast, study U.S. foreign policy (+13%), international security (+6%), IR theory (+2%), and comparative foreign policy (+1%). These findings are consistent with evidence from the broader field of political science. The APSA divisions with the lowest female representation include international security and arms control, international collaboration, foreign policy, conflict processes, and international history and politics (Gruberg 2007). Indeed, fewer women are found in the field of IR than in American and comparative politics (Sedowski and Brintall 2007).” If our blogs are actually focusing more on such topics, then it is possible that some women may feel deterred to post about topics such as international organizations, law and so on, for fear that it may not generate enough interest. This perception could also be related to what is considered as “popular” or prominent in mainstream media, which tends to focus more on security and conflict-related topics, rather than topics related to international and non-governmental organizations and political economy.

Furthermore, Walter and Marvin, using the experience of Political Violence @ a Glance, suggest that it might be the case that fewer women are asked to join blogs. While this might be the case (the invitation process at the Smoke-Filled Room was similarly uneven), it seems more likely that this might also simply be a product of the imbalance that already exists. Additionally, as a blog, the Smoke-Filled Room has not faced any sexist attacks. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that these attacks occur and may serve as a deterrent for women. At this time, however, we are hesitant to draw any conclusions about how this could affect membership of our blog specifically and IR blogs more generally.

Nonetheless, we find little evidence that women are less likely than men to blog. Admittedly, the aforementioned factors, which might deter women from blogging, might reinforce the difficulties caused by the paucity of women in graduate programs but we doubt that these factors alone have pushed women out of the blogosphere. Let’s hypothesize that women and men are equally likely to blog. Let’s also posit an alternative hypothesis that men are more likely than women to blog. Given the structure of graduate departments, what is the probability that the Smoke-Filled Room would select 3 or fewer women out of 12 bloggers (or 2 out of 9 IR bloggers)? Given this probability, how confident do we feel in rejecting the null hypothesis that women and men are equally likely to blog? A very low probability (p<0.05, by convention) would suggest that it is unlikely that women joined the Smoke-Filled Room at such a low rate by chance.

To calculate this, we ran 10,000 simulated draws of bloggers from a pool of the 17 graduate schools for which we collected data. In 24% of these draws did the Smoke-Filled Room select 3 or fewer female bloggers (see Figure 3). When we restricted the sample to simply IR students (data from 14 schools), we found that in 40% of the draws, the Smoke-Filled Room selected 2 or fewer female IR bloggers (see Figure 4). We would not reject the null in either case at traditional levels. Therefore, we cannot conclude from the small number of female bloggers at the Smoke-Filled Room that women are less likely than men to blog. The reason is, quite simply, that the distribution of women in graduate programs and, in particular in IR, is so skewed toward men that it is difficult to find enough women to join blogs. The simulations reflect this fact as well. In fact, in a staggering 87% of the simulations, the Smoke-Filled Room selected more male than female IR bloggers.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (Full Sample)

Figure 3: Histogram of simulations of draws from all Political Science students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (IR only)

Figure 4: Histogram of simulations of draws from only International Relations students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Thus, the evidence suggests that women are not less likely to blog than men are. These findings align with our own experiences at the Smoke-Filled Room where our female bloggers, though fewer in number, have been just as active as our male bloggers. Indeed, the blogging process, even within International Relations, does not seem to be inherently flawed and sexist. Yet, as Walter and Marvin correctly point out, women do blog in smaller numbers than men do. Why? Our data gathered from Top 20 Political Science departments revealed a tremendous gender imbalance among PhD students of International Relations–33% are women, 67% are men. As our statistical analyses imply, the biggest problem appears to be structural gender imbalances within PhD programs. As we write, it is possible that issues such as women’s reticence to post, sexism on the Internet, the nature of topics discussed on IR blogs, and a smaller proportion of invitations going out to women could potentially reinforce the effect of structural imbalances, resulting in so few female bloggers. Nonetheless, the heart of the issue is analytical prior to the blogosphere and lies with the existing structures of graduate departments around the country. If we wish to foster a more equal blogging community in International Relations, it is there we should begin.

The authors would like to thank Guadalupe Tunon and Niloufer Siddiqui for their help with this post. You can follow Suparna on Twitter here and William here.

In Syria, It Takes Three to Tango

Mark Katz has an interesting post on his blog, which is repurposed from his 1982 book about Soviet military thought, but applies to Syria today. The operative part is here:

In wars between the people and a regime of extreme reaction, both radicals and moderates unite to fight the dictatorship, with each group hoping later to establish its preferred form of government (radical Islamist rule or some form of democracy). The radicals in such a civil war may well initially be a relatively small and weak group compared to the moderates fighting the dictatorship. However, the radicals stand a good chance of eventually coming to power despite their initially weak position. For while some external forces are supporting the dictatorship, others will support the radicals, making them stronger compared to the moderate opposition. When the dictatorship eventually falls, the radicals are often in a position to take power since they have received outside support from their allies while the moderates have received nothing. Either of these could come to power, and so external support of the radicals increases their chances of actually doing so. The Americans, of course, also have the opportunity of supporting the moderate opposition, but because of the rigidity of American thinking, the U.S. does not do this. This is an error that the radicals can take advantage of.

He adds several caveats, but he introduces the idea that this is not a two-player game but rather should be thought of as a three-player one. There are similar dynamics between Brezhnev-era communist struggles in the Third World and Islamist-tinged insurgencies in today’s Middle East, in that radicals were often the most organized and thus most poised to successfully overthrow a dictatorship because they enjoyed more outside support, while moderates tended to get sidelined by their external sugar-daddies (especially after the dictator was ousted). Should Assad fall tomorrow, one can imagine that Islamists would enjoy greater means to organize voters and rally Syrians around their cause than the moderate elements within the opposition, which are divided and underfunded.

What We’re Reading

Happy (belated) 4th of July! While you work off that post-celebration hangover, here’s some more of what we’re reading to pass the time: