So, I guess I am stuck with the generalizations of others about what I do. Turn about is fair, after all.
Still, to start my blogging career/hobby/new form of not-working, I gotta say that it is funny that these two, with very non-traditional careers, standing at the commanding heights of the profession, may be taking a key nugget of truth and running way too far with them.
First, regarding Nye, political science aspires to be a science, which is pretty arrogant perhaps, but the idea is to create a better understanding of the political world. If physicists and biologists range from those who do very basic research that appear unconnected to today's problems to those who are directly involved in policy-making, what is wrong with those who study politics having the same range. We have scholars doing all kinds of work that seems obscure to the layperson, but actually may provide the foundations for those who are closer to the policy world.
My own perspective may be somewhat unique, as I was lucky enough to get a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations in 2001-2002 to hang out in the Pentagon in the Strategic Planning and Policy Directorate of the Joint Staff on the Bosnia desk. I learned a great deal from that experience, some of which ran directly counter to my theoretical orientations gained through graduate school and beyond, including the importance of personality and process. It also opened up a new set of questions that is now occupying much of my research time (civil-military relations, how countries manage their military when operating in alliances/coalitions), etc. While this opportunity is somewhat rare, political scientists of all stripes interact with voters, interest groups, media, policy-makers and other relevant audiences all the time. And, fundamentally, we interact with citizens in democracies (most of the time) who then vote. So, we are not entirely excluded from the policy realm and most of us do care about such stuff, if I am permitted to generalize. Of course, much of our professional incentives point away from policy relevance and public engagement, towards academic journals and the like. But we are all ego-driven and want more people to hear us, rather than less, as the existence of this blog suggests.
Regarding Fukuyama, I will be briefer--ours is a strange profession with complete job security--after a harrowing start with a very difficult job market and a probationary period. He may be concerned about the stultification that may come with job security, but there are other solutions to that problem, mostly focused on developing incentives for continued good performance. Merit pay is the obvious answer that exists at most places. The job market is another one, as any effort to move before or after tenure requires a record that resonates beyond one's locale.
And this gets to the heart of the challenge. Academia is rewarding in many ways, but it requires a great deal of sacrifice as well:
- 5 plus years of minimal income in graduate school,
- followed by a very stressful and uncertain job market (see the various rumor blogs to get a quick taste of this not-so-quiet desperation),
- then having to move somewhere that may not be entirely desirable (I spent six years in Lubbock, TX, which has good points, but has undervalued housing and a near zero population growth for more than a few reasons),
- wages that are generally not competitive with professions with similar levels of education.
PS See Dan Drezner's take on this debate.