Monday, February 17, 2014

The Backlash is Which Stage?

I guess it was inevitable that a backlash would develop, where my role in the ISA blogging mess would be criticized.  As I was flying to Denver last night, Chris Zorn tweeted and Will Moore blogged about my role in leaking ISA's proposal to prohibit editors from blogging. 

Of course, the timing was driven not by when I was in the air but by the Kristof op-ed which drove a frenzy of debate about the role of academics in engaging the public.  Kristof cited the initial coverage of the ISA mess, not really showing what happened next.

My first reaction to the NYT op-ed was being a little queasy.  I don't like it that our intra-ISA spat got played like this.   But nausea and guilt are natural reactions even when I do not consider myself the Snowden of the ISA.  Given that the document was online in an open site and given that I asked the exec director of the ISA whether the document was confidential (um, did Manning or Snowden ask the powers that be in the US govt for permission?), I don't think I leaked anything.

Still, my blog was the one that got things rolling, so I feel some responsibility for publicizing the lousy proposal.  I had not expected this thing to go as viral (in our terms, we are not getting quite the same number of hits to our blogs as ... grumpy cat).  And I could have turned down the press opportunities that came quickly that week even as the ISA president was backing down.  But, damnit, I believe in this public engagement thing, so if folks are going to cover what we are doing and they ask me for my opinion, I am going to give it.

As I have said, a key irony here is that an attempt to prevent the ISA from being embarrassed has created far more embarrassment for the organization than if they had not acted at all.  I feel bad about that, I truly do.  But I am not an expert in organizing social movements, so all I understood once I read the proposal was that I wanted to rally support to win a vote at the Governing Council in March.  Sure, I could have just waited to see things play out, as Zorn suggests, but I do know from veto player theory (which we apply just a smidge in our book!) that it is generally easier to stop something than to have it reversed.  I had no idea how much support existed in Ex-Com for this proposal (not as much as I thought), so I thought I would need to get more than a majority of the votes of the remaining Governing Council members to overcome all of the votes coming from Ex-Com members.

Am I sorry that this thing spun out in public so much?  Yes.  I never anticipated getting 6k plus hits at the Spew (I do not have ads, so my hit count only adds to my ego) for the post.  Am I sorry that I acted?  That my post helped to reveal how far we have come and how much support I had across the community?  No.  It was a teaching moment, as they say in any crisis.  I learned a lot.  The ISA membership learned a lot.  And isn't that we are in this business for?

Anyhow, I know that I have some responsibility in all of this, and I will not play the Rambo card much "they drew first blood, not me."  Oops, maybe just a bit.  I am sure this will be an on-going topic, and I don't mind if folks question me or blame me a bit.  Just be reasonable about whether I could have foreseen the reactions of the past couple of weeks. 


Charli Carpenter said...

Steve give yourself a break. Zorn is off-base to blame you and I'm disappointed to see Moore validating the kind of tribalist attitude that was behind ISA's policy. Most observers are united in thinking the policy was misguided to the bone, that you were right to generate a discussion, and that such a policy would embarrass the ISA in the eyes of the public. Kristof's column may be irritating, but it confirms every single one of those points: 1) it IS misguided to penalize political scientists for public outreach, 2) political scientists actually know this (so the fact that we already had this discussion gave Erik Voeten a nice counterpoint to Kristof) and 3) it IS publicly embarrassing for our Association to pretend any different. Now if only Kristof could do his homework before making sweeping generalizations - but hey, he's only a pundit and that's why "they need us." Anyway, point is you have nothing whatsoever to feel defensive over and anyone who thinks otherwise is barking up the wrong tree.

Anonymous said...

Charli is right. You are on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. Take a victory lap and let others apologize.

Mrs. Spew said...

So not only does Kristoff not do any fact-checking research before making grand pronouncements, but so do some political scientists. Poor social science, Mr. Zorn.