Friday, May 22, 2015

Amsterdam, Tourism Strikes Back

Yesterday was the first day of the workshop on executive-legislative relatoins and foreign/defense policy.  I didn't see much of the town besides the walk to and from the Free University of Amsterdam.  Today, we only had a half day of paper presentations and discussion.  I got much good feedback, and it will be really helpful to have had this experience at the start of the project.

But I did get a chance to walk to the Rijksmuseum and then walk around, so I have some tourist observations:
Yes, I am a selfie fool.
  • I had only seen selfie sticks from time to time. ... until today.  Heaps of people outside the museum had them.  And it made me wonder--why bother?  I understand that one might want to extend and get a good selfie if one is alone or with people you want in the picture.  But if you are going to tourist destinations, why not just ask another tourist to take the pic.  It will almost certainly better.  So, perhaps selfie stick proliferation is really a sign of increased alienation.  And, yes, I am saying that as someone who takes selfies.  In my travels the past few years, I have asked strangers and been glad to help other strangers when a picture has been desired.  it really is not that hard.  I guess if one is going into the wilderness then a selfie stick might make sense.
  • I was amused to see much of the art in the Hall of Honor at the museum depict kids getting into trouble, adults drinking and such.  In other words, party pics!
  • I enjoyed the reference to twitter in the description of a painting from 1650ish
  • I realized that a heap of the paintings involved naval warfare, reminding me that the Dutch used to be quite the naval power. 
  • I then stumbled into a street market near the art museum.  My restraint was pretty remarkable

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Co-authoring and Mentoring: Trust or What?

Political science exploded in the news today as a grad student and senior prof wrote a piece that made big news and then was revealed (allegedly, apparently, insert legal modifier here) to be fradulent.*
* Indeed, I need to insert a caveat here--I have read the retraction letter and related materials but not the original article nor is this in my area of expertise.  I am just discussing what it means for other folks in this business.

The student may have falsfied data, altering existing data rather than doing the work he was supposed to have done--surveys, etc.  That the issue involved was attitudes about gays only makes it more salacious and salient for observers.  That it happens when the social science funding for the National Science Foundation is under attack makes it ever worse.

For me, the questions being raised about co-authors and advisers are the ones that concern me.  Some folks are saying that this guy's adviser and/or co-author failed the discipline by not discovering the fraud.

My problem with this is: what do we expect advisers and co-authors to do?  As I have been in all four spots here (the co-author joining a project, the guy asking folks to join a project, the advisee and the adviser), I have to think a bit about this.  And when I think aloud, I type here.
  • The point of co-authoring is to have a division of labor so that the various folks involved are not duplicating the efforts of the other(s) that much.  One does not expect one's co-author to lie/cheat/steal or else one would not choose that person.  Engaging in intensive oversight over co-authors makes little sense (back to that in a second).
  • The job of an adviser is to train, direct and provide feedback.  Certainly, the adviser should read the work of the advisee with care, but the relationship involves trust.  I didn't ask my students to provide me with plane tickets, hotel bills, photos of interviews, nor did I plumb the dark depths of their datasets.   I did read their work to make sure that their efforts were sound and such, but it again is a relationship of trust.  One tries to verify but only to a modest degree. 
If one wants to condemn this guy's advisers and co-authors, I have to ask: what would you have them do?  Be on the phone (via teleconferencing) for every or many or some conversations the student has with the survey firm?  To attend every, many, some of the focus groups?  To travel with and observe the interviews?

This fraud was revealed because other students wanted to use the data and once they worked with it extensively, it became clear that there is something wrong.  They notified the adviser and the co-author, both pressed the student to explain, the student provided inadequate explanations.  This might all have been ugly, but the system kind of worked.

The point really is that fire alarm forms of oversight are largely reactive and public.  Someone notices a problem that already happened, complains, and then folks react.  That this system is in place serves as a deterrent in so far as a person's academic career is trashed if they do something that activates the alarm.

If we used police patrol oversight--constant patrolling and monitoring--we might be better able to deter, but at the cost of much time and money (grant money for profs to accompany students while they are doing field work?)  This kind of oversight can be more quiet (or not) and can be more preventative. 

We, of course, really do not know enough to judge much of this.  But we can think about the process and how we could do it better.  Just as some are thinking more today about the pressures facing grad students to publish quickly.

One other thing: what about the money?  This was supposedly funded research so either the student didn't really have the money to do the work OR did but didn't spend on the survey firm which raises the question of what did he spend the money on OR the money is still sitting in a research account.  And, yes, this is a big deal.  Fraud over ideas?  Bad.  Fraud over ideas and abusing research accounts?  Much worse--as it brings in cops, auditors, IRS, etc, etc.

If anyone has suggestions of how to mentor better or co-author better yet not foster distrust, let me know.

Amsterdam Random Thoughts, Day 1

I am in Amsterdam because of a conference tomorrow and the next day on executive-legislative dynamics in foreign and defense policy.  This is one of the first real efforts in the Steve-Dave-Phil project on legislatures and militaries.  I am going to spend next week mostly in The Hague trying to do research for the Dutch case.  At this conference, I am presenting a study of the Canadian case--mostly to get our ideas on paper and to get Phil and I arguing.  It has worked spectacularly thus far.

