I just put my website version 1.4 online. Check it out here. The site is primarily a repository for my articles and other assorted bits and pieces.
February 18, 2006
January 25, 2005
All right, this isn’t of the day really, but it is for me, since I only get the Economist in my mailbox on Tuesdays.
Some dude from Harvard admissions says in a letter to the editor,
Alumni children are admitted at higher rates than average in large measure due to self-selection: weaker candidates tend not to apply.
I’m honestly not sure what this guy is trying to say. What makes weaker candidates weaker so they don’t apply? Doesn’t it sound like he’s saying that being a alumnus, alumna, or alumni child does make you a stronger candidate? If objectively weaker candidates tend not to apply, shouldn’t that decrease the rejection rate of the non-alumnus group because the weaker ones don’t even apply, while alumnus kids (who certainly think they’re smarter) do? Or is he talking about self-selection among alumni children?
I did study logic, even in graduate school, but my head is spinning right now. Please enlighten me!
January 23, 2005
Some dude on the TeX for Mac OS X mailing list uses as his sign-off a quote by Donald Knuth that got me thinking, even though it’s Sunday:
Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.
Hmmmmm. I do remember doing that — like, fifteen years ago, when I was doing grad work in philosophy. I’d read books for their own sake, for their “intrinsic value” (whatever that is) rather than for their “engagement” in some “arguments.” A while later I switched to political science (and from a Germanic style of teaching, research, and reading to an American one, or as our friends in France would euphemistically call it, an Anglo-Saxon one) and learned how to read books primarily for how they advanced our knowledge through their engagement in some argument.
One effect was that books were no longer taken as coherent units but as a compilation of often rather isolated “arguments” that were often bound up in a variety of incompatible conversations. Books became these multifaceted artifacts that were simultaneously partaking in debates with very different concerns. (Note that this has nothing to do with postmodernism and stuff — quite the opposite: I was doing some of that in my philosophy days since my minor was in comparative literature, in a very small department that was heavily influenced by people like de Man, J. Hillis Miller, and Geoffrey Hartman.) We were making the books less coherent in our quest for more coherent strands of thoughts that advanced the discipline.
I think Knuth might be talking about a similar dichotomy, two types of thinking and working, and I suspect that they fractalize even within individual fields.
January 14, 2005
Heilbroner certainly never cared too much about whether fellow economists thought of him as one of their own or a mere “popularizer.” (In this, he resembles Gailbraith.) He did care, however, about the direction of academic economics away from social concerns — concern for the public good — towards esoteric, abstract models, which he highlighted with this charming line, according to the LA Times obit (via Lexis-Nexis, so no link):
But does it have to be that way: the more popular you become, the less your peers take you seriously? Sure, there’s a fair share of envy in this. Some guy who’s been working on an esoteric manuscript for the last ten years is not going to take too kindly to some dude who keeps churning out book after book (see what happened to Niall Ferguson). But is that the whole explanation? What do all these academic bloggers out there think — could this be a reason why we tend to stay anonymous (except for brave individuals like Gordy)?
I’ve conned millions of young people into thinking that economics is an interesting subject in tune with their social concerns, he once said.
December 28, 2004
I wrote about “tools of the trade” in previous installments. But what’s the trade I’m talking about?
In my line of work — and I fully count my academic work here too, even though I’m not a traditional academic insofar as I don’t teach — most time is spent on rephrasing and recoding stuff that’s already there. (By recoding I mean a conceptually coherent rephrasing, a rephrasing based on some theory or approach or at least jargon. Take a historical record and feed it into a rational choice model — that’s recoding.)
“Stuff” can really be all sorts of things. Rarely do we “produce” anything new, other than the “new” character of a specific conceptual configuration that may not have existed before.
I don’t think this is a problem, but I guess it could freak out some people.
How this thread really started: I read this terrific quote from Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society over at This Academic Life (sorry, I don’t have the link to this particular post, but you should check out this dude’s blog anyway for some pretty interesting methodological stuff, especially on IR):
I remembered this quote only vaguely and had frankly forgotten how well it captured the strange position of academic disciplines that happen to deal with “real stuff” that’s “out there,” especially political science, where the demands on applicability or relevance are always higher than in seemingly more arcane pursuits. (This Academic Life has interesting thoughts on this topic too — about the pressure from the administration and students alike to provide “tools” for a career in international affairs instead of purely “academic” debates in the classroom. Check out this post in particular.)
The search for conclusions that can be presented as “solutions” or “practical advice” is a corrupting element in the contemporary study of world politics, which properly understood is an intellectual activity and not a practical one. Such conclusions are advanced less because there is any solid basis for them than because there is a demand for them that it is profitable to satisfy. The fact is that while there is a great desire to know what the future of world politics will bring, and also to know how we should behave in it, we have to grope about in the dark with respect to the one as much as respect to the other. It is better to recognize that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.
No punch line coming here, I’m just reacting to something I read.