Anyhow, this is the first time I have been to Amsterdam since I was a college student long ago.  What has changed?  Or at least, what have I noticed that I don't remember from the last time?  A key difference between then and now is that it rained every single day way back when (my month long Eurail Pass journey was soaked except a few days in Italy and the last couple of days in Belgium).
  • I don't remember the primary threat to life and limb being bikes.  Yes, the Danes have heaps of bikes, too, but the Dutch combine bikes with own general relaxed observation of things like rules and laws.  So, only 47% of my near collisions today were due to my lack of attentiveness.
  • The most common restaurant seemed to be Argentinean.  Besides Starbucks, of course.
  • I took the boat tour of the canals, something I never did back when I was trying to live on $25 a day (including hotel).  It was kind of worth it, kind of not.  I saw stuff that I would not otherwise see, but not super special.
  • I don't remember bunnies at the museum last time:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Astute or Ignorant: American Kids and Canadian Democracy

Ah, the Canadians are going to have fun with this one: that a minority of American kids responded in a survey suggesting that Canada (and Australia and France) are dictatorships

My first response would be: any survey has a minority of folks believing silly stuff.
My second response would be: hey, wait, these kids might be really sharp.  The Canadian newspapers, after all, keep talking about unaccountable Stephen Harper is.  He has cut down quite dramatically on appearing at Question Period, which as the astute American 8th grader knows is a key form of holding the PM to account.  Checks and balances?  That is an American thing.  With party discipline, the Prime Minister in a Westminister system, chock full of crown prerogatives, is damn near dictatorial some would say.  And those some?  American eight graders!

A key part of this answer was driven by an understanding (flawed or accurate) about the role of the military in Canada--that the military dominates the political scene.  Given the mythology that the Canadian Forces duped the civilians into the Kandahar mission,* perhaps the Americans are just buying into this view. 
*Tis a myth I address and attack in my forthcoming book: Adapting in the Dust: Learning Lessons from Canada's War in Afghanistan.
So, one could look at this survey as suggesting that American school kids are sharp and well informed.... oh, right, never mind. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Are We Winning Yet?

Good news: US Special Ops raids ISIS in Syria, frees an enslaved woman.
Bad news: Iraq lost Ramadi to ISIS.

Image result for are we there yet
So, are we winning or losing?  There are a few ways to answer this, but my overwhelming urge is to ask for patience and skepticism of all claims.  Why?  Because wars are complicated things, especially wars of this kind, where the daily news tends not to be a good barometer of progress.  Were the Nazis winning on Dec 20th, 1944?  Well, no.  The Battle of the Bulge was a setback, but by that time, Germany's future was already determined.  The only question was really where the line would be drawn between the Soviet occupation and Western occupation.  I can only imagine the abuse Ike would have gotten on twitter on June 15th: sure, you landed the troops on Normandy, but they are stuck, so #epicfail #Ikeisanidiot etc.

So, the US and its allies seem to be getting better intel if they can find the guy they sought with no serious casualties.
But the Iraq training/mentoring effort clearly has not had enough time or size to make that much of a difference, I think.

Of course, the key to all of this is not how many guns are in the hands of "our friends" but the politics of the place.  And that, alas, is not going well, at least as far as we can tell from here.  The Shia dominated government has not made a deal with the Sunnis ... worse, the government has become more dependent on the Shia militias and Iran.  This makes it harder for any Sunnis fed up with ISIS to switch sides.  No credible commitments made by the Iraq government means no flipping by the Sunnis, which means that the bad guys have easy recruitment and we may not get as much actionable intel.

In war, it is always about politics but much more so in counter-insurgency.  So, yeah, skepticism is the order of the day. 

Mad Men Finale and the Lost Perspective Sauce

Five years ago today was the finale of Lost.  Last night, it was Mad Men's turn.  I didn't mind the former as much as others, although it is seen as casting a dark light backwards on the rest of the series.  The latter?  I am still trying to figure out the ending, but it was an excellent episode of an excellent show.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Holy Transparency, NATO style

NATO has a short video about itself:


I was tweeting halfway through that not anyone can join since membership is a political decision based on consensus, but then the video admits exactly that.

Of course, I would really like a video that clarifies how un-obligatory Article V (attack upon one is equal to an attack upon all) is.  Or folks could just buy the Dave and Steve book

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Singing Means What?

I am flummoxed this morning by this video from the NAC FM (the meeting of NATO's foreign ministers):


Is this a sign of weakness or of strength?  Is this an FU to Putin, that NATO is so strong it can indulge in such silliness?  Not unlike the costumes leaders wear for Asia Pacific meetings?  Or does it demonstrate that NATO cannot even sing well and that it picks an arrogant, condescending song

What is great power for if it is not to hold the line and say no to such silliness?  Or perhaps great power means that one can do this kind of stuff and get away with it.

As always, let confirmation bias be your guide, but what do the readers say?